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Return of box-office Brady a boost to handball as he sets off in search of 11th All-Ireland

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Brady was a late addition to the draw for this weekend’s Irish Nationals. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

Brady was a late addition to the draw for this weekend’s Irish Nationals. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Brady was a late addition to the draw for this weekend’s Irish Nationals. Photo: Sam Barnes / Sportsfile

The 'Long Goodbye' was made famous by folk singer Paul Brady, but for his namesake, the five-time world handball champion from Cavan, the sentiments are equally applicable.

The former Breffni footballer retired from domestic singles play after claiming a record 10th All-Ireland senior singles crown in 2013. He went on to add three more US national titles to bring that tally to 10, one off the American record, but with the end in sight, his best-laid plans went awry.

While he remained successful on the Stateside circuit generally, the Cavanman failed to add to his US Nationals tally in 2016, '17 and '18, by which stage the Tiger Woods of handball held no major title for the first time in 15 years.

Last June, however, Brady shook up the handball world again when he eked out another success in Los Angeles to tie the record set by Mexican Naty Alvarado.

And now, at 40, he's gone all in again. Brady was a late addition to the draw for this weekend's Irish Nationals, the main pre-championship warm-up event, and in a sensational move, will also return to the fray for the championship - the biggest prize in Irish handball - which serves off next week.

"After winning my 10th All-Ireland, I retired from that and focused on playing singles in the States," Brady told the Irish Independent this week.

"But a couple of things motivated me to return. Firstly, my main goal for the year is to win the US Nationals in Minneapolis again and I needed to get some competitive games under my belt.

"I intended to play other events over the winter but I have had to pull out of all of them because of a persistent shoulder injury, so the Nationals was my last chance at a weekend tournament. And with the new centre opening at Croke Park, I decided to return to the All-Ireland Championship as well - I really want to play and win in the new centre on March 21."

For GAA handball's PR department, Brady's return is a marketing dream. While the likes of Robbie McCarthy, Martin Mulkerrins and Charly Shanks have stepped into the void in his absence, Brady is box office.

The opening of the long-awaited 1,000-seater arena at Croker has already ensured that interest in this year's championship is sky high, but Brady potentially featuring in the first final - possibly on a bill with female superstars Catriona Casey and Martina McMahon, along with vaunted minors Eoghan McGinnity and Billy Drennan - guarantees a sell-out.

First, though, he will seek to manage the hype and the nagging shoulder injury this weekend in Mayo. Inactivity has seen him drop out of the Irish domestic rankings; he will face No 4 seeded Fergal Coughlan of Clare in his opening round this morning. "I've been training hard, preparing as well as physically possible. This weekend's Nationals is to get ready for the All-Irelands, basically, because I haven't played competitively since last June.

"I am playing through a bit of pain this weekend to try and get back into it with one eye further down the line. Results are not as important for this weekend but I know myself that when I get into the court, the competitive instinct will kick in."

Heading the field in Mayo is McCarthy, the reigning champion, with Galway's Mulkerrins and former Clare U-21 hurler Diarmaid Nash also among the leading contenders. The pressure is off for Brady, who works as a teacher at St Felim's NS in Cavan town.

"I'm really enjoying it. I feel a lot more relaxed. I've hit all my goals that I've ever set myself in my career and passed some of them so I am content with what I have achieved. I am enjoying the preparation,I know I'm coming to the end so I'm savouring it even more. I will do everything I can to win the All-Ireland in the new centre."

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