Brilliant All Ireland senior semi final win by Gavin Buggy and Galen Riordan sets up a Super Saturday clash with Meath at Castlebridge

Report by Antóin Ó Braoin

In what may well be the last All Ireland senior final to take place outside of Croke Park, Gavin Buggy and Galen Riordan set the scene for what is certain to be a memorable and historic senior softball doubles final at Castlebridge on Saturday next, when they produced a brilliant performance to overcome Dominic Lynch and Jack O’Shea, Kerry, in yesterday’s semi final at the same venue. Due to the delayed opening of the magnificent new National Handball Centre at headquarters, a decision had been made to seek an alternative venue for the concluding stages of this years softball championship and Wexford applied for and got the go ahead to host the semi finals and final of Irelands premier handball event. Castlebridge was selected as the venue and yesterday it was packed to capacity for the Wexford v Kerry and Meath v Dublin mens semi finals along with the women’s senior doubles final between Cork and Kildare. 

A hard-earned quarter final win against Wicklow had qualified Buggy and Riordan for the semi final, but the overwhelming need was for the Wexfordmen to go one step further and make the final, thus ensuring Wexford participation in next weeks historic occasion.  

Dominic Lynch, Jack O’Shea, Galen Riordan and Gavin Buggy following yesterday’s match.

The early exchanges of this match hinted at the size of the task facing Buggy and Riordan, as the men from the Kingdom started well to go 4-0 in front, but when the home team got to the pace of the match, they were soon back on level terms. Buggy in particular began finding the front corners with some fine killshots, while Riordan shored up the right hand side with good retrieving and good safety play. With Buggy attacking and Riordan defending, scoring became noticeably more difficult for Kerry and with Wexford keeping the scoreboard ticking over throughout, that early deficit soon turned into an 17-7 lead. A comfortable first game win beckoned at this stage, but Kerry made them fight extremely hard for those last few points and there were some worrying signs for the natives before that opening game was eventually secured on a slightly flattering 21-9 scoreline.

Any doubts as to whether the Kerrymen had played themselves back into the match were dispelled straight from the restart, as they went about the task with energy and determination.  Buggy and Riordan met the challenge head on though and what followed was a fantastic exhibition of softball at its very best. All four players had standout moments in a period containing several lung bursting rallies, (up to 30 shots at times), brilliant retrieving and some fantastic killing from Lynch in particular. It all made for a wonderful spectacle for neutrals, but for the large Wexford contingent it created a sense of unease as to the final outcome. That unease was further exacerbated as the Wexford error count began to rise around the midpoint of the game and with Lynch producing an awesome display of killing and the Wexford challenge wilting, it was the Kerrymen who powered home 21-14 to level the tie at one game apiece.

As the tiebreak got underway, thoughts turned to next Saturday and the very real prospect of an All Ireland senior doubles final at Castlebridge, without the Wexford involvement that seemed all but assured after the opening game. A major and historic handball event in the county without a Wexford presence would be like Hamlet without the Prince and everyone present at Castlebridge knew it!  Thankfully Gavin Buggy and Galen Riordan knew it too and although the pressure to deliver the desired outcome had to be huge, they responded in magnificent fashion to win the tiebreak 11-5 and send the Wexford contingent home very happy.

Next weeks final will be a daunting task for Buggy and Riordan as they only joined forces this season and as such, could almost be described as a ‘rookie’ pairing. Despite that however, they have come through the field to qualify for the final and keep alive the dream of a Wexford win on Wexford ground. Wexford’s last senior doubles title came back in 2011 when Barry Goff and Colin Keeling were successful.

Reigning champions Gary McConnell and Brian Carroll, Meath will provide the opposition following an impressive win over Dublin in the second semi final and these two brilliant players will start odds on favourites to win their third title in a row. Brian Carroll who won his first senior doubles title back in 2008, is regarded as probably the best right side doubles player of all time and with nine wins in the past twelve years its hard to oppose that view. By contrast Gavin Buggy will be taking part in only his second final, having partnered Barry Goff in defeat against Dublin back in 2006, while for Galen it will his first.  

The third match at Castlebridge on Saturday saw Cork defeat Kildare to win their eighth women’s senior doubles title in a row.