Armagh’s Charlie Shanks has taken a little longer than all the other entrants to get to the GAA O’Neills Irish 40×20 Nationals in Kingscourt, which gets under way this weekend.
That’s because the Lurgan bred man moved to New York City last September where he is a regular on the USA handball circuit. Having contested seven events on this year’s tour, Shanks has impressively reached number 5 in the rankings in his maiden season.
The twice runner up to Cavan’s Paul Brady in the GAA Handball senior championship finals in 2009 and 2010, returns for his first competitive action on home soil since last April.
Shanks and the Irish handball fraternity will be expecting and anticipating that his new found experiences of the last nine months across the Atlantic will have abetted his game to the next level akin to Brady and Cork’s Tony Healy. The 27 year old is sure-fire to be one of the key contenders to Westmeath’s Robbie McCarthy’s Nationals crown this time around.
Since his departure, Shanks has relished some prodigious conquests on his travels, including 9 time USA Men’s Open winner, David Chapman, current number 1 tour star, Tucson’s Luis Moreno and number three, Texan Allan Garner.
Just a fortnight ago, Shanks won his first major event at his current home courts at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.
At the 41st Annual NYAC Invitational, Shanks produced some of his finest hook power serves matched by a consistent offensive attack from both hands to come out victor last Sunday over a testing field.
Then, he was impressive throughout, defeating Allan Garner in the final, having already expelled the highly regarded New Yorker, Tyree Bastidas and Californian, David Fink in the semi-final.
Shanks who has successfully utilised the support of the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland for the last few seasons has found his conditioning and all round preparation vital to his present-day handball status and ranking. “It was good wins against Bastidas, Fink and Garner. I was able to play myself into each match and outlasted Fink and Garner, which is great news on the conditioning front,” said Shanks. “I’ve had some good scalps over here beating namely Chapman, Moreno, Garner and Emmett Peixoto (Boston) but I’ve had as many terrible losses as well. It’s been an up and down first 8 months so far, so my main focus is just to try and get some consistency in my game.”
Looking ahead to the Irish Nationals, in which the man from the Orchard County bowed out in a shock first round defeat in 2011 to Clare’s Diarmuid Nash, Shanks feels he is much more focussed at this juncture. “My record in this tournament has definitely been one of under-performing. I always defined my season on the Ulster and All-Ireland Championships and didn’t carry that same focus or intensity into the Nationals which always seemed to fall a week or two later. But I haven’t been able to play in the Irish Championship this year just because it runs over 2-3 months, so maybe the Nationals can be my Championship this year.”
The weekend tournament style format in the States where the winner will play four matches over a two day period will certainly stand to the 27 year old as he prepares to mount a serious challenge against the elite stars in the Irish game.