June 25 will always be remembered in Cullohill handball history. It was the weekend that the small rural club in Laois won All-Ireland glory with a gold and silver at Féile na nGael 2011.
Rejuvenated in 2008, Cullohill Handball Club in just three years has taken an All-Ireland title with the girls team taking the runner’s up title.
The girls team captained by Leah Dunphy, Eimear Delaney, Avril Deegan, Laura Walsh & Elaine Spencer travelled to Annaghdown. Coached by Eddie Dunne and his wife Helen, the girls were in powerful form and blitz past hot favourites Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford to make history for the Club by becoming the first girls team to reach the All-Ireland final where they faced Dublin side “Na Fianna” in Salthill on Sunday.
The Dublin side got off to a goodstart and just held on in a nail biting final. The Cullohill girls were devastated initially but after their presentation of medals and a few very inspiring words from President Walter O Connor, who told them to keep their heads up and be proud of what they had achieved for the club and county.
The boys team captained by David Doheny, Shane Fitzpatrick, Padraig Delaney, Eoghan Doheny & Pauric Dunne, started their quest for glory in Salthill.
First up were Brian Buru of Dublin who were always going to be their trickiest opponents. Cullohill overcame Dublin in two thrilling games to set themselves up nicely for Roscommon and Offaly on Saturday whom the lads stormed past to reach the final on Sunday.
They faced none other than Broadford of Limerick, last year’s champions, and so the stage was set for the battle of their lives. It was the second final in a row for David and Shane who were narrowly defeated by Mallow of Cork in last year’s decider
It was off to Moycullen for the final which ironically is the home of another great Cullohill man and handball coach Pierce Lalor.
The final was a classic. It had everything. Skill, passion and fierce determination by both sides. It went to a tie breaker after two epic games. David and Shane stepped up for this and with the first par and reach eleven, the tension was unbearable. Both teams shared the score at one stage at six each before the Laois lads pushed past Limerick in the finish to win 11-6.
It was an outpouring of emotion and relief that greeted the last ace. Within seconds the court was packed with the colours of red and green.
Coaches Mick Fitzpatrick and Eamon Doheny were thrilled with the boys, with Eoghan Doheny and Padraig Delaney only eleven years of age, they all did everything they were asked and more. The training which started as far back as last October paid off.
The bar has been set by these two teams and they are an example of the dedication and commitment that is required to reach success. With the first nursery programme after taking place in the club, it is up to parents of the children in Cullohill to get involved in coaching kids and make it a very successful club not only in Leinster but throughout Ireland.
A word of thanks must be expressed to the following people. Firstly to Eddie and Helen Dunne for their total commitment to the girls team with countless training sessions both home and away; To the parents of the players who travelled to away training sessions in Tipperary, Offaly, Kilkenny and Galway;
To Mick Fitzpatrick and Eamon Doheny for their commitment to the boys team; To Pierce Lalor from Moycullen, Galway who travelled for a coaching session; To St. Brigid’s Handball Club Monivea; To former Leinster champion and coach Andrew Dowling who travelled over for sessions with the girls and boys; To county sec Patsy Dowling who is as always the corner stone of Laois Handball, for all his help during the year thank you.
Thanks to Jimmy Walsh and Vincent O’ Sullivan, nursery programme coaches which took place all over the winter. This nursery programme will take place again this year which the success will depend on the involvement of as many parents as possible.
Thanks to Michael Donovan and Ray Fogarty for their coaching sessions during the year; To Elaine Maher club photographer; To the Cullohill Community Centre for their sponsorship and to the people of Cullohill for their support at their annual fundraiser on Easter Sunday night.