Charly prepares for the Final

March 17th, 2016 | handball

Charly prepares for the Final

Stop the clock. It’s some time after six on March 21, 2015 and, in a rectangular box of glass and concrete in a corner of county Cavan, hearts are being raised – and crushed.
In seven minutes’ time, Robbie McCarthy will raise the Gael Linn cup for the second year in succession. As of now, though, Charly Shanks is pumping a fist and screaming at the sky; he leads 20 points to 16 and, as he will say a year later, has one hand on the trophy.

We all know what happened next. McCarthy, from somewhere, summoned the will to make sure it was his name enscribed on the silverware. It was the closest Senior Singles final in over a decade and one of the tightest of all time but one thing doesn’t change – there can only be one winner.

Has Charly Shanks’ mind wandered back to it since? Of course. Every day, you suspect. Twelve months on, though, and he says it has been the making of him.

“I don’t think you ever get over a loss like that, you just have to accept it,” states Shanks, five days away from his fourth senior final and a chance to settle the score with the Westmeath man.

“When you’re in a position like that, when you’ve got one hand on the trophy – you’re touching it – those are the hardest losses to take.

“But everything I’ve learned since then from that one match is driving me on since then, you just to learn from it and be a better player. You just try to come back a better player than you were last year and that’s what I am now.

“I’ve made a lot of improvements since last year and I’m looking forward to Saturday evening.”

Memory takes what it wants – and, they say, it has great taste. What does your mind’s eye see, reader, when you recall that dramatic evening in Kingscourt?

If it was Shanks choking, think again – the tape shows that, a couple of uncharacteristic but excusable errors aside, he was undone more by McCarthy’s soft hands, the champion finishing rallies with inch-perfect dump shots, than by his own.

A year on, Shanks – 33 next month and soon to be a father for the second time – feels like a new man.

“It’s more about confidence in my game and what my game can do – that’s what it’s about, making the right choices at the right time. That’s what I learned from last year and what I hope to put right.

“Towards the end I lost my composure a little bit. I rushed a few shots here and there. I had opportunities to put good serves in and didn’t do it. I had a set-up to win the match and didn’t execute.

“You look back at a lot of things that happened in the third game but that’s not where the match was lost, the match was lost by a poor performance at the start of the second game. It shouldn’t have got to a third.”

If evidence were needed that Shanks still has the hunger, there was plenty in his semi-final.

Having lost the first game 21-7 and been down 11-0 in the third against a hot-shooting Martin Mulkerrins, Shanks fronted up.

“I wouldn’t say I turned on the style, I just sort of weathered it. Mulkerrins started hot and heavy and I just stuck in there.

“I feel like I’m just mentally stronger this year than I’ve ever been and if I just played one ace at a time that I would wear him down, I would find my rhythm and get into my groove and I did.

“I was a bit sick that week but I don’t think that really affected me too much on the day, it affacted my preparation more. I let it get to me a little bit.

“What happened was all Mulkerrins, it went to the wire because of how well he was playing.”

A heartbrekaing defeat, like a perfectly-placed punch in boxing, can sometimes sicken an opponent but Shanks is clearly still up for the fight.

“There’s no doubt, whenever you’re 11-0 down and you’re up against a young and up and coming player and you’re after losing the final like that last year, the thought does enter your head that the chance has passed last year and there’s a new era starting but you quickly say, f**k that, let’s get on with it, let’s dig deep and get into it.

“I’m not looking back at what happened in the past, it’s all about what happens on Saturday and how I perform, what happened before is irrelevant to me.”

Does he feel his time has come? No. Such talk, he says, is nonsense – Shanks knows all too well that until the cup is resting on your locker, that moment has never arrived.

“There’s no divine right, there’s no such thing as ‘your time has come’. You have to go in and make it happen. Last year I could have easily just walked away and said, well, there’s a lot of other things happening in my life and fell into the background.

“I could’ve done that in the semi-final when I was down, it’s about persevering, coming back, keeping knocking that door.”

Last year, it didn’t open; this time, he’s determined to kick it down. Another epic awaits.

By Paul Fitzpatrick

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