World champion Eamonn enjoyed a dream season
“REALLY HONOURED,” was how Eamonn Rice described his feelings on picking up the Garden County GAA Sports Stars award for handball.
The 53-year-old world champion has had a superb year that was made all the more special by the fact that he was struck by injury in 2011 which kept him away from the courts altogether.
“I've had a very good year,” said Eamonn, “I won a world title with Ned Kealy in the double over-45 B division. I was out injured last year and only got back on the court in January. Then I went out to Australia to take part in the championships out there and I won a national title out there in June and that set me up for the worlds with Ned. I'm flabbergasted to be honest that I've won this award. It was the last thing on my mind and I'm really honoured,” he added gratefully.
Eamonn's relationship with handball began as a child and then he gave it up for many years but after moving to Wicklow 18 years ago he got back on the horse so to speak by joining the Arklow club and enduring many “tough years” as he himself describes.
“It's like anything; you lose more games than you win. It's really only in the last three or four years that I've been successful. Three years ago I had a great year when I won an All-Ireland doubles with Drew Keogh, I was beaten in the singles final and I won an Irish national title as well. All these things tend to come together. I won those after a lot of barren years,” he added.
The world title this year holds a special place in Eamonn's heart. Two gruelling days of competition saw himself and Ned Kealy lift the title. The pair still have trouble believing that they won when they were left facing an almost impossible task in one game when they were 10-5 down in a tie-break.
“Physically the worlds weren't that bad but men- tally it was very tough. We were looking at 10-5 down and the other lads, for some unknown reason, took a time-out. And then we went on to win,” he said.
To the future then and Eamonn is optimistic about handball in Wicklow. Membership of the Arklow club has increased he says and major work has taken place on the court on Vale Road. One thing they are lacking is volunteers to look after the juveniles but other than that handball in Arklow has “plenty of potential,” he says.