Loughmacrory GAA Handball

Handball has enjoyed a rich tradition in Loughmacrory for 140+ years but the 1st official committee was formed back in 1968 – yes we will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Handball Club in Loughmacrory in 2018!

The club upgraded the outdoor court by building and officially openning the 1st fully covered 60×30 court on Sunday 13th April 1969 (also one of the first in the country).

A souvenir programme entitled “A Hundred Years of Handballing”, produced to mark the opening of the new alley in 1969, tells us that in 1932 local men Owenie McKernan and Jimmy Mullan, under the direction of Loughmacrory curate Fr Stephen Taggart, collected ten pounds, bought the gate house to Loughmacrory Lodge and built a ball alley on the site.

This open alley was modernised several times over the years and handball continued to be played until 1967 when the sidewalls were blown down in a severe windstorm. Locals were determined that this would not be the end of handball in Loughmacrory and in 1968 a committee was formed, fundraising took place, the site cleared and the present 60 x 30 built, mainly by voluntary labour. A community hall was then built alongside the handball alley.

The club also added a new International 40×20 handball court which was officially opened in 1981 & the latest addition saw a unique outdoor, fully covered, One Wall International Handball Facility with 3 full sized courts on 28th June 2014. This designed One Wall Arena was initially planned for the rear of Croke Park as part of a new National Handball Centre at the GAA HQ.

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The club have had many county, provincial, All Ireland and indeed World Champions in its long illustrious history including
• Tyrone’s first ever All Ireland Champion back in 1970 when Mickey Conway claimed the All Ireland Junior title.
• Ciaran Curran became the first ever Ulster handballer to win an All Ireland Juvenile title when he took the Under 12 honours in 1984 and he added 5 US National titles, a World title in 1994 and reached the All Ireland Senior 40×20 Singles Final in 1999 as well as the World Open Senior Singles semi final in 2003, losing in a tie-break to Cork’s Tony Healy.
• Aoife Kelly, Antoin Fox and Mairead Fox have all enjoyed US Junior National success in recent times
• Antoin Fox and Dara Curran claimed World Championship gold medals in Dublin in 2012 with the World 11 & Under doubles success and also lost in the final of the 40×20 in the same grade
• Also at the Worlds in 2012, Loughmacrory had runners-up in Ciaran Curran (Mens 35+ Singles) and Aoife Kelly (Girls 15&U)
• Dearbhail Fox was a World 11 & Under doubles champion in 40×20 at the 2015 Worlds in Calgary, Canada, while Antoin Fox (2) and Mairead Fox were also Silver medal winners in their grades at 15 & Under and 13 & Under level respectively.
• The revival in fortunes for the club in recent times has also seen 7 provincial juvenile and 4 provincial adult 40×20 titles in 2015 as well as three All Ireland medals and a further 6 Ulster and 1 All Ireland juvenile medals in 2016.
• Mairead Fox became the first Tyrone player to win the Girls All Ireland Under 14 Singes Championship title in the 40×20 court when taking those honours in 2016 and went on to add the All Ireland Division 1 Feile skills gold, Irish 40×20 13 & Under Nationals, Irish One Wall 13 & Under Nationals and All Ireland Under 14 60×30 Singles Championship titles – 5 national titles in 2016.
• Also in 2016 Antoin Fox won the Irish and USHA 15 & Under Junior Nationals titles, while also winning the 17 & Under event at the June Nationals in Minnesota while claiming runner up in the All Ireland Under 16 singles 40×20 championship final. Antoin Fox also went on to become the first Tyrone player to win the All Ireland Under 16 Singles Championship title in the 60×30 while also claiming All Ireland olleges doubles titles in both the 40×20 and 60×30 for Omagh CBS. Also in 2016, Caitlin Conway won through to the All Ireland Under 16 Doubles championship final in 2016 also, alongside Ciara Mullan.
• The Club again hosted the Ulster One Wall Championships in June 2016 and secured a record 5 Ulster titles on the day through Zak Devine (Boys U13), Dara Curran (Boys U15), Antoin Fox (Boys U17), Caitlin Conway (Girls U15) and Aideen Curran (Ladies C). 

