By Paul Fitzpatrick
Roscommon’s Fiona Tully has been one of those leading the chasing pack behind the superpowers in the female game since winning the minor Singles title in 2016.
The St Coman’s right-hander has been in two of the last three O'Neill's Senior Singles semi-finals and while she admits a gap still exists between the top two or three players and those vying for a breakthrough, she feels it is closing, even if the scorelines don't always reflect as much.
Fiona had a fine run in the USHA Collegiates last week, eventually going under to Minnesota-based Galway woman Ciana Ní Churaoín in the final, and she takes on Kildare’s Mollie Dagg this Saturday hoping to once again seal her place in the last four.
“I felt overall I played well [at the Collegiates] but against Ciana I let her go on a run and then I couldn’t any aces, the rallies we’re still alive but I just couldn’t show it in the score. However in the second game, my arms weren’t able for it if I’m honest, the ball is different,” was the Roscommon woman’s honest appraisal of the week.
A final year Geography and Irish student in Dublin, she has been training hard all season. Her goal, she says, was to alleviate hand errors and give herself the best possible chance against the leading players.
“It’s a very big jump from the round of 16 and quarter-finals to the semi-finals. The play is much more different with Martina and Catriona. They’re more clinical and won’t let you away with anything silly.
“I guess I have been training this year more than I did last year if I’m honest, but I don’t think a few months of training will help me catch them right now, another while of training and hopefully it’ll fall into place.”
Motivation can be difficult when trying to overcome McMahon and Casey, who have met in the final of every major event (when both have entered) in recent seasons but Tully, who enjoyed a stellar underage career, is determined to keep improving.
“It’s very hard if I’m honest, you know going into the game all you can do is your best but they have the experience and years of training done and now I’m trying to catch them.
“Like, I feel the gap is closing through rallies but not showing in the scoreline which is hard to think about but I guess everyone has to start somewhere.”
A talented dual player, she returned to football training in mid-January but handball remains her main focus. Her clash with Leixlip teenager Dagg is down for decision in Multyfarnham, Co Westmeath this Sunday (3pm) and with a place in the top four at stake, it could well prove to be the tie of the round between two of the best young players in the game at present.