The final weekend of the spring was a huge one in handball, as the USHA hosted its annual Hall of Fame Tournament in Tucson and the GAA hosted Ireland’s most prestigious 40×20 handball tournament.
The United States Handball Association proudly hosted the 2016 Hall of Fame Tournament in Tucson, featuring 93 players, including two of the R48’s top eight stars, multiple national master’s champions, and more than a dozen of junior players. Players were treated to an exceptional weekend of handball and hospitality in beautiful Southeast Arizona, including an outstanding Saturday night banquet at the Handball Hall of Fame.
David Fink overcame a close first-game loss against R48 #2 Sean Lenning to win a tiebreaker in the Open Singles final, while rising star Kena Byrd-Jackson defeated equally talented Tucson teammate Marisol Maldonado in two games to win the Women’s Open Singles.
The All-Ireland 40×20 Finals in Kingscourt (HC) featured the top two men’s and women’s 40×20 stars on the Irish Senior Rankings, with both finals presenting rematches of the 2015 All Ireland 40×20 Finals.
The 2015 All-Ireland women’s final saw the best rivalry in handball renewed, as Aisling Reilly and Catriona Casey battled for the coveted championship. Reilly dominated the 2015 All-Ireland final against Casey, erasing a three-match losing streak to Casey in the process and igniting one of the best seasons in women’s handball, with Reilly claiming her second consecutive World Handball Championship and the Simple Green U.S. Open WR48 III Stop #1 two months later. Despite losing in the finals of the World Handball Championship and the Simple Green U.S. Open, Casey won the 2015 WPH WR48 Player’s Championship and the USHA 4-Wall Nationals, as well as three consecutive Senior ranking tournaments in Ireland in early 2016. Both Reilly and Casey were in top form coming into the 2016 All-Ireland final, with Reilly dismantling former WR48 NYAC ’15 finalist Ciana Ni Churraoin in the All-Ireland semifinals and Casey defeating Martina McMahon in successive weeks in the All-Ireland semifinals and WR48 NYAC ’16 final leading into the All-Ireland final. Very little had separated Reilly and Casey in their previous four major finals since the 2015 All-Ireland Finals, as the pair split the four encounters in tiebreakers.
Reilly started in the final in control, taking a seemingly comfortable 15-7 lead in game one. Casey rallied, pulling within two at 14-16, but Reilly retook control, scoring four straight points to serve for the first game at 20-14. Undaunted, Casey scored the final seven points of the game to shock Reilly and take a one-game lead. Reilly used the game one disappointment to fuel a game two rout, quickly dismissing her rival to even the match, 21-4. Reilly continued to be in control in the third game (to 21), taking a seemingly commanding 7-2 lead. Casey changed the pace of the game, going to a lob serve and scoring 19 of the final 21 points of the match to deny her rival of the All-Ireland repeat and clinch the biggest title in Ladies Irish Handball, 21-20, 4-21, 21-9.
The 2015 All-Ireland men’s final pitted fierce rivals Robbie McCarthy and Charly Shanks in a rematch of last year’s epic final won by McCarthy, 21-20 in the third game. Despite winning two R48 titles and claiming the R48 #1 ranking in 2013, Shanks was still in search of his first major title in Ireland. McCarthy has also won two R48 titles (in just six starts), including the 2014 WPH R48 Player’s Championship. Shanks held match point in the 2015 All-Ireland Final at 20-16 in the third game before “The Buzzsaw” staged a legendary comeback, scoring the final five points of the match stun Shanks and win his second All-Ireland 40×20 title.
McCarthy was in control from the onset in the 2016 final against the former R48 #1, taking a 6-0 lead, and after being tied at eight, racing to a 15-8 advantage. “The Buzzsaw” dominated the remainder of the match, sealing his third consecutive All Ireland 40×20 Championship in clinical fashion, 21-13, 21-7.
Photos Courtesy of the GAA
For more on the All-Ireland Finals, go to GAA.com
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