UCD student Martin Mulkerrins had a massive victory in the US on Sunday, writes Declan Smith.

Martin Mulkerrins won the United States Collegiate Handball Open title last week in Springfield, Missouri, becoming the first Irish champion in over seven years to win the prestigious prize. Mulkerrins, a first year Agricultural Science student, overcame a number of top American and Irish players during the week. In the final held last Sunday, the Galway native showed experience beyond his years in dispatching University of Texas at El Paso’s Daniel Cordova in a thrilling 11-10 tie-breaker victory to secure the title and the number one spot in collegiate handball in the world.

The first game of the final was a torrid affair, with both players attempting to lay heavy markers for the rest of the match. Mulkerrins’ phenomenal power was on display, while Cordova’s mesmerising speed and dexterity around the court demonstrated why he is regarded as one of the best collegiate players in the world.

Mulkerrins pulled away in the first game thanks to some fine kill shots, taking the first game 21-6. Cordova came out firing in the second game, taking an early lead. It looked ominous for Mulkerrins, as Cordova appeared unfazed by his first game defeat, outscoring Mulkerrins 10-2 in the first ten minutes of the second game. Following a time-out, the UCD man made a flurry of forty-foot kill shots from the back court and tied the score at 10-10.

From then on, the players became tentative, trading roof shots as neither wanted to concede easy points. Cordova’s low power serve became Mulkerrins’ undoing, as he reeled off a number of points to lead 20-16. The final point of the game saw a 55-shot rally ensue, as both players put their bodies on the line, with Cordova finishing the game with a coolly executed corner kill despite the long rally.

This brought the game to a tiebraker, which Cordova controlled for large periods, eventually finding himself one point from victory at 10-6. Mulkerrins, at this vital stage, showed phenomenal cool, firstly regaining serve and rattling off five quick points to win the title. Mulkerrins has become the youngest winner of the event since Arizona’s Luis Moreno won the collegiate title in 2007. Since then, Moreno has cemented his place as the United States’ number one pro player, which is a positive omen for the UCD man.

The arrival of Mulkerrins has seen a renaissance of sorts for the GAA Handball club, as they became the Irish Senior Collegiate Team Champions early in the year, defeating DCU in the final. Following his victory, Mulkerrins, who captured the World U-17 title in Portland, Oregon in 2009, pinpointed the U-19 event in the World Handball Championships as his ultimate goal.

Other UCD players competing at the event included second year Radiography student Alan Armstrong, and first year Agricultural Science student Sean Foley, both of whom recorded some fine victories before finishing in the top thirty in the event overall. To round up an impressive week for UCD Handball, Diarmaid Nash has reached the All-Ireland Senior semi-final following his quarter-final victory over Mayo’s Joe McCann, and will play Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy in the semi-final.