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Profile- Michael ‘Ducksy’ Walsh
Date of Birth: 03/5/66
Club: Talbots Inch, Kilkenny
Occupation: Self-employed Kitchen Fitter
16 All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Singles titles
7 All-Ireland 40x20 Senior Singles titles
10 All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Doubles titles
5 All- Ireland 40x20 Senior Doubles Titles
1 Waterford National Crystal Singles
7 Handballer of the year awards
Numerous underage All-Ireland, USA and world titles etc.
Holds record thirteen successive Senior Softball Singles titles 1985-1997.
Holds record thirty-eight All-Ireland Senior medals.
What are your thoughts on today’s final?They couldn’t come any bigger than facing Eoin and it is great to be back in a final. Eoin has been champion for the last three years and he will be the favorite heading into this final. He will be giving it his best shot and hopefully I can do my best also. I have been training hard and I deserve to be there and even if he wins I will have given it my best shot. You overcame Michael Gregan of Wicklow in the semi-final. How tough a game was that for you?It won’t say it was tough but it is hard to beat somebody when you are friends with them and I’m after training with him for the last couple of years. I would know his strong points and his weak points. I won’t say that I was expecting to win but I would have been confident that I would win because I have been stronger than him over the last couple of years.
With your native Kilkenny contesting the hurling decider this weekend, the question must be asked, did you ever try your hand with the Camán?
To be very honest, I only ever played three games, and I got the line in all three. My discipline wasn’t the best at that time. In the last game, I was marking a big lad and he hit me a dig so I told him if he did it again, he would regret it. He did, and I was given the line to the last time. I remember thinking that this was the end of the hurling and I would stick to the handball from then on. I would have liked to keep of the hurling because growing up in a county like Kilkenny, it’s part of the culture, but I loved handball and that became my focus. Your close friend, and fellow handballer, Eamon Law died tragically earlier this year. You are hosting a tournament in his honour in late September?Eamon was a very good friend and I think more so than people would realize. Really when it happened – it happened on the 31st of May and I’d say I’ve probably trained harder in the last three months than I ever have, for getting ready for this championship. Eamon would have said over the last three years that I was good enough to win one more. He is really spurring me on if possible to win this but I feel that after the training I have done it is not possible for me to win any more. If I lose a better player has beaten me and that is pretty much the size of it. The tournament is on the 29th and 30th of September and it is taking place in Eamon’s home-town of Mullinavat. All of the top players will be there including Eoin Kennedy, Dessie Keegan, Joe McCann, Tom Sheridan from Meath, myself, Michael Gregan and Gavin Buggy among others.
What prompted you to return to the game after retiring in 2003?
I was gutted losing the 2002 final to Tom (Sheridan of Meath) and I didn't touch a handball for 18 months. That was strange having played some much for so long, and I had one of the worst years in my life in 2003 when I was drinking a lot. I went into Aiserí and as part of my recovery; I was encouraged to go back to handball. I tipped around for the last few years, but this year, I've really put in a big effort. Being in this year's final shows I have come full circle; if I could win it, that would be really top it all off.
Profile – Eoin Kennedy
Date of birth: 20 / 1 / 79
Club: St. Brigid’s GAA Club, Blanchardstown
Occupation: University Lecturer (NUI Maynooth)
World Men’s Doubles Champion (with Tony Healy, Cork), Canada 2006
9 All-Ireland Senior Singles titles (4 60x30, 1 40x20, 4 hardball)5 All-Ireland Senior Doubles titles (with Egin Jensen, 2 60x30, 1 40x20, 2 hardball)3 Men’s Irish Open Singles titles Winner of International Collegiate Singles title (representing DCU), 2001Winner of USA and Canadian Open Singles titles (1999 and 2001 respectively)Numerous underage All-Ireland, USA and World titles etc.
3 Vodafone/GAA All-Star awards
How did you become involved in handball?My family has always been heavily involved in handball. My grandfather, Paddy Kennedy, won an All-Ireland Junior Doubles title for Roscommon in 1938 and my father, Eugene, has won numerous over-age All-Ireland titles over the years. While I was a spectator at many games as a young lad, I only started playing when my local GAA club, St. Brigids, built two courts in 1989. While my dad has always been my coach, I also got great encouragement in the early days from the late Shea O Reilly in St. Brigids and the late Michael McCluskey of the Dublin Juvenile Handball Board.
What are your earliest memories of the game?My earliest memories of the game involve traveling to different alleys around Dublin and beyond with my dad when he would be involved in competition. I would always get into the alley for a few minutes before and after these matches. My dad would also bring me to the Senior All-Ireland Handball finals every September in Croke Park which were always great occasions full of noise and fantastic handball with the likes of Duxie and Walter O’ Connor battling it out for the title. When I was 10 years old watching Duxie win another title, I never dreamed that I would be facing him in a final in 2001 and 2002 never mind 2007!
How important was it to you to get this year's final? Since 2001, I have been in the final every year with the exception of 2003 and its definitely where I want to be. I love the buzz of playing in front of a big crowd with something really important on the line. Of course, getting to the final is never easy and this year has been no exception. As defending champion, I got a bye in the first round and subsequently I came through Gavin Buggy (Wexford) and Joe McCann (Mayo) relatively unscathed. In the semi-final against Dessie Keegan (Mayo), I had to fight very hard to come out with a 21-20 21-5 win. The first game of that match was crucial and winning it gave me a big boost while Dessie wasn’t the same player in the second game after such a narrow first game loss. I’m really looking forward to the final against Duxie now - it should be a real cracker!
How would you summarize your opponent, Ducksy Walsh, in handball terms? Duxie is the greatest Irish handballer of all-time in my opinion. His success over the years has been incredible and I doubt anyone will ever get near his record of 39 Senior All-Ireland titles. The remarkable thing about Duxie is that aside from being a great athlete and an extremely talented handballer, he is a fierce competitor. He trains incredibly hard and has amazing hunger for the game. To win 13 All-Ireland titles in a row while everyone was trying to shoot you down takes more than just talent, it takes great mental strength as well. I know from experience that it is much more difficult to defend a title than it is to win it first time around.
Where do you see the future of Irish handball?I believe that there is a fantastic future for Irish handball. A number of recent developments bode very well – the appointment of Niamh Egan as a full-time Promotions Officer with the Irish Handball Council is very important while the recent announcement of a new Irish Handball Centre at Croke Park will also be key in the development of the game in the future. Finally, support from sponsors such as All-Ireland Championship sponsor Martin Donnelly and in my own case, Vogue Bathrooms, will help the game to grow. Handball is unique among gaelic games in that in addition to a strong base in Ireland, it has a truly competitive international dimension. No doubt this will play a stronger role going into the future.
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