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Cuileann on top of her game


CHAMPION Cuileann Bourke is pictured after winning the All-Ireland 40x20 Junior final.

Oisín McGovern

HOW many All-Ireland handball medals does Cuileann Bourke have?
“I think it’s ten now,” the Clogher woman chuckled over a well-deserved tea and buttered scone when The Mayo News caught up with her in the Linenhall Café in Castlebar last week.
Between underage, doubles, 40x20 and 60x30 titles, the 21 year-old handball ace is definitely approaching double digits in terms of All-Ireland titles if she’s not already there.
The weekend before last, Cuileann claimed her first All-Ireland 40x20 junior medal just months after winning an All-Ireland 60x30 singles title.
And make no mistake, her latest win did not come at a canter.
Last year, the Belcarra handball star found herself in the exact same position when Kilkenny’s Aoife Holden stood between her and a first All-Ireland 40x20 junior title.
However, things did not go according to plan.
“I played so brutal,” Cuileann recalled.
“The first game wasn’t too bad, but I just let her get ahead of me. I was 18-14 up and then she beat me in the first game 21-18 and then the second game was a write-off anyways.
“I was so disheartened.
“I remember coming out of the alley and I was like, ‘Oh my God. I felt like I lost my chance. That was my one time to get through the junior [championship] and I just completely bottled it.’”
Fast forward to this year’s championship.
In February, Cuileann spent ten days representing Ireland and Trinity College in Tucson, Arizona at the USHA National Collegiate Championships.
She arrived home on the last day of the month, still jet-lagged, and virtually went straight into quarter-final action against Cleona O’Connell from Wexford.
“It took me a while to get going in that game because I was sleeping in the car on the way up because I was wrecked,” explained Cuileann, who is a student at Trinity College in Dublin.
Two days later she faced Laura Finn from Sligo in the junior decider with memories of her last final defeat still lingering.
“I was just a bit more nervous than usual. I always had confidence in myself to win, but there’s always that bit of doubt in me as well.
“If I don’t play on the day, it could go any way. Then, once I got in and started playing I found the rhythm of it.”
In her mind, there was only going to be one outcome.
“Going into this final I was not coming out with a silver medal,” she declared.  
“I texted my coach and I was like, ‘I don’t care about what happens tomorrow, but I’m not leaving Kingscourt tomorrow without a gold medal. I’m not going home with a silver medal in my pocket.’”
This final went exactly according to plan; a 21-7, 21-13 victory in favour of one of the undisputed stars of Mayo handball.
Bar the game itself and the resulting celebrations, Cuileann actually remembers very little of the event.
“There’d be so many lads after me just saying, ‘Did you see me doing this? Did you see me doing that?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t recall anything during that game’.
“I’m a different person when I get into the alley, I’d say. I’m a completely different person. “My mindset changes.”
Between college commitments and a part-time job with Western Care, Cuileann has plenty to keep her busy.
When it comes to handball, an intermediate All-Ireland title remains firmly in her sites.
She acknowledges there will be ‘a lot more work needed’ to achieve that, but work is something she’s never been afraid of.
“Days like that, winning an All-Ireland, it all makes it clear why you’re doing all the training.”

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