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Five sports stars to watch in 2024

A big year beckons for promising young Irish sporting stars Jake O’Brien, Lauren Walsh, Nick Griggs, Adam Screeney and Nikki Wall

Jake O’Brien (Soccer)

If you were to scroll down through the various messages from fans on the official Olympique Lyonnais social media sites, you’d get a clear idea of how those supporters of the French Ligue 1 club have adopted the young Cork man.

“Le patron de la défense” – the boss of the defence – gives the gist of how the 22-year-old centre-half has found a place already in the hearts of those Lyon devotees, with O’Brien proving to be far more than a stopper in defence in also contributing three goals since his arrival to the club.

O’Brien became the first Irish player in over two decades to be signed by a Ligue 1 club in France when he made the permanent move from Crystal Palace last August having first cut his teeth with Cork City in the League of Ireland.

Having signed for Crystal Palace from Cork City in 2021, O’Brien never managed to break into the English Premier League side but impressed on loan spells at Swindon Town and more so at Belgian club Molenbeek where he was an integral part of the club’s promotion to the top flight and played 30 times in that success.


That loan spell in Belgium also impressed Lyon, who signed the former Irish Under 21 international on a four-year contract. O’Brien made his debut for Lyon in Ligue 1 against Reims in October and has been an ever-present in the heart of their defence since then, playing 10 times and scoring three goals.

Having taken the road less travelled in making a huge impact in France, O’Brien – an athletic 6ft3in presence – looks set to continue that career trajectory in the months and years ahead.

Lauren Walsh (Golf)

Every shot counts these days for Lauren Walsh, who made the move into the professional ranks last May after completing her studies at Wake Forest University in the United States.

Walsh enjoyed a standout amateur career – including playing in two Curtis Cups, two Arnold Palmer Cups and leading Wake Forest to victory in the NCAA collegiate championships – and has earned Category 16 status for the upcoming season on the Ladies European Tour.

The 24-year-old Kildare golfer narrowly missed out on full Category 12 status at the recent Q-School in Morocco but can expect to play in up to 16 tournaments on the LET off that card as well as availing of sponsors’ invitations as she seeks to follow Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow on tour, with the aim of joining them on the LPGA Tour among her objectives.

Walsh’s time in Wake Forest – where she was an All-American academic and also an All-American team selection for her golf – served her well for the move to the professional ranks and she has been given financial support as part of Team Ireland’s golf grant programme.

The Castlewarden player made he professional debut on the LPGA Tour in the Dana Open last May (where she missed the cut) but managed four top-10s in six tournaments on the LET and the LET Access Tour in those limited outings which showed her competitiveness and, with a stronger schedule ahead, she has a chance to make an impact in her rookie season on the LET.

Nick Griggs (Athletics)

Still a teenager, Griggs – who turned 19 in December – is already following in the rich tradition of Irish middle distance athletes.

The Co Tyrone runner has shown his class through the junior ranks. He won the European Under 20 championship as a 16-year-old back in 2021 and was a silver medalist in the event in Jerusalem last year, then led Ireland’s Under 20 team to gold in the European Coss Country Championships in Brussels in December.

Griggs is the holder of multiple national Under 20 records on the track: 1500 metres outdoors 3:36.09 (set in Nice) and 3:39.94 indoors (set in Birmingham); 3000 metres outdoors 7:53.24 (set in Belfast) and 7:54.44 indoors (set in Manchester); and 5000 metres outdoors 13:36.47 (set in Oordegem).

Having completed his A level exams last year, Griggs has taken a year out from moving on to university life to concentrate on his ambition to make the Ireland team for the Olympic Games in Paris and his progress – evidenced by his constant setting of new national Under 20 records on the track – would make that a realistic aim for the year ahead.

Adam Screeney (Hurling)

Every so often, a truly rare talent comes along.

Adam Screeney is only 19 years of age but he looks to be the future of Offaly hurling, with his speed and off-the-charts skill levels suggesting the Faithful County has unearthed a golden nugget.

Screeney won the Minor Player of the Year in 2022 when his team reached the All-Ireland final (losing narrowly to Tipperary) and then spearhead Offaly’s provincial success in 2023 when they won a first Leinster Under 20 title since 2000 before losing out to Cork in the All-Ireland final.

He has all the skills, scoring off left or right and with speed to burn and Screeney brought that dynamism in helping his club Kilcormac-Killoughey to the county title and then making it as far as the Leinster semi-final before losing out to eventual champions O’Loughlin Gaels from Kilkenny.

Screeney has an X-factor that has made him the go-to player for selfie-seeking supporters after matches. He is only going to get better.

Vikki Wall (Rugby)

Not a new face by any means, but the two-time All-Ireland football winner – back-to-back with Meath in 2021 and 2022 and who also had a stint playing Aussie Rules – is primed to head into a new part of her fascinating sporting journey in the year ahead.

Wall, footballer of the year when Meath broke through to win the Brendan Martin Cup in 2021, and who then played for a season with North Melbourne Down Under, has switched codes again with the aim of being part of Ireland’s Sevens team at the Olympic Games in Paris.

An inspirational on-field leader with Meath, Wall’s move to the oval ball – firstly in Australia and now, most dramatically, with Ireland – has meant learning new techniques and disciplines but she is also bringing with her a wealth of sporting know-how and success.

Ireland had already secured qualification for the Olympic Games when Wall’s move to rugby came about but the powerful athlete’s change of direction has brought with it the opportunity to further enhance her impressive sporting CV.

The weeks and months ahead will see Wall compete as part of the Ireland Sevens squad in the World Series tournaments in Dubai, South Africa, Australia, the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Singapore and Spain.

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Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times