Wexford's County Championship is a massive promotional tool for the sport on Slaneyside
Written by Antoin Ó Braoin, Rúnaí Contae
The County Championship
To Wexford players the county championship is the most prestigious event in the handballer calendar. This is due in part to our history and our heritage and dates back several decades to when Dick Lyng, Pat Murphy, Seamus Buggy, the late Jimmy Goggins and several other greats of that era were taking part. Yes it helped that those were the same players who were dominating the All Ireland senior championship around that time but it was in the Wexford county championship that we got the chance to see them up close and personal. As the years went by the top players continued to participate and as the status of the championship grew so too did the ambition of those who had entered it. In those days the only thing more important than entering the Wexford championship was winning it and that provided sufficient motivation to guarantee many top class games between top class players. These were watched by large numbers of spectators and so the legend of the championship grew year by year.
Wexford County Committee have always considered the local championship to be the main promotional and development tool for the sport in the county and have left no stone unturned in an attempt to make sure our competitions offer entertainment and value to those who decide to make handball their chosen activity. This year a total of 24 championships (21 for men and 3 for women) are being promoted and because we don’t make a distinction between skill levels, all of our championship grades are promoted with equal vigor. In practise this means the winner of the junior D singles will receive the same attention as the winner of the senior singles.
In Wexford we measure the success or otherwise of our championships, not by who win them, but rather by how many take part. In that context the 2015 40×20 adult championships are currently underway with an entry of 187 and that has generated over 200 matches so far at courts all over the county. At least as many more remain to be played before a medal is presented and on that basis the promotional tool that is the Wexford championships can be deemed a runaway success for 2014-5.
With due deference to intercounty handball, for the vast majority of those 187 entrants, winning the Wexford championships is as good as it gets in this wonderful sport of ours.
The new league style format introduced on a trial basis for this year’s county 40×20 championship has generated tremendous interest with entries split into qualifying groups in all of the grades. This ensures greater participation and opportunities for the players as it does away with the squeaky bum ‘one loss and you’re out’ type of game and instead adds more fun and expectation to the proceedings. Additionally all players are now graded solely on their intercounty grade instead of their county grading, thus ensuring a fairer system for all concerned. Previously a player could be ranked higher than another in the county, but lower than the same player for intercounty purposes.
Some did wonder about the wisdom of commencing the 2015 championship in 2014 but the value of this will only be felt after Christmas when the top Wexford players will be free to concentrate on their provincial campaign without the distraction of domestic games, while those who are not at intercounty level will be catered for with the introduction of a new competition. The county singles and doubles championships will be played down to finals before Christmas and all of the finals will then be held in January.
Senior Open Singles
Gavin Buggy, St. Josephs is going for three in a row but his aura of 40×20 invincibility was shattered recently by clubmate Paul Lambert who
defeated him 21-20, 21-16 in a terrific encounter. He (Lambert) was in turn beaten by 60×30 king Tommy Hynes, St. Mary’s who won 21-10, 21-17 and who now needs only a single point from his clash with Buggy to top the table. Topping the table would give him a semi final against either Darren O’Toole, Coolgreany or Jason Murphy, Castlebridge and leave Buggy and Lambert to face off again in sudden death. Neither will welcome that scenario.
Peter Hughes, Ballyhogue has already recorded a win over Paul Lambert and on that basis will be favourite for the title. Lambert will also qualify however and the pair are likely to go head to head again in the final.
The return of Galen Riordan after a year’s sabbatical has added considerable spice to this grade and although he had a wobbly moment against Malachy Whelan, Castlebridge at the weekend the Ballyhogue clubman remains the favourite to prevail. His resolve will be tested by Darren O’Toole and Whelan in particular with several others including Barry McWilliams, Horeswood and Noel Holohan, Templeudigan also in the frame.
