|Newport Organising Committee Members with Paul Brady||Div 1 Winner Joe McCann with Charly Shanks the runner - up|
|Martin Coneeley and Sean McNally after their Division 2 Final||Morgan Darcy with Oisin Naughton|
|Paul Brady get an award from Peadar McGee of Newport||A selection of the crowd at Newport Alley|
|Aidan Bell and Peter Cassidy after their division 4 final||Ger Coonan (winner) and Gerry Guiney Runner-up Div 1 Plate|
|Mr Shanks, Brady and McCann after their exhibition game at Newport||Steven Markem and Mark O'Dwyer|
|Sinead Gallogly (R-Up) and Pauline Gallagher Girls Winners at Newport||Paul Brady with Ollie Gough from Meath Div 6 Winner|
Report by Michael McGee
Mc Cann wins the McGee International handball
Mayo’s Joe McCann on his first visit to Newport came away with the Division One title following an exciting win over the defending champion Charlie Shanks from Armagh on Sunday June 4th. .
The McGee tournament has been going from strength to strength since 1980. John Hoban from Dublin the highly respected refereeing official has attended 24 of the 27 events and has battled back from serious heart illness last year was again in attendance. In all there was six divisions all with qualifying matches taking place in the two court complex in Castlebar and in Newport itself on the Saturday. One of the matches of the day was between Martin Connelly from the Moycullen Club in Galway against Padraig Maguire a Newport native now resident in Leixlip. Connelly was 30-26 up but Maguire put in a strong finish and very nearly took it at the finish. Connelly held out to record a narrow win in the Division two semi-final. That evening there was a barbeque outside the Newport club and many young players used the old 60 x 30 open court directly across the road to play late into the evening. With a bright start to the Sunday morning and temperatures reaching the mid 20’s outside and handball in Newport was warming up too. There was scorching handball action for the finals during the day. When I arrived just after 10 am the Division 6 final was already heating up between Meath’s Ollie Gough and Newport’s Jack Higgins. Gough from the Rathmore Club in Meath has been a winner at the tournament on six occasions from his 21 visits and he made it number 7 with an excellent 31-17 win over Higgins. The two Golden Oldies with Gough aged 68 and the “younger” Higgins at 57 giving it their all and it was heart warming to see these two handball greats in action. Mark O’ Dwyer from the Kells Club in Kilkenny and Stephen Markem from Leixlip went head to head in the Division 5 final. Markem sporting pirate style head gear didn’t frighten the young Kilkenny man. O’ Dwyer was the better player technically throughout the contest even though the Leixlip club man narrowed the lead to 15-14 at one stage The Kells club player always had the little extra while Markem on many occasions made last ditch efforts just to keep the ball in play. O’ Dwyer’s greater fitness and handball awareness was the deciding factor as he strove to an 31-17 win.
Cassidy “rings” Bell in Division 4 final
There was an all Mayo final in the Division 4 decider with Swinford’s Peter Cassidy and Aidan Bell from Claremorris. This was another very even contest and could have went either way. With scores level on 6 occasions. Bell seemed to have the advantage when leading by 23-18 but with Cassidy working hard he hauled himself back from the brink. It was energy sapping handball and great credit to both players who went at it for the full contest. Bell at 46 gave as good as he got against the 22 year-old Swinford clubman. Bell held a 2 point advantage at 29-27 but Cassidy with great resolve refused to capitulate and came back at Bell. Cassidy got the big points when he had to and pulled off a great victory by 31-29. Pauline Gallagher from Swinford in Mayo played some excellent handball when she outpointed Kildare’s Sinead Gallogly by 31-19 in the Girls final.
Darcy’s amazing fightback in Division two final
Morgan Darcy from the Moycullen Club in Galway was up against Oisin Naughton from Roscommon. It was a fantastic contest and there was no more than 3 points between them throughout that’s how closely matched they were. Peter McGee just arrived in a few moments earlier and could only have been impressed by what he saw from the mighty Morgan Darcy and the nimble footed Naughton. It looked that Naughton had it wrapped up when serving for the match at 30-27 but somehow from somewhere Morgan Darcy called upon all his reserves of energy and resolve to stage a remarkable recovery. Naughton on 4 occasions was serving for the match and Darcy who must have an unbreakable heart could not be broken. The wily campaigner came back from the brink of defeat to stage one of the most amazing recovery’s ever seen in the McGee tournament in its 27 year history. Darcy giving every last ounce of energy held out for a well merited victory. The beads of perspiration falling from the Galway’s man’s face told its own story afterwards. In the Division 2 final Martin Connelly from Moycullen played outstanding handball to defeat Sean McNally from Down. McNally tried his best but Connelly was inspired form and won by 31-5 in the end.
