Irish handball stars challenge for USA glory
28 June 2012
Armagh's Charlie Shanks
Two of Ireland's most gifted handball stars will take to the courts this weekend for the 62nd USHA National Four-Wall Championships at the Los Caballeros Sports Village in Fountain Valley, California.
Cavan's Paul Brady has been the most successful Irish player in history at the event having collected a staggering seven straight wins from 2004 to 2010 while Armagh's Charlie Shanks, now residing in New York is currently ranked at 5 on the USA "Race4Eight" circuit.
Both can go all the way with Brady in particular being most expert's choice to prosper. Having missed out on apprehending a ninth consecutive victory in 2011 due to a fractured finger injury, Brady has bounced back in 2012 and in devastating fashion. In early May, the 33 year old cruised to his eight in a row in the GAA Handball Irish championship without even coming close to dropping a game en route to his ninth medal in total.
His final performance over Westmeath's Robbie McCarthy was thought by many there who beheld the Mullaghoran man, to be one of the best all round displays ever witnessed on Irish soil. Just three months on, Brady goes into this week's series as the number one seeded player and in peak physical shape. "As the Race4Eight was such a success this year in the US, I'm expecting the competition there to be much tougher this year. My main US opponents will be Luis Moreno (Tucson), the Race winner and Sean Lenning (Seattle) the Race runner up. Naty Alvarado Jr. (California), the local hero there, will be tough also," said Brady.
"Additionally Allan Garner (Texas), the world runner up in 2009 always poses a huge threat. Charlie (Shanks) will be the main competition from Ireland and he will have benefitted greatly from the experience of re-locating and playing in the US circuit this past year."
Moreno, at 23 years of age and nicknamed "The Natural" across the Atlantic in reference to his smooth and silky natural skills, is the hottest player in the game right now, excluding Brady. But many Americans do believe that he is the only player in their ranks who can halt Brady at the 2012 World Championships, scheduled for Dublin's City West Arena this October.
Brady will clash with the winner of Miami's Nelson Quintero or Suhn Lee of Lake Forest, Illinois in his opening match. Should seeding go according to plan, Brady will encounter Naty Alvarado Jr from Spring Valley Lake, California in the last 4.
Ireland's other main threat comes in the form of Lurgan born, Shanks, who has spent the last year in the States playing out of the New York Athletic club. The 28 year old has exhibited all the credentials and athleticism this term to suggest he can topple this exciting field. He has come close on three occasions to secure a major 40x20 title in recent times but has come up short in all three attempts, when he lost out in the Irish final in 2009 and 2010 and also in the US Open final last October.
One year's experience at playing weekend tournaments on a more frequent basis may prove decisive this weekend for the capable Orchard man. Shanks is also coming into this week's event on the back of a final win in Pittsburgh a fortnight back when he beat local star and current USA number 6, David Fink in the final 11-10 in a thrilling tie break. "I have very little thoughts on this week for the US Nationals. It's the last 4 wall event for the year. A lot of the American players might be fatigued after the long Race4Eight season, though Moreno looks strong and as fresh as ever at the last stop. Now Brady is in the mix for this event he'll be the clear favourite. I've just been getting some rest and trying to be as fresh as possible coming in, whether or not that works in my favour or not we'll have to wait and see," said Shanks.
Shanks will entertain Dylan Hernandez (Van Nuys, California) in round 1. Should the 5th seed, then continue to progress though the earlier stages, he will be likely to battle with Seattle's Sean Lenning in the quarter final.
Meanwhile, two other members of Team Ireland who are in the US and preparing for the World Championships this October in Citywest, Dublin, are Kilkenny's Michael 'Ducksy' Walsh and Antrim's Aisling Reilly. Both players will also be strongly fancied in the Masters Singles and Ladies Open grades respectively in what promises to be another successful venture for Irish players.