St Brigid's Carl Browne and Eoin Kennedy win thrilling All-Ire 2016-04-25 00:09:00

After their exploits in winning a very competitive semi-final two weeks ago against Mayo, the St Brigid’s players Carl Browne and Eoin Kennedy had two weeks to prepare for a showdown against the 40x20 specialists Cavan’s Paul Brady and Michael Finnegan. Winners of ten of the last thirteen championships in the small court, Cavan were strong favourites to add yet another title on Saturday, when the All-Ireland Senior 40x20 Doubles final took place at the O’Loughlin Gaels handball complex in Kilkenny.

Kennedy had previous form in defeating the Cavan pair when, as far back as 2005, partnered with Egin Jensen he had beaten Brady and Finnegan in their home court in Kingscourt, to win his only 40x20 doubles to date. Partnered by Cork’s Tony Healy he had also defeated the Cavan pair in a tie-break final of the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada in 2006. Following the retirement of Jensen in 2010, it wasn’t until joined by Carl Browne in 2014/2015 that the possibility of another win would present itself. The St Brigid’s pair had proved their championship mettle when they won the 60x30 Senior Doubles title in October last year, defeating Kilkenny in the final at Abbeylara. The question on Saturday was whether the Dublin pair could reach the same level in the smaller 40x20 international sized court against the multiple title-holders Cavan. Powered by the World and US 40x20 singles champion Paul Brady partnered with the right hand side doubles skills of Michael Finnegan, the Cavan pair were the bookies’ hot favourites to win.

Following their semi-final victory, Browne and Kennedy had some intensive training sessions in the 40x20 courts at the St Brigid’s handball facilities. They also travelled down to Kilkenny last weekend to get some more court time at the O’Loughlin Gaels venue.  This preparation paid early dividends as the Dublin pair got into their groove very quickly with Kennedy ending the first two rallies with bottom of the front wall kills. The game alternated for the first 10 mins or so but gradually turned in the St Brigid’s players favour, thanks to excellent serving by Browne and centre court cut-offs by Kennedy. With Carl’s strong three-wall serving pinning Finnegan back into the right corner, the Dublin pair were able to maintain the key front of court positioning to allow them to dictate the rallies. After building a lead of 8-3 they had to withstand a strong comeback by Cavan to tie the score at eight all. They kept cool however and with tremendous retrieving and seizing the initiative in points by going for kills at every opportunity they went 13-9 ahead.

Despite handball being a non-contact sport we then had a ten-minute injury time-out for Cavan’s Michael Finnegan! Both he and Carl Browne were in a continuous battle for front right court positioning and this resulted in Carl connecting with Michael on his backswing to open up a cut over the Cavan man’s eye. The Dublin supporters were concerned that the injury time-out might break the St Brigid’s players’ momentum on the re-start but they need not have feared. Carl resumed his pin-point serving into the right hand rear corner and Eoin flattened two from the backwall for Dublin to go 15-9 ahead. A long distance kill by Browne and some wonderful ceiling play by all four players resulted in a 17-12 lead. The Cavan pair again showed why they had won so many doubles as they fought back to within three aces of Dublin at 19-16. The Dublin fans felt that it was key to win the first game and were delighted to see Dublin get back in to serve the game out at 21-16.

The second game proved very different with Cavan cruising to an 8-1 lead with some strong serving and soft kills to the corners. To the strong Cavan support it seemed as if “normal service” was resumed! However the Dublin pair didn’t agree and some terrific rallies saw the score go to 11-5 and 11-9. Then a fantastic point brought them to within a point of Cavan at 10-11. On the right hand side of the court, Browne performed miracles with three consecutive diving retrievals of attempted kill shots by Brady and Finnegan before dumping a soft kill into the right hand corner to the roof-raising cheers of the gallery. It seemed as if this inspirational point would drive Dublin to go into the lead but instead Cavan closed out the game by going 16-10 ahead and eventually winning the second 21-12.

The Dublin players used the five-minute break before the third game to good effect by reminding each other of their success in third games in two of the earlier rounds and agreeing their game plan for the decisive third game to 21. The Cavan pair served first as they had most points from the first two games but were quickly taken out and Dublin built on their early supremacy to take a 9-3 lead. Gradually Cavan whittled away the lead to catch up 4-9, 5-11, 6-12 and 8-12. The tremendous efforts of all four players resulted in long rallies and incredible retrievals of what seemed rally ending shots and the fans were treated to a display of all that is best in Irish handball.

