Dan Sheridan/INPHO Dublin's Eoin Kennedy, 2014 Senior Finalist and 8 time Senior Singles Champion.
# Interview
Former undisputed Irish handball king aiming to reclaim his throne
Paul Fitzpatrick catches up with Irish handball star Eoin Kennedy, who is aiming to win back what he once owned.

IN BOXING, THEY say champions never come back.

Today in Abbeylara, Co Longford, former undisputed handball king, Dublin’s Eoin Kennedy, will attempt to disprove that maxim when he takes on current number one Robbie McCarthy of Westmeath in what will be the sixth year in succession the pair have met in the M Donnelly All-Ireland 60×30 Senior Singles final.

These are strange days for Kennedy (35), a holder of a PhD in Engineering who ruled the game like a colossus throughout the 00s. After a decade of dominance, he was usurped by the younger, brasher McCarthy, who is unbeaten since 2010. For one thing, many neutrals are now on the side of the eight-time champion.

“You do hear that alright, it’s a bad sign for me when people are saying that,” smiled Kennedy.

“It means you haven’t been winning. But at the same time it’s good for handball to have a final people can look forward to – if people feel it might be a good game, that’s great.

“To be honest, I don’t really care whether it’s a good game, the result ultimately will dictate how I feel about it. It’s refreshing that the neutrals might be more supportive than they were when I was winning all those years.”

What makes the Kennedy-McCarthy rivalry so fascinating is the contrast in styles – the Dubliner is cool and methodical where the Mullingar man is fiery, aggressive and spectacular. Both are terrific competitors and both are desperate to win, for different reasons.

Victory for McCarthy would secure a coveted four-in-a-row, while Kennedy, ironically given his status in the game, is seeks the chance to wear the crown one final time.

“I’d love to win. The last few years have gone against me and there’s no doubt it would be very satisfying to come back and beat him – I’d love to get just one more title, I suppose. It’s not so much denying him a title as winning one myself. When you’ve been beaten a couple of times in a row, it would certainly be enjoyable,” he said.

To do so, Kennedy (quoted at 5/2 to McCarthy’s 1/4 with the bookmakers) will look to fight fire with fire.

“I think I just need to be more aggressive in terms of the way I play the game, and bring a bit more intensity to it. Every year we’ve played, the first game has always been crucial, whoever has won that first game has gone on to win it. It’s so important to get a good start.”

A pesky elbow injury has now cleared up and Kennedy has been back training since early summer and impressed with wins over Gary McConnell, Joe McCann and Ducksy Walsh.

“I have no injuries at the moment, which is good. For the first four or five months of this year I was carrying a bad injury on my left elbow and I couldn’t really hit sidearms or underarms properly but that all cleared up over the summer.

“When you’re the favourite, if you’re expected to win and you don’t win, you’re the worst in the world. But I was delighted to get through those games, I went into every single one of them ready to go, flat out, because people like Gary or where ever it is get going and build their confidence up, it cam be hard. Everything went well for me on those occasions.”

McCarthy, though, has also been in sensational form. The Westmeath man has every shot in the book and confidence is sky high following a magnificent season in the 40×20 court and a fantastic 60×30 run, culminating in an emphatic semi-final victory over Meath’s Brian Carroll.

Kennedy is aware of the challenge he faces against such a talented opponent.

“If Robbie relaxes and gets ahead, he’s such a talented player… He has probably the best hands in the game and if he gets on top, he’s very difficult to stop. I can only concentrate on my game. I feel like I’m playing better this year, I’ve had more time to put into it than I had in the last few years. Obviously I’m a bit older as well but I’m playing reasonably well so I have no excuses if things don’t work out.”

The pressure may be on McCarthy but Kennedy feels that his opponent is in a strong position; during his own time as number one, he thrived on the feeling of invincibility the champion holds.

“There’s always a pressure defending but I kind of enjoyed that, it gives you a certain confidence when you’re the champion. People are there to take you down but that pressure gives you confidence,” he said.

“When you get out of the habit of winning, for years I was winning a lot in singles and doubles, it’s a mindset and a culture and I’ve been out of that for the last few years.

“But I’m really enjoying the game. I’ve come to accept it’s great to be involved in these big occasions, in 10 years time if I hadn’t played in them I’d be kicking myself. Win or lose, and obviously I’m going in to win, it’s great to be in it. I’ll be giving it everything, and I can’t wait.”

Whether that will be enough, we will know by tomorrow evening.

A version of this article originally appeared on at

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