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18.09.2014, 11:46
Congress putting Ireland on the handball map
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EHF CONGRESS PREVIEW: A look at the history of handball and its current state in one of the sport's emerging nations
 

Congress putting Ireland on the handball map

Never before has the spotlight of the handball world been shined on Ireland as brightly as it will this Friday and Saturday at the 12th EHF Congress in Dublin.

Playing host for the first time will be the Irish Olympic Handball Association (IOHA), which has been preparing for the past 18 months for the arrival of over 100 delegates, members of the EHF Executive, Commission members and office staff, a very new situation for a nation used to being at the edge of European handball.

Early influence

Handball, or Olympic handball as it is commonly referred to in Ireland to differentiate it from the Irish sport Gaelic handball, was introduced to Ireland in 1974 by Scottish teacher Lyndsey Pennycook and the IOHA was formed the following year.

However, Ireland had a positive influence in handball almost half a century beforehand, as it was an Irish member of the International Olympic Committee, John Joseph Keane, who first proposed that handball be included in the Olympic programme back in 1927.

Ireland in Europe

After competing in every edition of the Challenge Trophy since 1999, Ireland’s men’s national team achieved a milestone in June 2012 by competing in the EHF EURO Qualification for the first time in Israel.

Later that year, the team participated in the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase 1 and hosted its first game at this level in April 2013 against Belgium.

The young squad has decided to focus on development for the time being, with a short-term plan in place to become competitive in qualification for the Men’s EHF EURO 2020, while participation for younger age category teams remains a priority for the IOHA’s long-term plans.

Ireland’s women have competed once internationally, with an under-20 team travelling to Iceland to take part in World Championship Qualification in 2008.

 

Clubs punching above their weight

Club handball in Ireland has enjoyed resurgence recently, with expansion of participating clubs from beyond the traditional stronghold of Dublin, even including two clubs from the north of the island after the IOHA became the recognised federation for handball in Northern Ireland in 2012.

Three Irish club teams (two men’s, one women’s) competed in the Challenge Cup during a six season period from 2006/07-2011/12 with the most successful performance coming from Dublin International HC in 2010, when the side managed to compete with HC Polytechnik from Ukraine and Croatian hosts Buzet, before beating England’s Olympia Handball.

Irish clubs have not competed in Europe since 2012, but with the standard of competition steadily improving, it is only a matter of time before we see Ireland back in the frame.

Future development

With Dublin playing host to the EHF Congress and welcoming representatives from around the continent with its famous hospitality, the IOHA will put itself on the European handball map on 19 and 20 September.

On Saturday, the IOHA will sign up to a three-year Infrastructure Support Programme (ISP) with the EHF with the aim to enlarge the membership base, organise promotional events and increase media coverage of the sport in Ireland.

The Irish will hope to fully capitalise on the event and their continued involvement in EHF initiatives such as the ISP to develop into one of Europe’s best small handball nations in years to come.


TEXT: EHF / cor
 
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