By Paul Fitzpatrick
There was a moment last autumn, before the All-Ireland 60x30 Softball Senior Singles finals, when it became clear just what it means to Catriona Casey to be the best.
Asked, rather glibly, in an interview about how long it took her to get over losing in the final of the World Championships to Martina McMahon, Casey’s voice ached as she gave her response.
“I suppose,” said the Ballydesmond woman, “that you never get over a defeat like that.”
It was a rare insight into the inner mind of an elite athlete, a few short words laying bare the true emotion which underpins sporting excellence. Casey went on to lose again to Martina McMahon in that ‘big alley’ decider and would ship another heavy blow when coming off second best in the Irish Nationals but she bounced off the ropes to pick up a knock-out victory in the final of the All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Singles at Kingscourt last month.
There was a real sense of redemption for the Cork woman as she beamed for the cameras, the spoils of war in hand, after that game. If ever an example was needed of the drive which the very best athletes, in any code, possess, the 12 months Casey put in leading up to that raucous night in Cavan was it.
Moving into the doubles, Casey’s confidence will be sky high as she teams up once again with her friend and doubles partner Aishling O’Keeffe. the pair have struck up a superb partnership over the past half a decade and more and regardless of what happens this afternoon, they can already lay claim to the title of best-ever female inter-county doubles team.
Casey and O’Keeffe are unbeaten in the 60x30 court as a partnership in six years and are aiming to seal a fourth 4-Wall title this afternoon, which is some record already for two ladies in their mid-20s.
They were pushed all the way, though, in their semi-final against what looks like an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with in the form of Leixlip pair Leah Doyle and Mollie Dagg, precocious teenagers who already have what it takes to live with the best in the sport and can only improve.
Cork won that game 21-20, 21-12 while, in the other semi-final, sisters Fiona and Siobhán Tully from the St Coman’s club in Roscommon saw off Kilkenny’s Ciara Mahon and Aoife Holden on a 21-18, 21-9 scoreline.
That represented an excellent victory for the Connacht pair and a second semi-final win in a row in doubles for Fiona, who teamed up with club mate Leona Doolin to make the final last season.
Lying in wait, however, on that occasion were the Rebelettes, who put them to the sword on a 21-4, 21-5 scoreline.
Given Casey’s excellent form of late, the Munster stars will come into this one as favourites for sure although it will be very interesting to see how Roscommon cope this time around.
There is quite a gulf in standards in ladies handball between the leading handful of players and those in the next group but Fiona Tully has been closing the gap and a victory today would mark the biggest scalp yet in the DCU student’s career.