Casey, Philip (1841–1904), handball player, known as Phil Casey, was born in Shannon Street, Mountrath, Queen's County (Co. Laois), in 1841, the son of Patrick and Brigid Casey. He was educated at the Patrician College, Mountrath, where he began to play handball on the college's three-wall court. A formidable player from an early age, his natural talent was complemented by a large and athletic physique. In 1856 he emigrated with his family to the US, following the death of his father. Handball was a relatively unknown sport there when he first arrived. It was some time before he had enough money to construct a court, but he built one at Douglas Street, near Hoyt, New York. As the flow of immigrants from Ireland grew, the sport flourished in the US. There was no championship, but challenges between talented players were arranged by promoters for money.
Casey became the pre-eminent player in America. By 1876, following his defeat of Barney McQuaide from Swinford, he could confidently claim to be the American handball champion. Thereafter it is reputed that he went unbeaten until he retired in 1897. This record suggests that he was the finest handballer ever to play, though there are those who claim that Tom Jones (qv) was a better player, albeit with a far shorter career.
In 1875 Casey designed a new court, a prototype for the modern court, at Degraw Street, Brooklyn, later called Casey's Court. His most famous match was against the Irish champion, John Lawlor (qv). Lawlor, who had beaten David Browning to become the Irish handball champion, issued a general challenge to all handballers to play for the title ‘champion of the world’ and a purse of £200. Casey accepted the challenge, agreeing that the match should be played over two legs, the first in Cork and the second in Casey's own court in New York. Lawlor was a lithe, adroit player, whose game was based on speed and skill, whereas Casey, a veritable giant in comparison to Lawlor, based his game on an amalgam of skill and raw power. The first leg, which was finished prematurely by crowd trouble when it appeared that Casey was going to beat the local favourite, ended in a draw. The second leg, which was held in 1887 on Casey's court, ended in an easy victory for Casey. The larger court allowed Casey's strength to dominate the game through his powerful serve. Thereafter Casey held the title ‘champion of the world’ until his retirement in 1897. Lawlor challenged Casey again in 1888, but he ignored it, and Lawlor then claimed to be champion of the world.
Casey was also a great doubles player. With his partner, Judge James Dunne, he dominated the handball doubles event. His last doubles title was won in 1897 when he and Dunne earned a purse of $2,000.
In addition to his career on the handball court, Casey was also active in Democratic politics, representing the tenth ward in the old Brooklyn Board of Aldermen for four years. He died in on 12 July 1904 at his home in Brooklyn, after a long illness. He was unmarried and lived with his sister.