They say it takes a good team to win one All-Ireland, but you need to be exceptional to win two.
In that regard, Diarmaid Nash and Colin Crehan have firmly placed themselves into the exceptional category. Not only did last weekend see the duo win their second All-Ireland handball doubles title, they did it back-to-back. In doing so, they became the first Banner pairing to achieve the feat since the Kirby brothers in the latter part of the 1970’s.
The Tuamgraney and Kilkishen clubmen took down another sibling duo to win their second title as they got the better of Galway brothers Martin and Diarmuid Mulkerrins in the decider at Kingscourt in Cavan. They did in with a straight sets win, taking the first game 21-17 before wrapping up the title with a 21-12 victory in the second. Nash admits it was a sweet win.
“It was a relief as much as anything else in a way really because we felt having won it last year, there was that bit more expectation on us this time around. We were favourites to win this time whereas last year we came in as underdogs so that was new territory. We had a bit of target on our back so it was nice to back that up. We had struggled through a bit up as far as the final so it was nice to pull out the performance when it was needed. From my own point of view I thought there was a bit of a hangover from having lost the singles final because I was a bit down about not picking up that one. We improved though as we went through the rounds and thankfully were on our game in the final” he noted.
Crehan was also understandably thrilled with the win and back up their maiden title.
“We were thrilled to win last year for the first time and then this year we wanted to create our own little bit of history in defending the title so it was great to do that. To even be mentioned alongside the Kirby’s is a privilege. They went on to win the five altogether so we have a fair way to go to match them, but having our names mentioned in the same breath as them is pretty surreal. Diarmaid and I had been training together the last month but we hadn’t really played much before that because we were both focused on the singles, so it took a bit of time to get used to playing together again. We improved as the tournament went on and got the most out of ourselves in the final” he noted.
Playing at an elite level brings its own set of challenges, with both Nash and Crehan having a gruelling schedule as the season unfolded. With both competing at senior level in the singles competition, Nash admits it a difficult period to manage.
He said: “We had given so much for the singles and then you have that bit of lull before the doubles. The singles goes on for five weeks in a row and then doubles goes on for another four so it is hard to try and stay at your absolute peak for two months. It is like the hurlers schedule in the summer where they have the three games back to back. There will definitely be one of those games where they will find it hard to stay going. You’re going to have peaks and troughs throughout so it is important to manage that. We had a bit of time off before the Easter Bank Holiday which came at a good time and then we were able to get a good bit of training in after that which stood to us”.
With a vastly different dynamic on the court for a doubles handball tie, the Clare lads have a slight advantage over most rivals. Nash is predominantly a left-handed player with Crehan preferring the right. Colin admits having that in their armoury does help.
“We are different pair to most I guess in that the majority of pairings would both play off their right. Along with that, we are both different in how we play our singles games too. Diarmaid likes to go forward while I am happy enough sitting back and playing the back wall shots. Having that style really helps us I think. It also helps that there is so much talent coming through in Clare, and leading up to the final we had really good challenge games with the likes of Fergal Coughlan and Ciaran Malone who were preparing for the junior final, and we also played Colin Corbett and Niall Bolton who pushed us to the limit and it actually went to a tie-breaker. There are so many excellent players around the county and the standard is really high so we were really thankful to be able to get those games inside our county. I don’t think that’s something the Galway lads would have had so it was a huge bonus to us in that sense” he said.
With the handball season now over, both Diarmaid and Colin are turning their attentions to recovery mode, with the prospect of heading back to their GAA clubs for the hurling championship to come next on the horizon. Nash will be hoping to help lead Scariff out of the intermediate ranks while Crehan will be hoping O’Callaghan’s Mills can build on the progress of 2018 which saw the East Clare men lose out to eventual champions Ballyea in the Clare Senior Hurling semi-final.
There was disappointment for the other Banner duo in action at Kingscourt last weekend as Fergal Coughlan Junior and Ciaran Malone lost out to the Antrim pairing of Jordan O’Neill and Mark Rainey in the Junior decider.