All Ireland Doubles Glory for St Brigids Browne and Kennedy! 2015-10-18 21:23:00

Dublin's Eoin Kennedy & Carl Browne have claimed the All-Ireland 60x30 Senior Doubles title after a three game thriller in Abbeylara, much to the enjoyment of the packed gallery.

Following the retirement of Na Fianna’s Egin Jensen who partnered St Brigid’s Kennedy to previous victories in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, Kennedy partnered for the first time last year with Carl Browne and gave hope of putting Dublin back at the top of doubles championship play again.

Just one week after his defeat in the Senior Singles 60x30 handball final St Brigid’s Kennedy and his partner Browne were taking on the might of Kilkenny in Ciaran Neary and Michael “Ducksie” Walsh in the doubles final. Kennedy and Browne had a marathon match just two weeks ago in their semifinal when they defeated Mayo’s Dessie Keegan and Joe McCann in a contest lasting two and a half hours 21-14, 18-21, 21-11. On the same weekend Neary and Walsh overcame the young Limerick pairing of CJ Fitzpatrick and Eavan Murphy 21-19, 21-15.

The meeting again of the legendary Kennedy and Walsh in a major match added a particular spice to this doubles final, as it was Kennedy who ended Walsh’s dominance of the game back in 2002 when he defeated Walsh in the Senior Singles final in the Croke Park handball arena. Kennedy then went on to dominate himself for the next decade winning an astonishing 28 senior titles across all handball codes singles and doubles.

For Kennedy, due to his success in both singles and doubles championships this year, Saturday’s doubles final was his seventh weekend in a row to compete and a big question was whether he could overcome the combination of the disappointment of last weekend’s singles final loss to Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy and the accumulated fatigue after the very challenging series of matches.

On Saturday it was the Kilkenny pair who got off to the brighter start, settling much quicker than the Dublin pair. With the 26 year old left-hander Neary on the left and the experienced Walsh on the right, their left-right combination made it difficult for the Dublin pair to find a weak spot. Walsh’s serving was pin point and Neary’s left hand kills paid rich dividends with Kilkenny going into a 10-4 lead. They continued their momentum going to 17-5 with the Dublin pair meanwhile winning several handouts but gaining no aces. The next few minutes however saw the Dublin pair gradually improving their combination play and with Kennedy beginning to find his range with several straight kills into the left hand corner they pulled the score back to 10-19 before finally losing the first game 21-11.

The improving performance of Kennedy and Browne continued into the second game with Dublin going into an early 4-3 lead. Kilkenny came back to lead 6-5 through three great kills by Neary. Dublin changed their serving strategy and this drew mistakes from the Kilkenny pair as Kennedy and Browne made a mini-break to lead 9-6. A clever fly kill from Browne and several long range kills from Kennedy led to what seemed an insurmountable lead 17-8. The Dublin fans were in fine voice but as Kilkenny pulled back ace by ace, both sets of fans rivalled one another in trying to support their players. Gradually the scores equalised 14-18, 17- 18 until a giant roar greeted Kilkenny drawing 18-18 and going into the lead 19-18. With Kilkenny only two aces from winning in two straight games, a huge high pressure kill shot from Kennedy halted Kilkenny’s momentum and Dublin were back into serve. The first rally entailed almost 20 shots and looked over when Walsh went for a corner kill. As everyone in the gallery thought Walsh’s shot was to be a winner, Kennedy anticipating the shot reached the ball against the odds and managed to just pick it up before it hopped twice for a tie at 19 apiece. The pick up and re-kill proved crucial as another left hand corner kill by Kennedy made it 20-19 to the Dublin pair and a beautiful soft right hand corner kill by Browne finished off the second game 21-19.

The five minute break after game 2 was not just needed by the players but was also appreciated by the spectators who were drained from the tension of the later stages of the second game. It was generally felt that Kilkenny had missed their chance as the Dublin pair were gaining throughout in confidence and were putting Kilkenny under increasing pressure through improved serving and control of the centre of the court. With Neary and Walsh forced into more long range shots and Kennedy and Browne reducing their unforced errors and killing more efficiently from the short line, Dublin went into an 8-4 lead in the third tie-breaker game.Kilkenny came back to 6-8 and to 8-9 and it looked like another tense game was in prospect. Dublin however continued to up their game, powering ahead to 13-10, 15-11 and eventually 17-11.

With the experience of the Kilkenny comeback in the second fresh in their minds, Kennedy and Browne remained very focused and continued their offensive play to go 20-11 ahead. Kilkenny refused to bow out easily and managed to get both hands back to give them a final chance to put Dublin under pressure. Kennedy and Browne refused to buckle however and got back in to serve. Browne drove a hard ball off the left wall forcing Neary to take it with his right, Browne returned an overhand giving Neary a chance to shoot for the left hand corner. Kennedy with great anticipation was in the right position and finished off the game with a classy left hand kill around the left corner.

After a two hour battle Dublin were victorius!

The gallery erupted and Kennedy raised his left fist in celebration on winning his fifth doubles title. The huge joy of Browne on winning his first ever Senior All-Ireland was evident to all as he leaped high into the air and rushed over to celebrate with his playing partner. While Walsh has long experience in the highs and lows of senior handball, the obvious devastation of Neary at being so close and just coming up short made all in attendance realise the chasm between winning and losing.

After presentation of the cup and medals by W Roche, President of the Irish Handball Association, Kennedy nominated Browne to give the victory speech. His pride and joy was clear as he thanked Kilkenny for a great match, paid tribute to his training partners and to the Abbeylara venue staff. He had special mention for the referee and for the spectators who gave both teams such support.

Their victory brings the 2015 season to a close and Kennedy and Browne head off for delayed well earned vacations in Asia and the US respectively. They can look back with great satisfaction at a wonderful win which puts St Brigids GAA Club and Dublin back at the top again.

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