McCarthy keen to build on 16th All-Ireland title success
Mullingar handball star Robbie McCarthy captured a 16th All-Ireland handball title on March 5 in Kingscourt, Cavan, where he defeated Diarmuid Nash of Clare in the 40x20 decider.
McCarthy’s achievements in his chosen sport are truly outstanding and it all began when he was taken to the old handball alley in Mullingar 33 years ago by his father Robbie Snr. He was three years old then and very quickly developed an eye for the game and years of dedication and hard graft have brought him great rewards.
He has now won five 40x20 titles as well as nine 60x30 softball and two 60x30 hardball titles. It took a while to check the stats after his success in Cavan such is the level of achievement.
The modest Mullingar man is happy to hide his light under a bushel, but it’s a story of personal sacrifice and determination that ought to be told. At times over the years everything else took a back seat while he prepared in every sense of the word for the challenge ahead. Austere and regimental he has needed to be.
“It means giving up lots of things, like nights out or weekends away. Handball just takes over and it has to be like that if you want to win. It’s so competitive, you just can’t take shortcuts,” he explained.
Along with his strength and conditioning coach Peter Leahy - a fellow Mullingar man who McCarthy believes is simply the best in the business – Robbie has found a way, or ways, to gain an edge in a sport that is tough and energy-sapping. Hours of court practice won’t do it on its own, additional training is a must if you want to become the best.
“I’ve been working with Peter Leahy for more than 10 years, I’d say, at this stage. Look, he’s the best S&C coach in the country I believe; the advice and guidance he gives is just amazing. Everything is laid out for me; he knows what I need to focus on before each match and what I need to do to reach peak performance,” said McCarthy.
“He’s well over-looked in terms of what he brings. He’s just very professional in everything and I’m not surprised he is being picked up by counties because what he brings is just great. He’s a big part of my story: I’m taking on players who are years younger than me, in some cases there’s a decade between us, but I’m able to compete.”
Surrounding yourself with good people is often one of the ways to achieve success and McCarthy has done just that. Not a big number by any means, but key people who he can feed off and lean on when he needs to.
His father, Robbie senior has been a wonderful mentor and role model. A great handballer himself, he obviously spotted talent in his son at a young age and nurtured it for many years. The unobtrusive Liam Cassidy is another key player.
“I’ve looked up him (Robbie Snr) all the time. He is a great coach and mentor, himself and Liam, who’s originally from Multyfarnham and now living in Mullingar. They are experts in the game and they know what it takes to win,” he said.
“I won an intermediate title with Liam in 2006 and he hasn’t missed a game of mine since. No one really sees what he does, or knows what he brings, but it’s vital. He goes unnoticed, but he’s brilliant at what he does.”
Colm Jordan of Five Star Fitness assists with nutrition and the Cork man is excellent at what he contributes.
But more than anything McCarthy’s success is down to his own work and the personal sacrifice is huge.
His wife Gillian and family, Ashley, Shane and Emma, have been terrific supporters and to be so successful has meant hours away from his loved ones.
“It’s two and a half hours in the alley in the evening, that’s just for a start. But it’s not just about hitting a ball against a wall, there’s a lot more to it. You’re all the time pushing and looking to gain an edge,” he said.
The dedication is paying off. McCarthy has been in all of the All-Ireland finals since 2012 and only missed 2018 because he and Gillian were getting married.
He credits the new facilities at the Mullingar handball alley as being crucial in his development, noting how superb they now are.
After his recent success, McCarthy took a well-deserved week off and what the next step is. Perhaps some time abroad, or a period in the bigger alley (60x30). He currently works with the Defence Forces in The Curragh in heavy vehicle mechanics and has enjoyed the last four years with them.
“They’re great in terms of the support they give me all the time and I’m really enjoying working with them,” he said.
The contribution of Westmeath Handball has been vital also and they have been a constant support to McCarthy over the years. He’s proud to represent Mullingar and Westmeath on the national and international stage.
“It’s what I love doing and the enjoyment has kept me interested. My family has been great to me and I’m extremely lucky in that regard,” he remarked.
One thing for sure, McCarthy is not ready to stop at sweet 16 and the bad news for all other handballers is that he seems certain to be around for some time to come.