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‘Softball is huge here and it’s really important to us’

When caught up with Wexford county secretary Tony Breen, he was on his way out the door to a meeting at Ballyanne Handball Club.

Ballyanne, which boasts a glorious history and produced several great champions, has not seen much action of late but with the Irish Softball Nationals coming to Wexford this weekend, the host committee saw a great opportunity to bring it back into use and it will host games this weekend.

It is fitting that this tournament returns to Wexford this weekend as the county could certainly lay claim to being a stronghold of the traditional softball code; indeed, many would argue that Wexford is the home of ‘big alley’ handball.

One thing is clear: while the code may be struggling in some areas, it is thriving in Wexford with large entries in the many competitions overseen by the progressive county committee, who have again stepped up to run this important event.

“An enormous amount of work has been done, we have a particularly large entry, I think we have about 80 altogether and we’re using every single venue here in the county,” explained Tony.

“We have a committee in place at all of the courts, that’s something we wouldn’t have to do all that often and it’s not that easy to get volunteers to man their posts for the whole day but we have managed that.

“As a result, I think we have everything in place now and we’re looking forward to an outstanding Nationals.”

The Templeudigan clubman, who has also given many years of service to provincial and national committees, is a strong advocate of the softball game and takes immense pride in the fact that Wexford put such efforts into keeping it alive and well.

“Our history would indicate that our entire tradition going back almost 100 years of the association is founded within the 60x30 court. And while we did in the early years have a huge interest in hardball as well, in the more recent decades softball has become the game of choice for our players.

“We have a lot of 60x30 clubs, we value our heritage and our tradition here in the south-east and particularly in Wexford because we have had such success over the years with all the great names and they all excelled in the softball code. It’s our go-to choice of handball down here and it has been for years and although we do play and support the 4-Wall and the wallball as well, we are so steeped in softball history that it means everything to us and that’s another reason why we’re absolutely thrilled to see such a great influx of handballers from all over Ireland to take part in this event this weekend.”

The distinctive thwock of the red ball will echo all around the county this weekend, with Garryhill in Co Carlow also hosting matches, too.

“We are going to use Ballyanne, it has a huge history of handball but there hasn’t been handball there for a number of years. We are going to use Ballymitty, Castlebridge, Coolgreaney, Kilmyshall, New Ross, Gusseraune, Taghmon, Templeudigan and St Mary’s. Every single court that we have here is being used anyway and also Garryhill in Co Carlow will be used for the Masters grade.

“We just didn’t have enough courts and it was great to avail of the opportunity to use Garryhill, it’s not too far from a number of our courts so it fitted in well to add on to our own list of courts.

“We promote softball very strongly throughout the season. We have an enormous amount of competitions, leagues, we have them all sponsored. Softball is really important to everybody here. The general public seem to know of it and because our 60x30 courts are spread throughout the county, there are really 60x30 courts in a lot of parts of the county so therefore softball is played around the county.

“We really don’t have any part of the county where there isn’t any softball so softball is huge here and it’s really important to us.”

Wexford is, of course, situated in the ‘sunny south-east’ and with good weather predicted, it’s all pointing towards an outstanding weekend.

“We’re proud of that, we’re known as the sunny south-east and I remember a few years ago when we hosted the Softball Nationals, it was the warmest weekend of the year then and by the forecast I heard this evening, I think this coming weekend is going to be the same so we’re looking forward to a fantastic occasion.”

Action serves off on Saturday morning. The Men’s Open field is headed by Gary McConnell of Meath, with Kildare’s Mollie Dagg earning the top seed in the Ladies Open.

See here for draws and previews.