Cavan’s Michael Finnegan and Paul Brady will look to book a place in the final of the Men’s Senior Doubles in Williamstown.
The Breffni pairing has been the dominant force in doubles 40x20 play but have never hit the headlines in relation to senior doubles challenges in the traditional 'big court'.
That has changed this season as the Kingscourt/Mullahoran combination are now serious contenders for their first softball doubles crown.
Finnegan has always been a contender for singles honours and Brady, as expected, has taken rapidly to the 60x30 game. They made quite an impression after their two game win over last year’s All-Ireland winners, Meath’s Tom Sheridan and Brian Carroll by 21-15, 21-16.
That signalled their potential to go all the way and this weekend’s collision with Mayo’s Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann promises to be a titanic battle.
Both sides have gone head to head for all Ireland glory in the small court and both have experienced wins with the Ulster side having gained the ascendancy.
That will count for nothing when they clash in Williamstown, Galway in the first of the M Donnelly GAA Handball senior softball doubles semi-finals. Keegan and McCann also triumphed against previous All-Ireland winners, Dublin’s Eoin Kennedy and Egin Jenson, as they progressed to the last four, when they outscored the 2009 champions 21-4, 21-15.
That victory would have inspired the Mayo double act as they, like Cavan, strive for a first softball doubles title.
"In the big court Eoin (Kennedy) and Egin (Jenson) have had the upper hand on us over the years and we knew it was vital to impose ourselves on them right away and that’s exactly what we did. As a pair, Joe and I knew that we needed, mentally, to beat these lads if we wanted to go on and hopefully win this event," said Keegan.
Looking ahead to the Cavan match-up, Keegan has high respect for the pedigree of the Cavan men.
"Meeting Paul (Brady) and Michael (Finnegan) in the big court is a new one alright. I just knew that when I saw the draw and knew Paul was training for the doubles that we could end up meeting."
"The prospect of meeting Paul and Michael in the big court is very exciting as all of us will leave everything on the court so it’s going to be a great challenge.
I don't need to talk them lads up as there is very little they have not achieved and being realistic I know it’s not beyond them to win a 60x30. So it’s our job to stop them and I fully believe that we can do that this weekend.”
The second semi-final promises to be equally enthralling as the 2010 beaten finalists, Kilkenny’s Ducksy Walsh and Michael Clifford meet recently crowned Irish National doubles winners, Wexford’s Barry Goff and Colin Keeling.
The Kilkenny duo were awesome in their quarter final victory over Limerick’s CJ Fitzpatrick and Seamus O'Carroll 21-3, 21-11 but will know that Wexford are a very difficult hurdle.
The Model County pair beat Wicklow’s Michael Gregan and Johnny Willoughby 21-8, 20-21, 21-12 to advance to the semis and are well capable of adding the softball gong to their Nationals win back in July.
Once again, the ladies showdown brings together team mates, Kerry’s Ashley Prendiville and Maria Daly. Prendiville, chasing her fourth title in five years, has been the more dominant of the two in the softball code and came out on top in the 2010 final, by 21-17, 21-12.
Daly, with eight senior titles to her credit, which includes four 40x20 singles is delighted to have reached another All-Ireland final, especially having lost out in the doubles alongside Prendiville, against Mayo’s Pauline Gallagher and Amy Corrigan on a 19-21, 21-15, 21-17 scoreline a fortnight ago.
"I’m looking forward to playing on Saturday and happy to be in another final. I started so late this year in the big alley and so I didn’t expect to get this far.
"I hope to play well on the day and it’s hard to play your doubles partner. Ashley has been so strong in the big alley for the last few years and is the current champion, so I just hope I can do my best on the day," said Daly.
This is an extremely busy weekend on the GAA Handball All Ireland Championship calendar with a host of finals scheduled to take place at 8 venues around the country with the cream of Irish youth handballers in action in the Juvenile Championship Finals in Cashel, Tipperary, and Hospital, Limerick.
FIXTURES: M Donnelly GAA Handball Softball Championships 2011:
Saturday 10 September 2011, in Williamstown, 3pm:
Men's SD Semi-Final: Cavan (Paul Brady & Michael Finnegan) v Mayo (Dessie Keegan & Joe McCann)
Men's SD Semi-Final: Kilkenny (Ducksy Walsh & Michael Clifford) v Wexford (Barry Goff & Colin Keeling)