Check out some other significant milestones below…

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A large number of players from the club have celebrated All Ireland Juvenile Championship & National titles over the years including an All Ireland Under 14 clean sweep in 40×20 and 60×30 by Ciaran Curran in 1986 and 1987, Brian Donaghy in both 40×20 and 60×30 in 2003 and a 60×30 win for Aoife Kelly in 2010 and 40×20 win for Mairead Fox in 2016.

2015 was a big year for the club as it bridged a considerable gap at Juvenile level when Antoin Fox (Boys Under 15 Singles) and Shane Grimes & Ronan Curran (Boys Under 15 Doubles) completed the All Ireland 40×20 clean sweep in their grade. This followed on from All Ireland 60×30 Doubles Championship titles at Under 14 level in October 2014 from Caitlin Conway (girls) and Antoin Fox (boys).

2016, as detailed above, was a massive year for rising young stars, Antoin and Mairead Fox, as they won a combined 10 National titles and 2 International titles between them across all 3 codes and were awarded jointly the Teamtalkmag Tyrone GAA Outstanding Achievement Awards for 2016 in light of this accomplishment.

Other notable achievements include a Guinness World Record 80 hour Handball Marathon by six members (John McCullagh, Pat O’Brien, Kieran Kelly, Pat Kelly, Paddy McGurk and Packie Coyle) in 1978. Hugh Duff also captured the All Ireland Masters Singles Championship title in 1985 and claimed the doubles crown with MJ Kelly.

The Club have enjoyed All Ireland Division 1 Feile success on 2 occasions (in 1984 and 2003) and in 2015 completed a first ever All Ireland Feile na nGael Division 2 double in both Girls and Boys grades. The Club will again send both a Boys and Girls team to the All Ireland Féile na nGael in 2016 in Tipperary.

The Club have enjoyed success in the past in the Féile na nGael at the highest level in Division1. The first success for the club came in 1984 (Chris Curran, Shane Kelly, Niall Curran, Seamus Curran) and then 19 years later when the club also won the Division 1 title in 2003 (Brian Donaghy, Conor Duff, Paul Donnelly, Sean O’Kane).

The Club also tasted success in the 1992 60×30 Division 2 Féile na nGael title with the team of Shane McCullagh, Eunan Donnelly, Carl Curran, Ciaran Meenagh, Aidan Toner. The club have also had a number of teams who lost in finals of Division 1 over the years.

At Feile na nGael 2014 the Boys team of Antoin Fox, Dara Curran, Ronan Curran, Shane Grimes, Diarmaid Gallagher won the Boys Division 2 40×20 title and the Girls team of Aideen Curran, Caitlin Conway, Mairead Fox and Michaela Curran won the Girls Division 2 title. This was the first time ever that the club completed a Feile Boys and Girls double at the prestigious National Event.

The club have also had a number of players to have won Division 1 Féile na nGael Skills events.  In 40×20 Boys Ciaran Curran won 3 consecutive Division 1 Feile skills golds from 1985, 1986, 1987 and Conal Curran winning Division 1 Skills gold in 1988 – making it four-in-a-row for the Club in that period in All Ireland Division 1 skills.

In 40×20 Girls Lisa McAleer was the first Division 1 Féile Skills winner in 2000 and Karen Kelly won the Division 1 Skills in 2002 and Aoife Kelly won the Division 1 Skills in 2011. In 60×30 Ciaran Meenagh won the Féile Division 1 Skills gold in 1994 and Conor Donnelly won the Division 1 60×30 Féile Skills in 2005. Antoin Fox became the latest name to be added to the prestigious Division 1 Skills roll of honour when he took gold at the All Ireland Feile skills on 21st June 2014.