McCann the Champion
Joe McCann making his debut at the tournament was up against Charly Shanks the defending champion from Armagh. These two have met on my occasions the most recent was last years U.S. Collegiates final with Shanks coming out on top. Shanks was into his stride straight away when he served an ace to McCann which landed just over the short line. McCann replied and drew level at 2 and scores were again tied at 4-4. Shanks played his best handball at this stage when he opened a good 13-6 lead with some great kills and passing shots. McCann who looked out of it then upped his performance significantly and began to gain good positions from where he was able to get winning scores from. A Shanks double fault to hand service over didn’t help his cause as the Mayo man drew level at 14-14. McCann was now in the ascendancy and got 8 points in a row to be in a commanding position. Shanks when leading in big matches then drifts completely out of the contest and its something he will have to work on with the World Championships looming ever closer. Unquestionably he has the ability to be a major player in Edmonton. Shanks rallied somewhat but McCann thwarted his efforts still leading by 25-19. It was to prove to be Shanks last score as McCann edged closed to the win courtesy of some missed chances from the Armagh star. In the end McCann claimed the Div 1 title by 31-19. With a little break in handball I was able to chat to the great Peter McGee. Peter told me he is the holder of 17 All-Ireland handball titles. He won a Junior in 1962 and three years later won his first Senior All-Ireland. Peter has won 10 All-Ireland Hardball titles equalling the record. Peter names Paddy Hickey from Tipperary as the best player he has played against in hardball and John Ryan of Wexford in softball. Peter remembers great battles with Roundy and Murty McEllistrim from Kerry and Joey Maher Louth. Still hale and hearty McGee still has that athletic prowess that frightened players from 1965 when he won his first Senior up until 1983 when he won his 17th All-Ireland in an illustrious career.
Paul Brady arrived to play an exhibition match against the Senior finalists Charly Shanks and Joe McCann. Brady who had earlier that day played on the Cavan Senior team as they drew with Wexford in a challenge match. Brady showed optimum levels of physical fitness when he beat the Shanks/McCann in the first game by 21-19 and almost beat them again in the second just going down narrowly by the same scores. The packed gallery in the Newport Court was enthralled to see especially the World Champion close up giving an exhibition of handball. Charly Shanks too made it a memorable game even playing much superior handball than he did against McCann in the Division 1 final. His bullet like serving with a low trajectory made sure the World Champion had to be alert to return Shanks serves. McCann was workmanlike on the right diving in many times to cut out Brady’s bombardment. In the end honours were shared and was the perfect end to a wonderful weekend of handball action. Presentations took place in the local Newport Hotel and John Quigley Chairman of the Newport Club thanked everyone who participated, refereed games and included the sponsors in his praise. Paul Brady as special guest made the presentations to the winners and runners up in each division and he himself was presented with a piece of crystal from John Quigley and Patricia Burke. With humble beginnings in 1980 the event is firmly established on the Irish handball calendar and with an increasing number of players from Canada and U.S.A. taking part. John Quigley, Liam Burke and the hard working committee in Newport make sure the 27th International handball tournament over the June back holiday weekend was one of the best ever. It’s no wonder that Peter McGee was smiling all that evening. The Gods shone brightly down on Newport all weekend and Peter McGee’s lasting warm smiles told us he was well pleased.
The Newport McGee Annual Tournament June
3rd. & 4th
S-F Joe McCann (Mayo) dft Ger Coonan (Tipp) 31-22
Charly Shanks (Armagh) dft Paul Moran (Kildare) 31-20
Final Joe McCann dft Charly Shanks 31-19
Div 2 Martin Coneeley (Galway) dft Sean McNally (Down) 31-19
Div 3 Morgan Darcy (Galway) dft Oisin Naughton (Roscommon) 31-30
Div 4 Peter Cassidy (Mayo) dft Aidan Bell (Mayo) 31-29
Div 5 Mark O’Dwyer (Kilkenny) dft Steven Martin (Kildare) 31-18
Div 6 Ollie Gough (Meath) dft Jack Higgins (Mayo) 31-17
Girls Final Pauline Gallagher (Mayo) dft Sinead Gallogly (Kildare) 31-19
Paul Brady V Charly Shanks & Joe McCann One Game Each scores 21-19, 21-19