County senior open singles final preview
Nine of the best handballers ever to play 40×20 handball in Wexford went to post for this year’s county senior open singles championship and after a campaign that began on 1st October last, only two remain in contention to land what is generally regarded as Ireland’s premier domestic title writes AOB.
Significantly perhaps it is the reigning champion Galen Riordan from Ballyhogue and several times senior championship winner Gavin Buggy from St. Josephs who have come through the league and knockout stages to contest Wednesday’s decider and with the system ensuring that only the best reach the final in Wexford, it is the match up that everybody wanted to see.
Much has been made about the age profile of some of Wexford’s top players and how their longevity somehow reflects on those who fail to topple them from their perch, but an alternative narrative amongst the knowing handball fraternity commands much more credence countrywide.
The ability of Gavin Buggy, Tommy Hynes and Barry Goff, for instance, to stay extremely fit and competitive while in their 40s is testament to their determination, dedication and love of the game and when their performances are measured against the current crop of younger players, at a time when standards are higher than ever before, the focus is not on an underachieving up and coming generation but rather on an incredible group of overachieving ‘senior’ athletes.
Buggy, more than most, has exhibited an almost fanatical desire to maintain his competitiveness and at 45 years of age is probably as fit and mobile as he has ever been. He continues to amass an impressive collection of provincial and national titles and only last week was again victorious in the Leinster over 35 singles championship. And while his meltdown in the 2018 semi final against clubmate Daniel Kavanagh did cast doubt on his mental readiness for that clash with the next generation, his determination to re-establish himself as the best in Wexford, in a championship he values highly, appears to have been reinstated in no uncertain terms. That much can be gleaned from his performances in this season’s competition which left him unbeaten after nine matches and which again saddles him with the favourites tag for the final at his home venue of St. Josephs.
It is into this cauldron that Galen Riordan will step on Wednesday evening at 8pm and he will be acutely aware that his maiden success of last year when he became the first Ballyhogue player to win a senior title in Wexford will count for little on this occasion. Not that he needs it of course as this brilliant exponent of the 40×20 code has gone from strength to strength in the meantime with his winnings including the World 23 and under singles and doubles, All Ireland 40×20 junior singles, All Ireland 60×30 intermediate doubles and a whole host of other events. He has enjoyed a truly astonishing run of successes on several different fronts and all the while his graph continues to rise nationally. It is not inconceivable that in the coming years he will become Wexford’s first ever All Ireland 40×20 senior singles winner as the 23 year old already possesses many of the tools needed for that herculean task.
The challenge facing him on Wednesday though is different. Different in that history has shown time and time again, winning in Wexford is difficult, often more difficult than at national level. Tradition plays a part, as does the large and knowledgeable crowd always present at this final, as well as the expectancy and sheer sense of occasion surrounding the event. Wednesday’s final will have all of those things and it’s a feeling and atmosphere that Gavin Buggy will have experienced on many occasions. Last year, even for him, it proved too much at the semi final stage and he will be out to atone for that. Riordan for his part will be aware that while winning in 2018 was special, it needs to be backed up with a win over Buggy to have additional meaning and his current form suggests he is ready to defend his title with everything he has got.
This 40×20 final will be different too in that it will not be fought out between traditional 60×30 underhand type players and neither will it be a repeat of last year’s sidearm showdown between Riordan and Kavanagh. Instead we will see one of the best sidearm players in the game take on one of the best underarm players. The sidearm ‘killing machine’ that is Riordan faced by one of the great retrievers in modern day handball, Buggy, and how one will respond to the other’s strengths may well determine the final outcome.
It all makes for an intriguing finale to what has been a riveting 40×20 domestic season in Wexford.