The oneills.com All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Doubles serves off this Saturday at the National Handball Centre with five intriguing ties down for decision in the round of 16.
First up on the show court is the meeting of former 4-wall champions and current ‘big alley’ kingpins Gary McConnell and Brian Carroll from Meath and Kerry duo Dominic Lynch and Jack O’Shea.
The Royals will start as favourites given their experience and class – McConnell had a good lead in a tiebreaker against big gun Diarmaid Nash recently before being forced to forfeit due to injury - but the wily Lynch and O’Shea will be expected to pose a stern challenge.
Cork’s David Walsh and Brendan Fleming will taken on Antrim pair Owen McKenna and Sean Clarke in the second match on the show court.
The powerful Walsh, who won the Intermediate Doubles All-Ireland last year, has been going well at the elite level in tournaments at home and in America while All-Ireland Masters A champ Fleming, who holds a championship win over Robbie McCarthy on his resumé and recently won the Kingscourt Shoot-Out, makes for a strong and well-balanced pairing.
The Belfast team have not been active on the tournament circuit of late but have lots of class, with McKenna in particular having rubbed shoulders with some of the best players in the game for an extended period.
Game three on the showcourt is Tyrone v Wicklow as Conro McElduff and Sean Kerr meet ichael Gregan and Jerome Willoughby.
Wallball king McElduff is also an Intermediate Singles champion in the 4-Wall code and last uyear made it to the last four of the Senior Singles. Cousin Kerr, a former Minor champion, brings a lot of athleticism to the mix to make up what should be a potent pairing.
However, there will be nothing easy against the Coolboy men. Gregan has been one of the leading players in the country for well over 15 years and despite injury problems in recent seasons, is still playing great ball and won the Over 35 Doubles last year.
Jerome, one of a famous handballing clan, is super-fit and fast and will pick everything on the right so this has the makings of a cracker.
In Court 2, Wexford’s Gavin Buggy and Adam Walsh take on Monaghan’s exciting pair of Gavin Coyle and Eoghan McGinnity.
Buggy and Walsh were recently beaten in the Leinster Senior Doubles final by the Funchion brothers from Kilkenny and are a solid duo, with Buggy bringing vast experience, court smarts and battling qualities as well as no little skill while skilful lefty Walsh, who is still eligible for the junior grade, is full of talent.
Coyle, last year’s Intermediate Singles champion, has two great hands and boasts tremendous footwork and fly shots. McGinnity (21), the two-time Minor champion, is a spin serve specialist with a two-handed offensive game; it will be interesting to see how the Bawn-Monaghan Harps men pair up.
On Court 3 is the clash of Tipperary and Kildare. For the Premier, the powerful and experienced Ger Coonan, who has been mixing in top company in senior handball for most of his career, is joined by last year’s U21 champ, the talented Rory Grace, one of the leading up and coming players at present.
They meet Leixlip lefty-righty combo of Kevin Diggins and Paul Moran. Diggins, a former Irish Collegiates champion, won the Junior All-Ireland Singles two years ago and made it to the Intermediate Singles final last year.
Smooth right-hander Moran, who previously won the Junior Doubles with another citeog in Niall O’Connor, is very solid and a classy player who kills a lot on the right. They made the Intermediate Doubles final last year and are a formidable partnership.
The matches will be streamed live on the Spoirt TG4 YouTube channel, with highlights on TG4 on Monday night.
Download fixtures here .