In the 2016 All Ireland Feile, the Girls team went within one ace of a historic first ever All Ireland Division 1 Girls Feile title, losing by 26-25 to Tuamgraney of Clare. The team was Mairead Fox, Niamh Curran, Alanna McGaughey, Dearbhail Fox and Aoibhe Curran while Mairead Fox became the third club ladies player to win the Division 1 Feile skills gold. In the Boys event a very young club team won the Plate in Division 3, the team comprising Conan McElholm, Zak Devine, Eoin McElholm, Gary McAleer and Connor Fox.

In the 60×30 All Ireland Club Senior Championship of 1980, Loughmacrory also reached the All Ireland final against Talbot’s Inch of Kilkenny with the team of Hugh Duff, John Curran, John McCullagh and Packie Coyle.

In the All Ireland 40×20 Club Championship the club had Junior title success in 2003 (Team of Chris Curran, Conal Curran, Ciaran Meenagh, Stephen Conway). Three players from that team went on to win the club and county’s first Ulster Mens Open Senior Club 40×20 Championship title in 2007 when they defeated St. Pauls HC, Belfast, and the then All Ireland Club Champions, Gort na Mona, in the provincial decider. The team went to become All Ireland Senior 40×20 Club Championship Runners Up (Team of Chris Curran, Ciaran Curran, Ciaran Meenagh, Stephen Conway) in 2007 to Ballaghadereen (Dessie Keegan, Joe McCann, Vinny Moran, Paul Flynn), having defeated the Kells, Meath team of Tom Sheridan, Brian Carroll, Carl Browne and Gary McConnell en route to that final.

Current chairman, Chris Curran, was also CEO of GAA Handball Ireland (Jan 2009 to April 2013) and visualised, planned and overseen the record breaking World Championships in Dublin in 2012 in addition to launching the Irish Junior 40×20 Nationals event and launching the GAA Handball One Wall Nationals in Breaffy in 2009, which seen entries of over 350 in it’s very first year at the new venue in 2009 and increased to 426 in 2011 and was incredibly almost 600 players in the 2012 One Wall Nationals when held as a test run for the Worlds2012 in the Citywest, Dublin.

The committee have made big strides in the past few years in rebuilding our youth policy with coaching now taking place 6 days per week and the launch of the unique new 3 court covered One Wall Facility has seen further massive progress in an illustrious history of the club.

In August 2014 the handball club organised one of the biggest ever Tournaments staged in Ireland when 251 players competed in the inaugural Lough 1Wall Showdown. Over 1,000 spectators also packed into the arena over the course of Finals Day on the Sunday in what was a record-breaking weekend for the club. It should be remembered that this event was 100% organised and ran by Volunteers in the club and community! It also saw a very international flavour as Puerto Rico’s Wally Amaro travelled 4,000 miles to win the first ever title, defeating local hero and One Wall National Champion, Conor McElduff. The first Ladies Open title was won by World Number 1 player, Cork’s Catriona Casey in a field which had 4 world champions.

The event was staged for the second time in July 2015 (earlier date with Worlds 2015 in Canada in August) and saw Open title wins for Irish Open champion, Conor McElduff, and again by Cork’s Catriona Casey. The 2016 event will again see Wally Amaro travel to take on the Irish players when it goes ahead from 12th-14th August 2016.

Loughmacrory Handball Committee 2017:

  • Chairman: Chris Curran
  • Vice Chairperson: Paul Curran
  • Secretary: Martin Toner
  • Asst. Secretary: Kelly Conway
  • Treasurer: Shane McCullagh
  • PRO: Kenny Curran
  • Children’s Officer: Barry Fox
  • Committee Members: Ciara Fox, Ciaran Meenagh, Conal Curran, Finbar Fullen, Jarlath Duff, Conor Duff, Benny McAleer.
  • Club Coaches: Chris Curran, Kenny Curran, Martin Toner, Shane McCullagh, Barry Fox, Conor Duff, Ciaran Meenagh, Jarlath Duff, Finbarr Fullen, Conal Curran, Paul Curran.

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