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17.02.2016, 15:10
Through the Looking-Glass
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BLOG: No sooner has Tom O’Brannagain left Poland after three weeks at EHF EURO 2016 than he returns for the biggest occasion of Round 12, the ehfTV Match of the Week between Kielce and Rhein-Neckar Löwen
 

Through the Looking-Glass

We’re off to Poland this weekend. Hang on a minute! Was I not just there? I have a serious case of déjà-vu hitting me as I write this. Here I go again “Through the Looking-Glass” into my alternative world of handball.

To be honest I have a new found love for the country. Don’t get me wrong, I always enjoyed my sojourns to Plock and Kielce, but the cities of Wroclaw, Katowice and Krakow are now indelibly imprinted upon my mind. My only wish is that I could have visited Gdansk, scene of Lech Wałęsa and the Solidarnosc movement, a moment in time that lights the cockles of my republican mind. The similarities between the Polish people and the Irish are so incredible, that I felt very much at home in the Polish heartlands.

It is a wonderful opportunity for me to commend them on the most amazing tournament. To thank them from the bottom of my heart for making a three-week workload away from home seem like a few days. From the people at the top of the organisation to the volunteers, they just couldn’t do enough to help us and it just made the whole experience all the more pleasurable.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, it has always been thus for me in Poland.

It is to their eternal credit, that even though they were shell-shocked at the ignominious departure of their team from the tournament, at the hands of Croatia, that they re-doubled their efforts to make the event even better.

All I can say is: “Dziękuję Polska”

So where was I? Oh yeah, the looking-glass, deja-vu.

Rhapsody in Yellow. Kielce vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

It’s becoming a bit of a draw fest between these two teams. Last time out, they drew 32-32. Remember the big noise from two seasons ago when they drew 55-55 in the Last 16, and RNL went through on away goals. And just look at the current table; each of them on 15 points. To be honest there isn’t a sheet of bronco between the four teams at the top in Group B and the positions in the group change as often as a model on a Milan catwalk.

Now here is where the teams differ. Kielce will win the Polish league again and can focus entirely on the VELUX EHF Champions League. The "Lions” have an eye on their first Bundesliga title and who can blame them.

But contrary to my blog last time out against Vardar, their team no longer holds first and second string players. Pekeler is a golden boy, Mensah was great, as was Reinkind, in Poland. Finally Jacobsen has a hardened bunch of players that he can rotate.

Of course he still has his starting 7 that he prefers, but they can no longer be considered one-trick ponies. Led by the irrepressible "Andeeeeeeee” Schmid, they are great to watch and he is key to all that they do. By the way, their defensive specialists seem to have a little competition going on between them too. Kneer leads the way on nine goals.

Kielce have their own golden boy in Reichmann. A forgotten figure from his early days in Kiel, he has made the most of his openings and is becoming a vital cog in the Kielce machine. His penalty miss aside, up in Kristianstad, he is not only a great guy, but a great player. Kus in the defence (the man who never smiles), is also starting to show a bit of something. Talant likes his little experiments methinks. A player, which pretty much none of us had heard of, is plucked from obscurity to replace Grabarcyk and has done it with aplomb.

The Polish cadre need to quickly forget the expectation that smothered them and find a new power in the faithful fans. The Croats are sleeping with a medal, so all good there.

The coach is starting to build his team, in his image, slowly but surely. They are difficult to beat. And they have shown on countless occasions this season that they never give in. The only blot on the copybook is the inexplicable result in Vardar, but here in the “Hala Legionow”, they are a frightening prospect.

Moulded from the same spirit as the country in which they play, this is a place where they will never lie down and it must also be said that their fans never sit down.

I’ll finish with a quote from one of the famous sons of Kielce:

”My elaboration of the story always conforms to the reality at its source. It is always close to the world, the life, the reality it describes. No matter where I go, I’m still holding up a mirror.”
                                                   Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski


TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator
 
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