Junior B Singles
This is a very open grade with several contenders already staking their claim for consideration. These include the brilliant Michéal Busher,
Bridgetown as well as Robert Byrne, also Bridgetown, Damien Kelly, Coolgreany, Niall Maher, Kilmyshall, Paddy Cheevers, Horeswood and the multi talented Keith Armstrong, Kilmyshall who is coming off the back of an incredible 60×30 season.
Junior C Singles
A total of 25 have entered this grade and many bring huge experience from the 60×30 court. Chief amongst those will be Robert Doyle, St. Josephs, a recent All Ireland SMBD winner in the big court but playing 40×20 for the first time in a long number of years. He is likely to be pushed hard by Sean Stanners, St. Martins, Mick Carty, St. Josephs, James Stanners, St. Martins, Sean Stafford, Horeswood, Kevin Doyle, Davidstown, Michael Goggins, New Ross and recent All Ireland under 15 60×30 singles winner Anthony Butler, Ballyhogue, to name but a few.
Junior D Singles
A grade for those yet to win a title and populated by an entry of 24 hopefuls. Michael Cash, New Ross stands out as the raging hot favourite and all indications are that he will prove too strong for his rivals. He is likely to be pressed by David Stanners, St.
Martins, Kiall Byrne, Templeudigan, Liam Rossiter, Ballyhogue, Alan Armstrong, Davidstown, Brian Busher, Bridgetown, Paddy Curran, St.
Martins and Enda Buggy, St. Josephs.
Over 35 Singles
This competition is for players of junior B or lower and looks tailor-made for Paddy Cheevers to win. The Horeswood player is playing the handball of his career and will be extremely difficult to stop. If he is to be beaten then James Stanners, St. Martins looks best equipped to cause an upset.
Masters B Singles
16 entrants of real quality go to post for this one and at least 12 of them would be considered worthy winners. Top of the pile has got to be Barry McWilliams, Horeswood who was desperately unlucky to lose out to Connor O’Connor, Meath in last year’s Leinster 35 and over singles final and now in the over 40 B age group for the first time is already targeting the All Ireland title in this grade in 2015. He needs to clear this hurdle first though and that means seeing off the challenge posed by David Redmond, Templeudigan, Robert Byrne, Bridgetown, Robert Doyle, St Josephs, John Roche, Castlebridge and Sean Stanners, St. Martins in particular.
Golden Masters B Singles
Thee is no need to look beyond Mick Armstrong, Kilmyshall for this one and he will hope to go even better in the provincial championships
where he will compete in the over 50 B age group for the first time.
Emerald Masters A Singles
Wrapped and ready to hand to the reigning All Ireland over 55 champion Benny Doyle, Horeswood, who is in tremendous shape as always and is unlikely to be stopped either in Wexford or indeed anywhere else in the country in 2015.
Emerald Masters B Singles
The return to action of Michael Rossiter, Ballyhogue is exciting news for his club and county and the long break of about 12-14 years appears to have merely wetted his appetite once more. He won an Irish Nationals B singles title in his heyday and has this domestic title at his mercy.
Diamond Masters A Singles
The clash of Jim Doyle, Barntown and Tony Breen, Templeudigan will wet the appetite for some as an age-old rivalry is revived.
Womens Junior Singles
A cracking championship field containing all of the top players in the county. Holly Hynes, St. Mary’s will start favourite to win the title having
already taken the scalp of her experienced clubmate Marguerite Gore. 15-year-old Hynes is a prodigious talent who recently won the All
Ireland under 16 doubles title alongside Roisin Walsh, St. Josephs, who is also in the lineup.There too is Tanya O’Toole, Coolgreany who won the All Ireland 60×30 Junior doubles title a short few weeks ago and Cora Doyle, St. Josephs who has enjoyed considerable success at juvenile level. Add in the veteran Templeudigan player Anne Boland and her clubmate, former Leinster minor champion Niamh Murphy and all the ingredients are there for a terrific championship.
Womens Junior C Singles
Young Courtney Browne from Coolgreany has been to the forefront of her age group for several years and this new grade looks well within her grasp on this occasion.