Mulkerrins and Casey crowned world handball champions
By Paul Fitzpatrick
Two new world champions were crowned on Sunday as Ireland’s Martin Mulkerrins and Catriona Casey took gold in the Men’s and Women’s Opens respectively in Minneapolis.
With the triennial Worlds not having taken place since 2018 due to pandemic-related restrictions, a decision was made that this year’s US Nationals would double as a Worlds Invitational which means that the new champions are celebrating on the double today.
Mulkerrins defeated Peter Jansen (Sacramento) 21-3, 21-8, Dylan Hernandez (Van Nuys, California) 21-8, 21-4 and Kilkenny’s Peter Funchion 21-15, 21-15 to set up a semi-final against Clare’s Diarmaid Nash, whom he had lost to in last year’s US final.
This time, the Moycullen man ran out a 21-8, 21-14 winner to advance to the final, where he got the better of top American Sean Lenning 21-11, 14-21, 11-7.
“It has been a dream of mine to win the Men's Open World Championship and US Nationals, so it feels great!” Mulkerrins said.
“All the hard work and sacrifices have been worth it, but I suppose there is also an element of relief.
“I lost four previous finals, twice to Paul Brady (2013, 2019), to Killian Carroll (2018) in what was also combined for the world title and last year (2022) to Diarmaid Nash 11-9 in the tiebreaker.
“I'd also played two other times and lost in the semi-finals. So I was determined to win and made a big decision to move to Texas this year and compete on the Pro Tour. All of the tournaments have helped and I had confidence coming here this week that I could do it. I think I managed to peak on time as well which is not always easy to get right.”
Mulkerrins is based in College Station, Texas, where he coaches the Texas A&M team and lectures in the university.
“I have played 19 tournaments since moving to Texas last August so in terms of the next goals I think I will play the big court at home over the summer for fun really but I will need to take some time to rest too. But the Worlds will be in Ireland again in 2024 so that is now something to look forward to.”
Catriona Casey, meanwhile, displayed stellar form throughout the week. She easily despatched Suz Entzeroth from Missouri 21-1, 21-0 before enjoying a 21-8, 21-5 victory over top New York lefty Danielle Daskalakis.
In the final, Casey took on Roscommon senior ladies footballer Fiona Tully, who had beaten young Tyrone star Clodagh Munroe, who is currently studying on a handball scholarship in Minnesota.
Casey played flawless handball in the final to win 21-8, 21-1. Having been at the top of the game for several years, this was her first Open Singles title at the Worlds.
“It feels great to have won the US and world titles. The world title is one that has eluded me, having come so close in the last two finals so it’s a bit of a monkey off the back in that sense and I’m just delighted to have that title to my name now as well,” said the Ballydesmond right-hander.
“I feel like it’s the culmination of many years of hard work and effort so it’s definitely a sweet one. To play Fiona in the final, she’s such a talented player who’s been knocking on the door for a while now and I feel like it’s only a matter of time before she makes her breakthrough so I was delighted to take the win.”
Asked how she stays motivated to compete all year round at home and abroad, Catriona said: “Motivation has never really been an issue for me. I suppose you go through periods of burn-out from playing all the codes in the US and Ireland as well but anyone that plays handball knows that there is pretty much always room for improvement and as long as I feel that I am progressing and working on my weaknesses and enjoying the sport, I’ll keep striving.”
There won’t be much time to rest on her return.
“I’ll be playing in the big alley championship as soon as I get home. I’ll be in action next weekend, it will be a quick turnaround but I’m going to try my best at that as well, singles and doubles.
“It's exciting news that Ireland will be hosting the next World Championships in 2024 so it would be great to stay fit and healthy and try to defend my title there on home soil.”
Mulkerrins paired with Boston-based Corkman Killian Carroll to win the Open Doubles in a tiebreaker against young Americans Ray Ure and Ivan Burgos on Monday while Casey and clubmate Aishling O’Keeffe claimed the Women’s Open Doubles title.
The Men’s A final was also an all-Irish decider with Monaghan’s Gavin Coyle, the All-Ireland Intermediate champion for 2023, edging out former Cavan footballer Joe Dillon Jr.