His­toric first for

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT - BREN­DAN LAWRENCE at Cool­boy Hand­ball Club

HAND­BALL his­tory was made last week­end when a team from Cool­boy claimed their first ever All-Ire­land Se­nior club crown when they got the bet­ter of Kerry’s Glen­beigh in the fi­nal in Laois on Satur­day af­ter­noon.

Out­side of the hand­ball com­mu­nity in Wick­low this huge achieve­ment might not have res­onated but within that close-knit world the vic­tory was akin to an earth­quake.

On a painful 10 oc­ca­sions over the years Cool­boy have watched as tal­ented teams have fallen in All-Ire­land Se­nior club fi­nals so the taste of suc­cess when Jerome Wil­loughby se­cured the ti­tle after a mag­nif­i­cent open­ing sin­gles game from Michael Gregan and a ster­ling dou­bles per­for­mance from Michael Len­non and Johnny Wil­loughby was es­pe­cially sweet given the heart­break felt in the past.

Cel­e­bra­tions lasted long into the night on Satur­day in the Lit­tle Moon where the vic­to­ri­ous team were given a won­der­ful wel­come but per­haps the real cel­e­bra­tion was to be found in the lo­cal al­ley on Mon­day evening when well over 60 chil­dren turned up for train­ing and dozens of hand­ball sup­port­ers ar­rived to share in the sport­ing joy of an All-Ire­land Senor crown com­ing back to the small vil­lage in south Wick­low.

It’s in the chil­dren who turn up in their droves ev­ery week for train­ing with Michael Gregan, James Gregan, Pa­tri­cia Doyle and more that the full grav­ity of this achieve­ment will be felt. Long after the back slap­ping and high praise has been for­got­ten after last week­end’s hero­ics, it is the ce­ment­ing of the game’s legacy in Cool­boy and its con­tin­u­ally im­prov­ing health within this proud com­mu­nity that will re­main in the warm glow of this mag­nif­i­cent suc­cess.

Step­ping through the door of the Lit­tle Moon pub on Satur­day night was like set­ting foot in­side your best friend’s house. Firm hand­shakes and ap­pre­ci­a­tory nods were the call of the day and com­mands to put the wal­let back in the pocket were is­sued from the star of the show Michael Gregan who de­feated Do­minic Lynch in the open­ing game of the All-Ire­land fi­nal only hours be­fore hand.

A text on the phone mo­ments after the pre­sen­ta­tion showed a photo of that all-Ire­land medal and the words, ‘22 years train­ing for this’. Michael Gregan isn’t one for want­ing to hog the lime­light in in­ter­views and per­haps that’s all he re­ally needs to say.

There were, how­ever, nu­mer­ous peo­ple will­ing to have a chat with the lo­cal pa­per in the Lit­tle Moon. We are ush­ered to a quiet room where hand­ball le­gends Richard Wil­loughby and Pat Doyle are joined by cur­rent team mem­ber Johnny Wil­loughby to dis­cuss the events of the day and what it means for the club.

‘We’ve been very in­volved with hand­ball through the county and All-Ire­lands and world champi- on­ships and all, but we have never won an All-Ire­land Senor Club Cham­pi­onship be­fore and I’d like to con­grat­u­late Johnny Wil­loughby, Jerome Wil­loughby, Michael Len­non, Michael Gregan and Keith Ka­vanagh for what is a great achieve­ment for our club,’ said Pat Doyle who, like Michael Gregan ear­lier in the day, went to bat for his team first.

‘We’re very proud to be part of the Cool­boy club for so many years and we’ve looked for­ward to win­ning this club cham­pi­onship and I think it’s fab­u­lous,’ he added.

‘I think this was the ul­ti­mate thing to win to­day - a Se­nior ti­tle,’ said Richard Wil­loughby. ‘We’ve been try­ing for years and it just hasn’t come. We’ve won Ju­niors and novices and even back in the 1980s we won a club cham­pi­onship. But I think that a club cham­pi­onship in­volv­ing a lot of play­ers is bet­ter than an All-Ire­land sin­gles be­cause it is a team ef­fort and it’s the ul­ti­mate to win that,’ he added.

Johnny Wil­loughby, who joined Michael Len­non in the dou­bles sec­tion of the all-Ire­land fi­nal against Jack O’Shea and Rory O’Con­nor said that they stuck to their rou­tine of send­ing in their strong­est player first and that while it hadn’t worked at times it paid div­i­dends to­day with Gregan get­ting off to a fly­ing start.

What we’d nor­mally do when we play is try and put our strong­est play­ers in early and Michael (Gregan) is our best player, he’s cur­rently ranked num­ber five in Ire­land. He al­ways gives us, I sup­pose my­self and Michael (Len­non) would be play­ing se­cond in the dou­bles and he’d (Michael Gregan) al­ways give us a bit of a lead go­ing in. The way it works is that you’re play­ing for 30 points each game, that’s the first sin­gles, the dou­bles and the last sin­gles so you can have a to­tal of 90 to win it, so Michael left us up by 15 points after the first game. Then my­self and Michael Len­non went in and, I sup­pose, I’d be pre­dom­i­nantly a dou­bles player and so would Michael (Len­non), we’d see our­selves as strong dou­bles play­ers while Jerome would be a strong sin­gles player and we left him un­til the last game and we left him need­ing six aces to get out of the 30 and he was able to de­liver that, he got 15 so he had some to spare,’ he said.

‘That’s kind of the way we’ve done it over the years. Some­times it hasn’t worked, we’ve came up against some of the best hand­ballers the coun­try has ever seen. We’ve played Meath loads of times, Dublin loads of times, there were mul­ti­ple Se­nior All-Ire­land cham­pi­ons on those teams.

‘It’s al­ways been re­ally tough for us over the years. We missed it for a cou­ple of years. Michael (Gregan) got in­jured a cou­ple of years ago and we didn’t en­ter a team, we just wouldn’t have had the play­ers ei­ther I sup­pose. We’ve been run­ning a league up in the al­ley for the last few Christ­mases and I think those games helped us this year and we were a bit more pre­pared. We just played well in the games we had to play,’ he added.

Glen­beigh were a formidable out­fit, fea­tur­ing three world cham­pi­ons. But it was to be Cool­boy’s day.

‘There were three world cham-

Just some of the ju­ve­nile club mem­bers who pack out the al­ley ev­ery Mon­day night for train­ing. Pho­tos; Joe Byrne

Mem­bers of Cool­boy Hand­ball Club and sup­port­ers at the lo­cal al­ley on Mon­day night last to cel­e­brate the All-Ire­land Se­nior Club Cham­pi­onship vic­tory last week­end.

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