Tipperary’s Fergal Collins finished the 60x30 softball season on a high after he secured an impressive fourth All-Ireland under 21 singles title in Talbots Inch, Kilkenny last weekend.
Collins completed the double for the second successive year in this grade after dominating Kilkenny’s Ger McGrath in two straight games, 21-5, 21-14.
The Munster champion had already captured the 40x20 gong back in May when he did a similar job on Kilkenny’s Patrick Funchion, 21-9, 21-13.
He also teamed up with Meath’s Gary McConnell to win the 23 and under division at the Irish Nationals in Wexford back in June and Collins will now look to progress in the senior ranks.
He is one of a few young talented players who can seriously challenge Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy for the senior accolade in the coming seasons.
The Ballina club man made his mark in the top flight when he enjoyed a fine win over Mayo’s Joe McCann 21-19, 21-5 in the opening round of the M Donnelly senior singles series in July, before being edged out by last year’s senior doubles winner, Meath’s Brian Carroll in the last 16.
“I was delighted to win back the medal I won last year and finish my time in the under 21 grade with a win. I think more players should play under 21 instead of going straight from minor into junior or intermediate and give yourself the time needed to develop,” said Collins.
“Next year I will play intermediate and see how I can do in that. There are lots of good players in the grade so I’m looking forward to the competition and hopefully I can step up to it and compete.”
Collins has also tasted success across the Atlantic and has gained invaluable experience on the international scene. He will now set his sights for the world championships scheduled for Dublin, next October.
In 2009, the Tipperary man won the 19 and under singles title and men’s A singles at the USA Nationals. One year later, he qualified for his first pro stop in Minnesota.
“It’s going to be a massive year for handball in Ireland with the worlds and I’m sure they have been on people's minds for a long time and it’s a chance to test yourself against the best players in Ireland and in the world and it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
“Hopefully there will be a 23 and under grade as there are lots of top players at that age and it would be really competitive and if so it will be something to aim for after the championships.”
Tyrone have had a fantastic season in the 60x30 court in 2011 and Shane O'Neill completed his own fine campaign when he denied Cork's Brendan Fleming in a thrilling Junior title decider at Kells, winning 21-20, 18-21, 21-3.
The O'Neill County enjoyed an eyecatching double at the Meath venue when Maeve McElduff produced her finest handball to date to overcome the highly rated Ciana Ní Churraoin from Galway 21-4, 21-10 in the ladies' under 16 singles.
The McCarthy family from Mullingar continued to enjoy softball success in 2011 when Westmeath’s Aoife McCarthy, brother of recently crowned senior singles victor Robbie, took the ladies' junior crown.
McCarthy, showing similar battling characteristics to those which helped her older brother claim the county’s first ever senior singles gold medal two weeks ago, lost the opener to Clare’s Ashling Fitzgerald 21-11. She fought hard to take the second 21-19 before going on to seal the victory, taking the third 21-13.
Another former senior champion, Clare’s John Kirby did the double in the Ruby Masters bracket when he teamed up with Jimmy Walsh to defeat Dublin’s Pat Ryan and Michael O’Brien 21-4, 21-1.
John, known throughout the country as one of the famous Kirby brothers from Tuamgraney, bagged the singles title beating Kildare’s Dermot Howard.
Tipperary substantiated their position as the strongest county in the junior ranks in the 60x30 as they scooped two from three in the team events held in Thurles.
In the under 13 team event, Jason English, Aidan O Flaherty, Kevin Shiners, Colin Ryan, Gerome Cahill, Adrian O Meara and James Princely piped Kilkenny by four points, winning 66-62 in a thrilling decider.
Tipperary also got the better of Kilkenny in the under 17 cohort, when Stephen Mooney, Jason Cahill, Dillon Ryan and Jack Jones accounted for Fergal Lalor, Stephen O'Dwyer, Eoin Doyle, Ronan Egan and Dylan Meaney 41-22.
There was joy for the black and amber in the under 15 division when they won 71-60. J.J. English and Padraig Cooney gave the Cats a 22-point advantage in the opening doubles which proved too much for Tipperary to come back from.