The 19&U Irish nationals is the final stepping stone to senior handball for the best 18-19 year olds in the country and the winner is usually someone who's been standing out in juvenile ranks and looks set for a big future in the game. Former winners of the boys 19&U title include Robbie McCarthy (2005 & 2006), Diarmaid Nash (2009), Killian Carroll (2012) and Martin Mulkerrins (2013), four of the best players in world handball today. Back in the nineties the winners included Eoin Kennedy, Kenny Kane, Tony Healy and Dessie Keegan. The ladies 19&U winners list also includes some of the greatest players past and present including Fiona Shannon, Catriona Casey, Martina McMahon, Ciana Ni Churraoin and Fiona Tully.
The players contesting the boys and girls 19&U grade in Croke Park this weekend are all well known and the standard in this age group looks as good as it's ever been. The boys section is packed with talent and it's brilliant to see young stars such as Kyle Jordan, Fiachra O Duill, Noah Manogue, Conor Doyle, Joshua Roche, John Hayes and Jamie Barnes set to fight it out for one of the most prestigious trophies in underage handball. The girls section is also guaranteed to produce top class action with Jodie Keeling leading the way in terms of outstanding achievements so far. Jodie will be fancied to add another major triumph to her incredible list of honours but she knows there are no shortage of worthy challengers. The strength of Kilkenny handball is very much in evidence at 19&U as the county is responsible for four of the seven contenders in the boys division and three of the seven survivors in the girls competition.
Boys 19&U nationals preview...
The Boys 19&U nationals features some of the best prospects that we've seen emerge over the last ten years. Kyle Jordan is very much in that category and the sport needs talents like Kyle to continue their careers into adult handball. The Kilkenny star's juvenile record was superb and his magnificent skills were plain to be seen from an early age. He achieved a lot of success but was denied even more by brilliant opponents such as Mikey Kelly and Billy Drennan in what was a golden era for juvenile handball in Ireland. Kyle's list of top honours includes Irish 40x20 nationals titles at 13&U, 17&U and 19&U, and he was denied the opportunity to complete the full set by covid when he was 15&U. He also collected an All Ireland U16 singles title in 40x20 along the way. Kyle currently holds two Irish nationals titles as he is the reigning 19&U champion from the junior event last year and recently lifted the Mens A title at the adult nationals in Clare. Kyle will be hoping to successfully defend his nationals title this weekend and secure his place on Team Ireland for the World Championships but he's got a few big hurdles to negotiate.
One of the leading contenders for his title is Armagh's Fiachra O'Duill, the only player in the field who isn't from Kilkenny or Wexford. Fiachra is well capable of spoiling the party for the Leinster hopefuls, as he demonstrated last year when completing a sensational clean sweep of All Ireland minor singles titles across all three codes, the first time this was ever accomplished. Fiachra was initially regarded in his earlier playing days as a guaranteed future champion on the one wall circuit but in 2023 he also conquered the minor grade in 40x20 and 60x30, which makes him a major player for the Irish 40x20 Nationals this weekend.
The rest of the Kilkenny challenge in the 19&U boys will come from Noah Manogue, Conor Doyle and John Hayes, three super young players who've been making their presence felt in a big way at underage level in recent years. Noah and Conor are the reigning All Ireland minor doubles champions and have both made their mark in singles events too. Noah is a former U16 singles champion in 60x30 and only lost out in the minor singles decider last year in a tiebreaker, while Conor was the All Ireland 40x20 U14 singles champion in 2020 and U16 champion in 2022 and is aiming to complete the elite underage treble by winning minor singles in 2024.
John Hayes has been a prolific doubles winner throughout his underage career, his trumphs including All Ireland U16 doubles in 40x20 and U17 doubles in 60x30 in 2022. However he's also a serious competitor in singles and is a threat to anybody at his best. The two Wexford lads in this grade are also well known for their handball prowess and last year's All Ireland U17 singles champion Joshua Roche will certainly fancy his chances of progressing beyond his quarter final clash with Conor Doyle.
