Buggy sees off Kavanagh challenge in pulsating senior singles final

Written by Antoin Ó Braoin

After 130 minutes of a captivating county 40×20 senior singles final between the holder Gavin Buggy and first time finalist Daniel Kavanagh at St. Josephs Community Centre last night, the end came quickly and with it a slight sense of anti climax for the packed, and by then expectant, attendance. At that stage 18 year Kavanagh had forged into a 14-11 lead in the third game and looking the fresher of the two after a grueling encounter he appeared on course to become the youngest county senior singles winner in Wexford handball history. But then Buggy, a 12 times champion said an emphatic no and with a finish that matched anything he has ever produced in such circumstances, he powered home to win 21-19, 18-21, 21-14

Gavin Buggy and Daniel Kavanagh with referee Tommy Hynes before the toss up for serve.
Gavin Buggy and Daniel Kavanagh with referee Tommy Hynes before the toss up for serve.

This eagerly awaited blue riband of the 40×20 season had come packaged with all the ingredients necessary for a changing of the guard. The young pretender Daniel Kavanagh had made startling progress in the past 12 months and his recent form in taking the Leinster intermediate singles title with impressive ease at his first attempt indicated he was just about ready to challenge for the biggest prize on offer in Wexford 40×20 handball and with it, the right to be known as the best small court player in the county. Yes it was a big ask of course, but given the progress he had made it was not a totally unrealistic aspiration to take into the final and certainly Kavanagh did not appear at all fazed by the enormity of the challenge presented by his vastly more experienced opponent.

The young St. Josephs player actually got the better start and any nerves present were calmed as he won the early rallies to sneak into a 3-1 lead. Buggy was soon into his stride though and tacking on 7 points without reply he moved 8-3 in front. Things tightened up from that point onward and the rallies became longer with sustained bouts of roof play the main ingredient. Kavanagh emerged from this period level at 9-9 and while the scores were tied on several occasions from there to the finish of this opening game, the youngster did hit the front on three separate occasions, 11-10, 13-11 and 15-13. Buggy though never allowed himself to fall further than two points behind and after the scores were tied at 17-17 he used his trademark right corner kill shot to good effect to get home 21-19 in a very tense finish.

A section of the attendance at last night's county senior singles final at St. Josephs Community Centre. Champion Gavin Buggy can be seen entering the arena to begin his defence of the title.
A section of the attendance at last night’s county senior singles final at St. Josephs Community Centre. Champion Gavin Buggy can be seen entering the arena to begin his defense of the title.

The odds on a new champion being named lengthened considerably at this point and when Buggy went for home early in the second it appeared he was set to retain his title with a bit to spare. The championship favourite had rolled ball after ball to open up a 11-5 and 14-8 lead but it was then we saw the reason for the confidence in the Kavanagh camp as he produced his best handball of the match to level at 15-15. Throughout this period he showed he was worthy of such an occasion as he repeatedly came off best in punishing rallies against one of the game’s biggest battlers, but more would be needed to level things up.

And indeed more was what he found in those tense closing stages as the young pretender matched Buggy’s intensity at every point to take the game 21-18 and bring the final to a deciding leg.

The main points of discussion between spectators at the break centered around whether Kavanagh could maintain the same savage intensity in the third game and everybody agreed that anything less against the steely Buggy would not be enough. The reigning champion has rarely succumbed in a deciding game and in a championship always placed high on his list of priorities this was gong to be no different.

Any fears that the challenger was not up to the task were soon dispelled when Kavanagh opened a 5-1 lead but the champion rallied once more to level at 5-5 and they were all square again at 6-6, 7-7, 8-8 and 9-9 before Kavanagh made what looked like the decisive move. With neither man ready to blink this final was reaching fever pitch and both were feeling the pace. Buggy looked only marginally the worse for wear despite the 25 year age gap but even this appeared important as he made a few uncharacteristic errors to hand the initiative to his eager opponent. A Kavanagh fist pump following another favourable outcome to a massive rally at 13-11 put him three points ahead and maybe, just maybe gave him a fleeting glimpse of a winning post that was surely coming into view on an ever welcoming horizon.

Buggy though has always made it clear how important the Wexford championship is to him and his commitment to it has never wavered over the years. Only the very best have ever won this much sought after title and the Wexford town man has hoovered it up more often than anyone else. Would that in any way leave him short of ambition at this crucial juncture? We soon got our answer!

Sometimes you can only sit back and admire the qualities that make a player different and staring down the barrel of defeat to an up and coming player of this calibre would test the resolve of any 43 year old handballer to its limits. But champions have an irritating habit of finding answers where there appears to be none and sometimes what is at stake is just too big to let it go, no matter how many times you have held it in your hands.

Buggy’s performance in securing the required 10 points for the title and without conceding another score screamed ‘it is still my time’ and it sent a message to all and sundry that he is not yet prepared to yield up something that matters so much.

For his part Kavanagh gained far more than he lost last night and his performance in this riveting match suggest it is no longer a case of if he will win this championship, but when. He didn’t lose this match last night and any such conclusion would be fake.

Buggy came and took it away and in the final analyses the refusal to countenance defeat triumphed over the will to win.