Kelly Dulfer: “Dortmund can play without pressure”
On the back of the most intense season of her career, Kelly Dulfer is ready to shine again in the new campaign.
The Dutch left back returned to Germany in the summer of 2019, arriving at BV Borussia 09 Dortmund following two seasons at København Håndbold in Denmark and a previous stint at German side VfL Oldenburg.
Last season, Dulfer led Dortmund, with a bunch of talented Dutch players in the squad, to the top of the Bundesliga and became the MVP of the domestic league, while winning the World Championship 2019 with Netherlands’ national team.
The 186 cm-tall back talks to eurohandball.com about Dortmund’s DELO EHF Champions League debut against Odense Håndbold on Saturday. In the interview, Dulfer speaks about:
eurohandball.com: The new Bundesliga season started last weekend, the DELO EHF Champions League in a few days. How is it for you to be finally playing handball again?
Kelly Dulfer: I am always looking forward to playing again after the summer. The preparation period has not been really different from other years, apart from all the Covid-19 measures and the limited number of fans. We are tested twice a week now and fans cannot attend away matches in the Bundesliga. In Dortmund, only 200 fans are allowed into the arena but it feels good to compete for points again after this long break.
eurohandball.com: Last season, Dortmund were leading the Bundesliga with eight matches to go when the season was cancelled because of the pandemic. Is it still frustrating six months later that Dortmund were not awarded the title - which would have been the club’s first?
Kelly Dulfer: Yes, it is really a shame that we did not get the chance to reward ourselves with the championship. We trained so hard for it and it all went so well. We also had a chance to win the German cup. So, it is frustrating that it all ended this way but maybe it is also motivation to win as much as possible this season.
eurohandball.com: But what a season it was for you personally, as you were named MVP of the Bundesliga in your first year with Dortmund.
Kelly Dulfer: The team was pretty new, with seven new arrivals and a new coach. I already knew a lot of the Dutch players here, so it did not take a lot of time for me to settle. Compared to Copenhagen, Dortmund have less experienced players, so I felt that I needed to take a lot of responsibility. I did that and in the Bundesliga it worked out very well and I played a lot of good matches.
eurohandball.com: Only a few days now until the club’s EHF Champions League debut. What can Europe expect from Dortmund?
Kelly Dulfer: We have a pretty young team, very inexperienced in the Champions League. Only Clara Monti Danielsson (Swedish line player joining Dortmund this season from Team Esbjerg) and I have played in the Champions League before. We are really looking forward to it and we will play freely. We will not be the favourites against any of our opponents when you look at the various squads so I hope we can just enjoy it and cause an upset here and there.
If we play without pressure, we can make life difficult for a lot of teams. Of course, we play to win but we are also aware that we are playing against some really big clubs in Europe.
eurohandball.com: Do you think reaching the play-offs sounds like a realistic goal?
Kelly Dulfer: With eight teams in the group we all play 14 matches so the big clubs will also win and lose against each other. In the end it could become quite tense to get among the best six teams but for sure that is our goal. That is what we aim for but there are only strong teams playing so you cannot just expect us to be among the top six.
eurohandball.com: Visiting Odense, Dortmund will start their campaign in Denmark, where you played two seasons for København Håndbold. What is the main difference between Danish and German club handball?
Kelly Dulfer: In Denmark, the game is played more tactically, they think more while playing. In Germany, it is more about physical strength and running. Individually, I have become a stronger player in Germany last season, also because I had to bear this responsibility. In Denmark I was part of a more experienced team. I prefer the more tactical game as I like to know beforehand what we are going to play. Maybe Denmark suites me better in that respect, but I think in Germany I have developed well as an individual player.
eurohandball.com: You proved last season that you can carry the team. At 26, do you feel your peak years are starting right now?
Kelly Dulfer: Yes, I like it that I got that role here and that I grew into it. In the Dutch national team, I am usually only playing in defence, but I have now proven that I can also be important in attack and that I am a complete player.
eurohandball.com: Dortmund have a lot of Dutch players, but so do Odense. Have you been exchanging messages with Lois Abbingh, Nycke Groot or Tess Wester about Saturday’s game?
Kelly Dulfer: No, in Denmark the competition started weeks ago so they had other matches that were very important and which they had to focus on. Dortmund played a friendly against Odense in early August so of course we spoke with each other then but not since.
eurohandball.com: Dortmund won that test match against Odense 22:21…
Kelly Dulfer: It was an odd game, going back and forth, and in the end, we won by one goal. But of course, you cannot draw any conclusions based on that game.
Photography © Wolfgang Stummbillig