Galen Riordan regains the county senior title with a clinical win over Mark Doyle in another Wexford cracker

Wexford GAA Handball county senior open singles final report by AOB

Mark Doyle, Taghmon and Galen Riordan, Ballyhogue before last nights final

It’s often been said there is a thin line between success and failure and its generally accepted that the higher the level you are operating at, the thinner that line gets. That was amply demonstrated in the county 4-wall (40×20) senior open singles final played at St. Josephs Community Centre last night, when the 2018 and 2019 champion Galen Riordan, Ballyhogue was forced to operate under that line in the opening game against Mark Doyle, Taghmon, before raising the level of his performance to comprehensively overcome his youthful opponent on a scoreline of 6-21, 21-8, 21-10.

Right from the off it was the 18-year-old Doyle who decided where the line for victory in this final would be set, as he sprinted from the starting blocks to blitz his more experienced opponent in the opening exchanges. Attacking everything with a vengeance that belied his tender years, he had Riordan in all sorts of bother as he ran up an early 5-0 lead. Doyle was shooting at every opportunity and the pressure exerted on the favourite was evident early on as the normally reserved Ballyhogue man engaged referee Gavin Buggy in a dispute over a straight forward and correct call. It got worse for him as the game went on, as Doyle switched to a slow serve up the left and with the change of pace appearing to unsettle Riordan some more, the advantage extended to 10-1, 13-3 and 18-5, before Doyle closed out a really impressive 21-6 first game win.       

The die was now cast and the question on the minds for the large crowd as the players went to a short break was simple; could one of the youngest players to contest a county senior singles final, become the youngest ever to win it?  Most agreed that he could, provided he could maintain his intensity, his accuracy and his composure. His performance had been that good, but anything less would be unlikely to suffice! 

Riordan may have been somewhat stunned by the level of intensity produced by his opponent in that first game, but he had his own ideas about how to turn this around and, perhaps crucially, he had found himself in a similar position recently. It was only a few weeks ago in fact, when he dropped the first game of the semi-final against Gavin Buggy by 21-5, before rallying to record an impressive victory. That type of recovery would again be necessary if he was to emerge from this situation with the desired outcome and, because his opponent had shown no signs of faltering in that first game, he knew it could only be achieved if he raised his game by several degrees.

Riordan therefore returned to the court with that first game outcome erased from his mind and immediately things began to look better as he eased himself into an early lead. At 3-0, a completely accidental collision between his elbow and Doyle’s eye added further drama to the occasion, but thankfully there was no serious damage to either man and play soon resumed. Scores remained close for a while but Riordan was now the one dictating the play and soon he was extending his lead from 5-2 to 9-4 and then 14-7. Gone was the player who struggled to reach the pitch of the match in that first game and instead we saw those kill attempts that were six inches up earlier on, now roll out, while the passing shots that had been slightly misplaced were now played with greater accuracy and purpose. In the face of such precision Doyle was forced to defend instead of attack, and under such changed circumstances, scores were much harder to come by. Riordan also got the better of several lengthy roof shots rallies and soon he had levelled up the tie with a 21-8 win.

The destination of the 2022 title was decided very quickly in the third as Riordan went about his task with a streak of ruthlessness usually only found in elite players. Now back on level terms, his focus, determination, shot selection and execution were all where they needed to be against a player who had shown what he was capable of, given the chance. Riordan had eight points on the board before Doyle opened his account and he maintained his dominance all around the court as he built up a 16-3 lead. To his credit Doyle gave as good as he got from there to the finish and although he got Riordan out on five occasions on nineteen, he simply was unable to narrow the gap sufficiently to give himself a chance of winning. At the sixth attempt Riordan finally got the two points needed for victory and his 21-10 win secured for him the third senior title of his career.

For the young Taghmon player it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talents that have endeared him to friend and foe alike in recent years, as he went about hoovering up championships and tournaments all over the country. Eighteen is a very tender age to be competing at senior level in Wexford, much less being in a position to actually win it, but if he had managed to maintain the intensity, composure and accuracy he showed in that first game, he might indeed be celebrating a historic success this morning. He is certain to be back in a senior final again and equally certain to be a future winner.

For Galen Riordan it was a triumphant return to handball having been abroad throughout a covid interrupted 2000 and 2001. On the evidence presented last night he is clearly back to his best and at 26 years of age, he almost certainly has more to come. Many big names have won this prestigeous championship over the years and all can be credited with raising the standard needed to be champion. Last night Riordan has just moved it up another notch.