The 9th annual John Gaffney Memorial Handball Tournament, proudly sponsored by Drury Oils Ltd., took place this weekend in Ballaghaderreen and St Coman’s Roscommon handball clubs.
The season opener has been running for almost a full decade and over the years has established itself as a top-class tournament with coveted ranking points on offer. As always, large crowds turned up expecting top class fair from the excellent field and were not disappointed.
At the finish current All Ireland Champion Armagh handball supremo Charly Shankes narrowly overcame the three time former Gaffney Memorial Champion Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy in a thrilling final to claim the Gaffney Memorial crown in front of a full house in Ballaghaderreen, as well as hundreds more watching the match live via Facebook Live. This counted for something of a grudge match between the two players, as Shankes had taken McCarthy’s All Ireland title in 2017.
Two crowed favourites with exciting styles of play, the meeting of Shanks’ power game with the natural flair of McCarthy provided a truly astonishing spectacle of handball. Their route to the final was no less exciting.
McCarthy eased his way into the final, conceding an average of just 2 points per game, with wins over evergreen Wexford native Gavin Buggy in the round of 16, up-and-coming young talent Peter Function (Kilkenny) in the quarter final, and in-form Corkman Brendan Fleming who was playing some of the best handball of his career in the semi-final.
Meanwhile, Shanks had to battle hard for every win, coming through very close matches with wily Corkman Michael Hedigen in the round of 16, local hero Stephen Cooney in the quarter final, and the heavily fancied Diarmaid Nash (Clare) in the semi-final.
Beginning at a roaring pace, the final burst into life from the first ace. McCarthy dominated the first game, taking it 15-9. However, Shanks came back in the second game, taking it 15-10, and sending the match into a tie-breaker. In an epic tussle that could have gone either way, Shanks came out on top on a final score line of 11-8 to cement his position as Ireland’s number 1 player.
A terrific weekend’s handball was had by all in what was surely the most successful Gaffney Memorials to date. Ballaghaderreen handball club would like extend our sincere thanks to Drury Oils Ltd, our main tournament sponsor, as well as Regan & Sons, Spells Bar, Durkin’s Hotel, Jennings Pump Services, GAA Handball Ireland, GAA Handball Connacht Council, O’Hara’s Bakery, Ros Plant Hire, McHugh’s Wholesale, Cunniffe’s Butchers, and St Coman’s Handball Club and our other sponsors and volunteers.