King of Double’s Court
One of Ireland’s most decorated doubles players, Cavan’s Michael Finnegan is gearing up for another booming campaign in 2012 as he bids to collect a staggering eighth senior doubles 40×20 title and a third world crown.
The Kingscourt man has partnered Mullahoran’s Paul Brady to seven senior doubles wins in the last eight seasons as well as scooping the World trophy on two occasions, one with Brady and the second with Dublin’s Eoin Kennedy in Portland in 2009.
In May, the Breffni star is favourite to capture another Irish victory alongside Brady before closing in on a third World doubles medal in October when Ireland host the best players on the planet at the purpose build handball arena at the City West Hotel in Dublin.
The very affable Finnegan off the court is as determined as ever to secure further accolades on it and has his targets set in stone for the next twelve months.
“My targets for this year are to firstly retain the GAA Handball All Ireland senior doubles title, then to get on the Irish team for the world championships and then retain the world open doubles. I’m not greedy.”
The multi-winner of All-Irelands from under 12 to senior in both singles and doubles and in both 60×30 and 40×20 began his preparations in earnest for the coming season just last weekend at the third annual John Gaffney Memorial event in Ballaghaderreen.
The 35 year old performed well and was enjoying his first competitive action since his 2011 US Open doubles conquest in California last October when he combined with Brady to dominate former three time winners, USA’s Vince Munoz and Marcus Chavez.
The recently married Finnegan (in November 2011) returned fresh to the court to edge out Cork’s Brendan Fleming 21-9, (19-21), 11-10 before ousting local player, Joe McCann in two straight games 21-16, 21-12 to set up a stern test with Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy. The 2011 US Open singles champ, McCarthy proved too difficult a hurdle but Finnegan did manage to fashion double figures in game 1, which few players can boast at present.
“I wasn’t too happy with how I played in my first match and the court was very warm and plus the drive from Kingscourt to Ballaghaderreen on Saturday morning didn’t help my preparations but Brendan (Fleming) played really well and probably should have won.”
“Then I played Joe (McCann) and as far as I was concerned I had nothing to lose as he had won the last ranking tournament at the Golden Gloves in Belfast and he was also playing in his home court. But I was very happy with how I played after a tough game that morning.”
“I served well and killed anything I could and got the result in the end but then on Sunday morning I knew I was up against it with Robbie (McCarthy). I felt good and was more than happy with the way I played in the first game but I ran out of steam in the second.”
In a battle involving two of the quickest players in the sport, Cork teenager, Killian Carroll advanced over Wicklow’s Michael Gregan in the other semi-final after the Coolboy club man had to withdraw due to a back injury. It was unfortunate for Gregan who had won the opening game 21-11 and had led 10-5 in the second.
In the end, McCarthy had slightly too much for the most talked about rising young star in handball, Carroll in the final showdown with the Mullingar player running out 21-9, 21-17 winner.
“The handball was at a good standard considering it’s very early in the season. There were a lot of shocks and there’s definitely some good young lads coming through. Killian (Carroll) and Fergal (Collins) showed up best in the young brigade, but no one was going to stop Robbie last weekend,” said Finnegan.
Next up for Ireland’s finest players are the provincial campaigns which swing into action in the coming weeks. With current Ulster champion, Armagh’s Charlie Shanks now residing in New York and absent from the draw, Finnegan must surely rate his chances after his performance twelve months ago. Then, he pushed fellow doubles partner, Brady all the way but bowed out at the semi-final phase. His participation may be in doubt however this time around.
“I’m not sure if I’m going to play in the Ulster championships this year. The seeding is perfect but the draw is hard to understand. It is tough when you think that Paul (Brady) and Ricky (McCann) have got straight byes through to the semi-finals while all the other players are playing for the remaining two semi-final places the day before.”
Finnegan’s involvement in the Ulster singles race may be in question but his credentials to collect an eighth senior GAA Handball doubles win in May and a third World senior doubles crown in October are positively not.
Finnegan and Brady can be seen winning their latest All Ireland Senior Doubles crown in the final instalment of The GAA Handball Show on TG4 this Monday night (Monday 23rd January, 8.30pm – 9.30pm), with an in-depth feature on World Champion Brady. Also featured will be the Dublin Senior Hurling team in their new handball challenge in the new facilities at UCD. The series has proved extremely popular with a massive response in terms of new clubs and school facilities being formed in the past few weeks alone.