All roads lead to Belfast this weekend for the eagerly-awaited Fonacab St Paul’s Golden Gloves, commonly regarded as the leading tournament in the country outside of the All-Irelands and Nationals, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.
Once again, the handball community have voted with their feet, with over 220 entries and stellar line-ups in the Men’s and Ladies Open divisions.
This will be the 35th renewal of the event, which started in the mid-1980s and has grown into a mammoth logistical undertaking for the organising committee.
Defending champion Robbie McCarthy heads the 24-man Men’s Open field, with Diarmaid Nash seeded second.
In the Ladies Open, All-Ireland champion Ciana Ní Churraoin is top seed, with Fiona Tully second. A welcome returnee is former senior champion Martina McMahon, who is back in action after a long spell on the sidelines due to injury.
If the seeds hold up, McMahon could renew rivalries with Catriona Casey in what would be a mouthwatering quarter-final between two of the best female players the fans have been privileged to watch.
Encouragingly, there is a youthful look to both Open divisions, with many young gunslingers from all over the country taking their chance in a showdown with the quick-draws at the elite end of the game, which should really add to the intrigue.
The lower divisions are also stacked (there are 24 in the Men’s C alone) while there are very strong fields in the juvenile and Masters grades also. The Boys 17&U grade honours Michael ‘Ducksy’ Walsh and will be very closely contested as always.
“Preparations are going really, really well, spear-headed by Paul Graham and Charly Shanks in particular,” Tournament Director Seamus Ó Tuama told GAAHandball.ie.
“We have got great help from the St Paul’s committee chairperson Caroline McLoughlin and treasurer Kieran Cooper to name a few.
“We have got our largest entry ever with over 220 players so all courts are going to be going flat out from six o’clock on Friday until whatever time we finish Sunday evening, so we’re operating 10 different courts across the venues from Friday at 6pm right through.
“We’re really delighted with the preparation but as we know, once we hit landfall on Friday evening, we’ll see how good the preparation was. It’s a tried and tested system that we have and we’re delighted with the interest yet again, with so many other tournaments and such a busy calendar coming up to Christmas.
“We’re really looking forward to it and delighted with how things have gone and hopefully all will go swimmingly at the weekend and everybody enjoys themselves and feels well looked after. It’s a game that we all love and we’re delighted to run this event each year.”
The record entry is particularly impressive given the close proximity to the Irish Nationals, which will be staged in Co Clare next week.
Venues used will be St Paul’s, Gort Na Mona, Rossa, Coláiste Féirste and Queens PEC.
View the draws here.
Note that the schedule is very tight and all players are asked to be on site well in advance of their scheduled start time.