Wexford are doing a terrific job of hosting the National Handball Championships

THE 2022 IRISH Softball Nationals were held in Wexford this weekend, with around 200 players, adults and juveniles, taking part across seven Wexford venues.

The National Championships were last held in Wexford in 2019 but due to the pandemic the competition did not take place in 2020 or 2021 so it was very special to welcome players and spectators from all over the country to Wexford for this prestigious tournament.

Wexford certainly lived up to its name with pleasant weather all weekend, but that made conditions more difficult for the players who had to contend with the heat inside the lanes.

The seven host clubs involved certainly pulled out all the stops to make this a memorable event for players and spectators alike. Great credit must be given to the volunteers at Ballymitty, Castlebridge, Coolgreany, Kilmyshall, St. Mary’s, Taghmon and Templeudigan Handball Clubs for going the extra mile to ensure everyone who attended the event got through a pleasant time.

On the men’s side, Tommy Hynes of St. Mary’s had a great tournament, beating Chris Doyle (Wicklow) in the last 16.

His quarter-final against Gavin Buggy was one of the highlights of the weekend, with teammate Gavin winning the first 15-12. Tommy turned it around to take the second 15-3, and he closed it 11-8 in the tiebreaker.

He then had to chain a new tie-break (11-5) against Michael Gregan (Wicklow) in the semi-final.

His opponent in the other half of the draw, top seed Robbie McCarthy (Westmeath), had an easier path to the final with back-to-back quarter-final and semi-final wins.

The final proved a step too far for Tommy, and Robbie justified the favorite tag with another straight win.

In the women’s open, favorite Martina McMahon (Limerick) won the title, beating Ashling O’Keeffe (Cork) in two matches.

There have been two consecutive finals at Kilmyshall, with Wexford winning both. Noel Holohan (Templeudigan) and Seán Nolan (Kilmyshall) repeated their 2019 success against the same Kilkenny opponents, William Murphy and John Morrissey.

It was a close affair with both pairs taking one game apiece before the Wexford lads won the tie-break 11-6.

The Golden Masters final saw Damien Kelly (Coolgreany) and Mick Armstrong (Kilmyshall) prove too strong for Ricky Barron (Taghmon) and Tommy Armstrong (Kilmyshall) in two straight matches.

The Diamond Masters had three pairs, so it was played as a round robin.

And after they all faced off, the Meath pair of Anthony McConnell and James Reilly came out on top, with Benny Doyle (Horeswood) and Michael Rossiter (Ballyhogue) runners-up in this competitive category.

In Templeudigan, Clíodhna O’Connell (Coolgreany) teamed with Aoife Brophy of Laois to win the women’s “B/C” title, again in round robin format, with Siobhán Tracey and Carragh Kennedy of Roscommon runners-up.

Jodie Keeling (St. Joseph’s) was our only juvenile winner when she teamed up with Hannah Grace of Tipperary in the girls 17 and under, and they beat Nathania Jackson and Emer Barron of Kilkenny in back-to-back matches.

Amber Cronin-Kenny (Coolgreany) and Kitty Roche (Castlebridge) battled hard against Maggie Quirke (Kerry) and Shauna Hayes (Kilkenny) in the Girls 13 & Under final.

The Kerry/Kilkenny duo took the first match comfortably, but Amber and Kitty fought back very well and won the second. They fell behind at the start of the tie-break and came back again, but their opponents had just enough to cross the line.

We had adult plate winners in: the men’s open, Galen Riordan (Ballyhogue); the male “A”, David Kenny and Shane Birney (Castlebridge); male ‘C’, Dean O’Neill and JR Finn (Ballymitty); Masters, Robert Byrne (Bridgetown) and David Stanners (St. Martin’s).

Our juvenile plate winners were: girls 13 and under, Boo Murphy and Zahara Dunne-Sweeney (Taghmon), with Angel Cronin-Kenny (Coolgreany) Chloe Murphy (Castlebridge) runners-up; boys 15 and under, Jamie Moran and Seán Fitzharris (Templeudigan), with runners-up Shane Cleary (Ballymitty) and James Kenny (Kilkenny); boys 17 and under, John Hayes (Kilkenny) and Jamie Barnes (St. Mary’s), followed by Bobby Doyle and Jack Whitty (Taghmon).

Charlie Roche (Castlebridge) and Nathan Lawlor (Taghmon) finished second in the 13-and-under plate final.

Coolgreany hosted the fun Under-11 event for boys and girls and three pairs took part, two from Coolgreany and one from Templeudigan.

There were great exchanges in all games and it was a very enjoyable event. Bravo to Caroline Murphy and Isla-Mai Redmond (Templeudigan), George Foley and Ted Lawlor and Aidan and Danny Cronin-Kenny (Coolgreany).

It was a fantastic handball weekend and it was great to have crowds back in the aisles to watch the players perform at their best. Congratulations to everyone who won titles or reached finals, and to everyone who participated to make this a momentous occasion.

Sincere thanks to the seven host clubs and all the volunteers across the county for putting in so much effort to ensure things went smoothly on both days, on what was a great weekend for Wexford Handball.

Attention now turns to another major event, Wexford hosting the Féile National Softball Tournament which takes place on Sunday 21st August.