FEATURE: Through reaching the quarter-final of the EHF Challenge Cup, Cocks from Riihimäki have already done better in Europe than any other Finnish team before them. However, the club from the southern part of Finland is hungry for more
Cocks put Finland on the handball map
Finland has always been the little brother among the Nordic nations when it came to handball. Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have far prouder traditions regarding the national teams as well as the club teams.
However, the winds of change may be blowing in Finnish handball now.
Cocks, the local handball pride of Riihimäki, a town in Southern Finland, about 69 km north of Helsinki, have made it to the quarter-finals of the Men’s Challenge Cup.
Here, the only league team in any sport in Riihimäki will meet RK Metaloplastika Sabac from Serbia on 15 March, but being among the eight best teams in the tournament is already the best Finnish achievement so far in European club handball.
“It seems as if we have the best team in the history of the club at the moment. We play quite well, but of course, the handball gods have also been on our side so far.
“It does not mean anything special to us to have made the best Finnish performance in Europe so far, though. The good thing is that we have won all our four games so far – and we are hungry for more,” Cocks’ head coach Kaj Kekki tells eurohandball.com.
The handball metropol of Finland
Although Riihimäki is a fairly small town with a population just under 30,000, it hosts ten per cent of all active handball players in Finland. 300 out of the 3000 handball players in the country are to be found in Cocks, so it is probably no exaggeration to call Riihimäki the handball metropolis of Finland, not least considering the fact that Cocks are leading the Finnish league clearly and are third in the Baltic league at the same time.
“Playing in the Baltic league gives us a lot of international experience. The club has been playing there for six years now and last summer we decided to take the next step up internationally, which in this case is the Challenge Cup.
“Seeing SKA Minsk (who also play in the Baltic league) in the final last season was a good sign for us that we might also have some opportunities in the Challenge Cup,” Kaj Kekki explains.
Quite naturally, he does not want his team´s success streak to stop at the quarter-finals.
“It is slightly difficult to estimate how far we can go in the Challenge Cup this season, as I have not seen all teams play yet.
"If we want to be successful, however, we have to dream about success, apart from working hard and hoping that the handball gods are still on our side.
“All the EHF Challenge Cup dates have been in our program since August. Even the final,” he adds.
Dreams go even further
The dreams in Riihimäki do not stop at this season or at the Challenge Cup, though. They want more.
“The first couple of year we aim to play in the EHF Challenge Cup and collect points for our country in order to reach the higher levels.
“Our dream is to play in the group phase of the EHF Cup in 2020.
“However, the big dream is to see “the VELUX signs” (VELUX EHF Champions League) in Finland as well. But to be realistic, that won´t happen within the next 10 years. Handball is still a small sport in Finland,” admits Kaj Kekki in conclusion.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor
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