The Cavan and Dublin supporters were competing as vigorously as the players for dominance and the atmosphere was electric as the Dublin pair again were the stronger mentally in going for their shots under extreme pressure. Some fantastic corner kills and superb picks of the Cavan mens’ efforts saw Dublin into a lead of 15-8. Every point was being fought for as victory was in sight. The referee, Gavin Buggy from Wexford, had some tough calls to make as the four players raced around the court and several replays ensued due to hinders. Despite the pleas of the players for different decisions, the referee stuck to his guns on every call and his experience and authority were evident throughout the match. The small 40x20 court can be a crowded place at times, particularly when an All-Ireland title is at stake!

The Cavan players, despite their great experience in tight matches, were clearly feeling the pressure as they made some uncharacteristic hand errors and combined with spectacular kills by Browne and Kennedy, Cavan fell 20-8 behind. Despite the almost insurmountable Dublin lead, Brady and Finnegan refused to give in. Brady pulled out three perfect bottom-of-the-side wall power crotch serves to score three clean aces and Finnegan scored two points with his trade-mark right corner kills to bring the score back to 13-20. Dublin then had the presence of mind to call a time-out to stop the Cavan momentum. This paid off as on the re-start they took out the Cavan pair, giving them two hands to score the winning point. The Dublin fans were kept anxious as the first hand was taken out when Browne barely missed a re-kill opportunity to end the game.

The last point of the match proved one of the shortest. Kennedy served a low power serve down to Finnegan and the return went to the back-wall. With the same commitment as throughout the match, Kennedy went for the kill and the ball rolled out of the right hand corner for a spectacular finish to the match.

The Dublin players’ immediate response to the winning point showed how much it meant to them and their jumps of joy were echoed throughout the ecstatic gallery. Following one of the greatest matches ever in many peoples’ view, finally Dublin were back in the 40x20 senior winners’ circle. The match was enthralling throughout for the packed gallery. For the handball fans all around the country and abroad, the course of the match was continuously updated on the GAA Handball website, enabling them to enjoy the ups and downs of a terrific sporting occasion.

The presentation of the All-Ireland medals followed. This was all the more emotional as it was the first occasion that the new Tommy O’Brien Cup was presented. Tommy was Uachtaran of Comhairle Liathroid na hEireann from the GAA Centenary Year of 1984-1987. He was Leinster Secretary for over 30 years, continuing in this capacity until his untimely death and he also served on several Leinster and national committees. Tommy had a lifetime association with Kilkenny GAA, serving the many facets of the Association with great pride, including work as the County Camogie PRO. He also hosted weekly sports programmes on local radio. Tommy was also the first ever lay-Principal of Kilkenny CBS and was very popular in this role, knowing every boy in the school by name, a fantastic feat. He had a very strong academic record and when in St Patrick’s Training College in Drumcondra he was the gold medal winner in mathematics.

He was coach, advisor and mentor to many of the top senior players in Kilkenny, including the legendary Michael (Ducksy) Walsh. Well known as a gregarious character, Tommy travelled near and far to see handball games and always provided great commentary on the proceedings. He was also involved in the annual handball yearbook for many years. In short, his name was synonymous with all that is good in handball and his memory will be long-lived for all those who knew him.

Tommy’s sisters Reidin and Grainne were in attendance to present the Tommy O’Brien Cup to the Dublin players. Carl Browne in his acceptance speech thanked all the supporters and the O’Loughlin Gaels club for their excellent hosting of the finals. Eoin Kennedy remembered Tommy O’Brien, who he had got to know very well over the years, and said how pleased both he and Carl were to be the first winners of the Tommy O’Brien Cup.

This latest win, achieved against the odds, means that since joining up as a partnership, Browne and Kennedy are now the holders of both small and big court Senior Doubles titles. It brings Kennedy’s tally of Senior All-Ireland titles to 30 in all, over a senior playing career of 14 years. Carl Browne has brought a renewed enthusiasm for the game to Kennedy and their complementary styles and competitive natures bodes well for further success in the future. Both St Brigid’s players now look forward to a short well-earned break before resuming their competitive activities in the forthcoming hardball and softball championships.

A video of the match winning point and the Dublin players’ reactions to victory can be seen on the GAA Handball website.  or


St Brigids GAA Club,
Russell Park, Navan Road, Dublin 15