A feast of top-class handball is guaranteed in Kingscourt tomorrow with the O'Neill's Men's and Ladies Senior Singles semi-finals down for decision in a four-match programme which will be live streamed on the GAA Handball Facebook page.
First up is Limerick lefty Martina McMahon, who will take on the winner of Roscommon's Fiona Tully and Kildare teenager Mollie Dagg, who play off this evening.
The world champion will go into the match as hot favourite regardless of the opposition. Anything less than a win for McMahon would be regarded as a fairly seismic upset. Having lost the final of the Senior Singles last year, McMahon will be determined to return to the final for the fourth successive year, although it will be very interesting to see how either Tully or Dagg, who have both shown impressive form of late, will handle the Munster woman's power and spectacular attacking game.
Game two is potentially a cracker, pitting the holder, Cork's Catriona Casey, against two-time winner and former world champion Aisling Reilly of Antrim. The brilliant Casey will start as favourite to advance to an unprecedented eighth Senior Singles final in succession but Reilly believes she is closing the gap again following her return from shoulder surgery two seasons back, as she told GAAHandball.ie this week.
“I don’t think I’ve quite reached where I was before yet,” said the St Paul's woman. “The standard has risen and I need to match that, which I think I can. I could definitely improve aspects of my game.
“My goals in the last couple of years have definitely changed. If you’d have told me two years ago I’d be competing regularly and playing decent enough while improving game after game, I’d have bitten your hand off but now I’m focused on pushing on another bit.
“I think my motivations over the past few years have changed very slightly. I treated handball before as a full-time job on top of a full-time job. This year my motivation was to compete in every tournament and play steady handball.
“I’ve achieved that and with every tournament that has passed I’ve realised that I’m not that far off which is massively motivating for me.”
Topping the bill at the Cavan venue is the meeting of 2018 winner Martin Mulkerrins of Galway and two-time finalist Diarmaid Nash, two of the form players on the pre-championship tournament circuit.
Nash, last year's runner-up, comes in to the last four off the back of an impressive 21-11, 21-4 win over Kilkenny's Peter Funchion last time out. His conditioning and superb defensive and front-court game have been as sharp as ever this campaign and he will fancy his chances in what looks like a 50-50 clash.
Meanwhile, Mulkerrins saw off Meath's Brian Carroll in last weekend's quarter-final and feels that he is beginning to his his stride at the right time.
“I think all of the training has started to come together, the championship was my main focus from the start of the season and to have won my first pro stop, won the ranking tournament in Breacach [Co Tyrone] and to have performed well in the John Gaffney Memorial, the Montana pro stop and the Irish Nationals have been all positive,” Mulkerrins told GAAHandball.ie earlier this week.
“I view them all as stepping stones and preparation to peak for this. Although tournaments are nice to win, championship and three games to 21 is completely different.
“The tournaments and my training have been to keep sharp on the court but also to build the conditioning that is necessary and I think that has all come together in the past few weeks.”
The Moycullen man's powerful two-handed offense may give him a slight edge in attack – although Nash's fly kills are as good as any in the game – and the clash of styles is likely to produce a thrilling contest.
Elsewhere, holder Robbie McCarthy of Westmeath takes on Armagh's Charly Shanks, the 2017 winner in another intriguing clash. Shanks (36) had shown mixed form in tournaments but has turned it on when needed. He showed his class in seeing off Clare's Colin Crehan, the current doubles champion along with Nash, in the last round in Roscommon, dropping the first 21-19 before storming back to comfortably win the next two.
However, the Lurgan man will need to be at his brilliant best if he is to turn back the Mullingar maestro, who has been in sensational form over the last 12 months, culminating in his comfortable victory at the Irish Nationals in Mayo in mid-February.
McCarthy's ability to control the game from the short line, where his subtle dump shots can negate even the most powerful opponents, make him favourite to advance but nothing will come easy in what is another exciting tie.
Meanwhile, in the Minor Singles, Kilkenny dual player Billy Drennan takes on Connacht champion Lorcan Conlon of Mayo, with holder Eoghan McGinnity from Monaghan facing Tipperary's Rory Grace. In the Ladies Minor Singles, Kilkenny's Noelle Dowling faces off against Galway's Saidhbh Ní Flaithearta, with Mairead Fox of Tyrone playing Clare's Chloe Philpott in the other semi-final.
All Senior matches will be streamed live on the GAA Handball social media channels, starting at 2.30pm.