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02.11.2017, 19:40
"To dare is to do"
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BLOG: Tom O'Brannagain travels to Belarus for the ehfTV Match of the Week to witness two indecipherable teams go to battle, where resurrecting the spirit of Brest's heroic past may be needed to claim the two points on offer
 

"To dare is to do"

If I close my eyes I can remember in vivid detail the classroom in which I sat as a nine year old boy. I can see with lucid clarity the desks in three rows. Those old desk where two boys sat side by side. There were ink-well holes in the benches, albeit no ink-wells (I'm not that old). The seat, a plank, would rise and fall on hinges and there were scratches and markings of previous incumbents of the bench stretching back to the early 20th century. In some ways it was a monument to earlier times. A reminder of what had gone before.

Classrooms of today are bright, colourful and creative. I can exactly remember the three posters that adorned the walls of that classroom. one was a print of "The last Supper" by da Vinci, One was "Flags of the World" featuring such countries as Zaire and Rhodesia. My favourite thing about this poster was that I realised that the Ivory Coast flag was the Ireland flag backwards. And of course the map of Europe.

Back then there was a massive red blob in the east of Europe known as the Soviet Union. A huge blue blob at the south of Europe known as Yugoslavia. When I reached my 20s and witnessed the reunification of Germany and the breakup of other unions, I had never heard of Estonia, Slovenia or Belarus. I never realised that U.S.S.R. was made up of republics, one of which is Belarus.

White Russia. I have to be honest again and say that a White Russian to me growing up was someone who fought the Reds in the Russian civil war and later in life was a sumptuous cocktail that I was rather partial to. But I have been to Belarus before, when I covered the ill-fated Dinamo Minsk project. Two players from that team; Nikulenkau and Rutenka, now ply their trade with Brest. I remember that trip so well. I couldn't figure out where to eat and it was one of less entertaining games I've seen. They played Metalurg and the final result was a 23:23 draw.

But I'm on my way there this weekend and my fourth class teacher came back to my mind. For although the classroom was bland he was colourful. Probably the most amazing teacher I ever had. He staged plays, giving me my first acting break, he told stories of Irish mythology, World War 2, The Iliad, we even listened to Mozart's "Requiem". The man was a genius.

And it was on this trip down memory lane that I remember he told us a story about the Fortress of Brest. I'm sure he called it their "Alamo" without the Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. A lesson, probably about heroism and futility all at the same time, but how could we have understood then. For us it was another war story and sure they were the best.

So I had heard of Brest in the most unlikely of scenes and now I can maybe visit that famous fortress or as I've since found out, it's called the "Hero Fortress". I think my old teacher would get a kick out of that.

The team that has been assembled at Meshkov Brest contains many well-known players, but you couldn't quite say that their home venue is a fortress just yet. To be honest they are a team I just can't make out. They'll give you a good game, every time, but just can't seem to take the next big step.

They are in the immortal words of Churchill:

"A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

A win against Kielce had them believing, they won in Aalborg, no easy feat, but drew away in Celje. Don't ask me to figure out what exactly is going on because I can't. They have all the pieces in play, but lack a killer instinct. You can lose against PSG and Veszprém, of course, but could have taken something in the Veszprém game.

Perhaps it's a tradition thing. You know, the big names of European handball push themselves to remain at the top. Perhaps that inner belief that they are better than they seem just isn't there at the moment.

The coach, Sergey Bebeshko, needs to stick this in the dressing room:

"Audere est facere" (To dare is to do)

As I said in the two games they lost they gave a great account of themselves, but just couldn't get over the line when the game was there.

This weekend another yo-yo team is coming to town. If Brest is difficult to work out then Kiel is unfathomable. Kiel is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates; You never know what you're gonna get. Just when you think that they are finding a rhythm, they fall back to ground with a bump.

One thing I will say is that if Kiel get into an arm-wrestle with these guys, then they will not win. It is a physically stronger, more imposing team, that plays defence in way that brooks no opposition. They are susceptible to a counter attack though, as they like to bring on two specialist defenders. The problem is that Kiel seem to have forgotten how to do that too. But the taking of the game might just be in that area.

I'm really excited to be visiting the arena for the first time, to see the two big disco balls and to meet some guys I haven't seen in a long time. Strangely enough it is Kiel that may need to resurrect the heroism of "Fortress Brest" as they are in danger of slipping away in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

For them. I would put this in the dressing room:

"Hoc est bellum" (This is war)

They certainly won't want this to be their Alamo.

 


TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator
 
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