Joshua is a classy handballer and has made continuous improvements to his game as he's progressed through the underage ranks. He was 15&U Irish nationals champion two years ago and is still young for the 19&U grade but the Team Ireland ruling means he can't play in 17&U this year. His county colleague Jamie Barnes was All Ireland U17 doubles champion in both 40x20 and 60x30 last year and is another young player who has continued to improve at national level.
There are certainly some cracking tussles in the pipeline before the 19&U boys champion is crowned on Sunday evening.
QF 1: Kyle Jordan (Kilfane) vs Jamie Barnes (St Marys)
QF 2: Conor Doyle (Windgap) vs Joshua Roche (Castlebridge)
QF 3: Noah Manogue (O'Loughlins) vs John Hayes (Kells, Kilkenny)
QF 4: Fíachra Ó Dúill (St Killians) w/o David Considine (Clooney)
Girls 19&U Nationals preview...
The name Jodie Keeling is now quite famous in Irish handball circles thanks to the young Wexford star's fabulous exploits throughout her underage career. Jodie is also a big personality as well as a serious handball talent and the list of major honours she has compiled is a lengthy one. Jodie has won Irish nationals titles at 13&U and again at 17&U last year and was denied the opportunity to play at 15&U during the covid period. She also missed the chance to win an All Ireland U16 singles title during that period but she certainly made up for it last year by capturing All Ireland minor titles in all three codes, 40x20, 60x30 and one wall. Jodie has begun to dip her toes into adult handball now and it may take her a few years to start translating her juvenile success into adult glory but she's determined to get there. Two of the main rivals to Jodie throughout her juvenile career were Galway's Emma Kinane and Tipperary's Hannah Grace. Emma is currently studying in America as part of the handball scholarship she embarked on last year and Hannah could yet be heading along the same path.
Hannah is one of the contenders for the 19&U title in Croke Park this weekend and at her best she's well capable of pulling it off. Former All Ireland U14 doubles champion and She's Ace winner Hannah reached the All Ireland minor finals last year in both 40x20 and 60x30 and comes into this weekend as a threat to everyone. The rest of the girls 19&U field comprises three Kilkenny players and two Roscommon challengers.
The Kilkenny trio are all in the reckoning this weekend, Katie Brennan, Una Duggan and Emer Barron. Katie is aiming to follow in the footsteps of her talented older sister Amy who captured this same title last year by defeating Leah Manogue in a thrilling tiebreaker. Katie displayed excellent form in Croke Park two weeks ago when winning the 17&U She's Ace title but she must now step up to play 19&U due to her ineligibility for 17&U at the world championships, but it's a challenge that she is well able to take on. Katie has won All Irelands at U14 singles and U16 doubles in the past and will be on the shortlist for All Ireland minor honours in 2024.
Una and Emer are the reigning All Ireland minor doubles champions and will pose a threat to anyone in the competition this weekend. Una reached the 17&U nationals decider in Kilkenny last year where she lost to Jodie and she's one of the younger players in 19&U this time but she's a fine talent and always delivers a strong honest performance which gives her a chance against any opposition. She's recorded some terrific results over the years. Last year's All Ireland U17 singles champion Emer is a player that has made notable progress in recent years to become a top competitor on the national stage. Her quarter final tie with Hannah Grace on Saturday promises to be a tight one.
The two pronged Roscommon challenge will come from Alanna Coggeran and Shauna Corrigan who've both been competing at All Ireland level for several years and holding their own. Alanna is a renowned one wall player but also claimed All Ireland U17 gold in the 60x30 championship in 2022 and has been improving all the time as a 40x20 player. She's been performing well in adult grades in the last year and will be a difficult quarter final opponent for Una Duggan. Shauna is a player who's never been far away since reaching the All Ireland U14 singles final in 2020 against Katie Brennan, the same opponent she meets again this weekend.
Overall Jodie will be favourite to lift this title on Sunday but none of the Kilkenny girls can be ruled out of going all the way and the Roscommon girls are also capable of upsetting the odds.
QF 1: Jodie Keeling BYE
QF 2: Alanna Coggeran (Kilfass) vs Una Duggan (Galmoy)
QF 3: Emer Barron (Windgap) vs Hannah Grace (Lahorna)
QF 4: Shauna Corrigan (Lisacul) vs Katie Brennan (Clogh)