There was a time when Paddy Reilly’s face adorned sports pages with near unreal frequency. Himself and his doubles partner, Ollie Harold were practically unbeatable for a long time. But fate dealt the likeable Dicksboro (I was about to say The Village) man a dreadful blow in mid-career, which all but finished his reign as a champion of the 60x40 alley.
Mick Devane mentored the young Reilly initially when he enrolled him in the newly formed St Mary’s handball club minor team, centred in The Closh alley, to compete in the county championships of 1964. Still as a minor his first competitive doubles partner was the recently departed, Paddy ‘Fox’ Delaney. They were beaten by the Meath pairing of Des McGovern and Dominic Grimes in Kells (Co Meath).
Having emigrated to London shortly afterwards, Paddy remained an emigrant until 1971, having lived the hard life of the times in London during the swinging sixties.
On his return, whilst initially darts subsumed most of his time, he eventually got back to his favoured game, handball. He won the All-Ireland singles and doubles junior titles in 1972. Too good for the junior ranks, his arrival into the big boys senior game was a culture shock.
Icons of the game like Joey Maher, Dick Lyng and Pat Kirby would devour Paddy initially. His training was defined by the games he would play in the junior grade, but with the senior guys, the game was on a different plateau.
Paddy joined the Irish Army in 1974 and that was a seminal decision in the development of his handball game. Fitness was an issue that was addressed more by a drill Sergeant called Brendan Mills during a four-mile run, than by Paddy Reilly.
In fact, the venerable Sergeant advised most of the platoon, including the ’Boro man, that their career expectations, based on the run, would be rather limited (I can still hear him bellowing after the run - you are the most useless shower it has ever been my misfortune to encounter). Paddy Reilly didn’t ignore the obvious advice. His handball career took off from that run.
He won the Gael Linn championships that year. He was a member of the Leinster inter-provincial team that won that championship with Dick Lyng, Seamus Buggy (both Wexford) and Pakie Ryan (Dublin). Another year, Joey Maher was on the team.
Paddy won the senior softball doubles with Ollie Harold in 1980, and he won the senior singles in 1981. The handball world was Paddy Reilly’s oyster.
A dreadful, career breaking back injury suffered in 1982 brought Paddy Reilly’s handball career to a stop.
He went to the Lebannon with the UN peace keeping forces in 1982. On his return, his handball exploits became more social than championship driven. He played in all of the senior grades, and still does.
He loved it all, with no regrets.
But he cannot help wondering about the what if - injury.
Paddy still goes to the gym on a daily basis, and is as fit as a flea. His greatest sporting love is still ash on ash, and the magic of the whistling sliotar.