IT was evident from the comprehensive report presented by Offaly Handball County Board Secretary Kevin Cooke to last Thursday's GAA Annual Convention that the sport is on the crest of a wave and in a very healthy state.
Five All-Ireland titles and ten Leinster titles were captured during 2010, while Offaly handballers contested a further nine Leinster finals so the 'Faithful County' certainly has every reason to be optimistic for the future.
Mr Cooke's report read; "2010 has been an eventful and memorable year for Offaly handball with an increased number of players in both adult and juvenile competitions. This year we had a total of 52 players participating in the Leinster Championships with most of these players taking part in both the 60x30 and 40x20 codes.
"Our first success of the year was in the Community Games when the Birr U-13 team reached the Leinster final.
"In the 60x30 B Championship Conor Smith was defeated in the Leinster final by Brian O'Reilly of Meath.
"This year the Leinster Handball Council introduced a new Leinster 'C' 40x20 handball championship to promote the game in weaker counties. Each county had two players in each grade in this competition which included Offaly, Longford, Louth, Westmeath, Laois and Kildare.
Offaly did very well in this competition as both players in each grade made it to the final. A total of eight Offaly players contested four finals, which meant that we were guaranteed four titles regardless of which player actually won.
"The results were - Under 12 Singles Keith Murphy defeated Conor Smith, Under 13 Singles James Murphy defeated Jordan Hart, Under 14 Singles Alan Rigney defeated Adam Carling, Under 15 Singles Cathal McNamee defeated Eoin Hickey.
"In the 60x30 adult championships Conor and Michael O'Brien were beaten in the Leinster final by Eugene Kelly and Jason Murphy of Wexford. Also for the second year in a row Crinkle was defeated in the Leinster final of the Junior B Inter-Club team event by St Canice's of Kilkenny. The team on this occasion was Noel O'Brien, Sean Ryan, John Mullins, Kevin and Declan Cooke.
"In the 40x20 championship the county had better luck during the year. Noel Murphy and David Hope were going for their 3rd Leinster Junior Doubles title in a row. With good wins over Kilkenny and Wexford in the quarter and semi-finals they looked well set for victory in the final. Unfortunately lady luck was not with the lads and they were beaten by the narrowest of margins by a strong Wicklow side.
"However both players made amends in the singles competitions, David in the Junior and Noel in Masters B. In the Junior David progressed nicely with wins over Carlow and Wicklow and he defeated Kilkenny's William Love in the Leinster final. In the All-Ireland semi-final David was pitted against the favourite Ciaran Burke of Galway who he dispatched of in two straight games. He then went on to claim the title with a convincing win over Monaghan's Terry Kiernan.
"In the opening rounds of the Leinster Masters B, Noel defeated players from Carlow and Wexford and in the final he beat Kilkenny's Ollie Falsey. In the All-Ireland semi-final Noel defeated Mayo's Joe Dowling to book a place in the final against Cork's John Kersey.
"Noel continued his good form and gained another All-Ireland title for Offaly in tremendous style. Two weeks later Noel travelled to Ulster to take part in the Irish National Championship where he proved victorious yet again defeating players from Westmeath, Tipperary and Mayo before bringing home another title for Offaly.
"Another one of our county's top performers was the evergreen stalwart Billy Mullins. Billy defeated Tony Breen in the Leinster Emerald Masters 'A' final. He saw off the challenge of Mayo's Padraig Gillard in the semi-final and he defeated the fancied Tom O'Brien of Limerick in the final.
"In the doubles of the same grade Billy was partnered by Jim Guilfoyle. They were up against tough opposition throughout their Leinster campaign and they pulled out all the stops to beat Meath in the final. After defeating Mayo in the semi-final they progressed through to the All-Ireland final against Limerick, where they claimed another gold medal for Offaly.
"On the International stage Michael O'Brien played in the Simple Green Men's B US Open where he reached the final but was defeated by fellow Irish man Paul Hedderman of Limerick.
"As the 2010 season comes to a close, Crinkle has booked a place in the Junior Inter-club All-Ireland semi-final, against Salthill of Galway after defeating Clogh of Kilkenny in the Leinster final. The team for this competition is Sean Ryan, John Mullins, Noel and Michael O'Brien and Kevin Cooke. We wish them well and hopefully more silverware will be on its way back to Offaly.
"As can be seen from the list of victories handball in Offaly is very much on the up, with a grand total for the year of 5 All-Ireland titles, 10 Leinster titles and contested a further 9 Leinster finals.
"With the work that is being put in by the clubs and the county board at under age level it can be expected that this trend will continue well in to the future. This level of success would not be possible without the continued support of Offaly GAA and on behalf of Offaly Handball Board I would like to publicly acknowledge this support and thank them most sincerely for it."