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This is me: Mariana Tîrcă

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EHF / Adrian Costeiu

She is widely considered one the best players ever to have donned the Romania national team shirt, scoring 2,043 goals. Mariana Tîrcă was one of the most creative players in the history of handball, but also scored goal after goal when given the chance. Winner of the EHF Champions League Women in 1996 with HC Podravka Vegeta, Tîrcă tells her story, remembering the beautiful times. But she has also on eye on the future.


Handball was a very popular sport in Romania. The men’s national team wrote history in my early years, winning medal after medal at the World Championship. Therefore, I always felt attracted to sport, to handball.

Remember, these were only the early years of the sport and everybody was trying to do a sport in Romania, back in the days. Because you did not have many options to spend your free time, like today.

With players like Gheorghe Gruia and Cristian Gațu, to name just a few, Romania had a big tradition. Some huge players. And those were the names that inspired me to take up handball and to try to be the best I could in this.

It was always a passion for me, not a job, not a sport, per se. It was amazing just to feel the ball, try to be the best on the court and win matches. It could not have been any other way back then. And yes, there were some big sacrifices to be made.

Hun Rou Tirca Mariana Elovson Arne 01 Photo Uros Hocevar

I was born in a small village in the heart of Romania, near Brașov and Făgăraș. Therefore, whenever I was going to training, I had to take a bus to the arena and practice my skills, improve my game. Do not believe for a second that the conditions were good. They were not. But it also motivated me to become better and better.

Those trips were difficult, but my hunger for handball was growing even higher. But I had the chance to be seen playing by one of the biggest talent scouts in Romania, Marian Nicolae, who saw my potential. Back then, I did not even think I was going to be a handball player.

Yet, it is definitely my belief that a young player needs to be encouraged, to have more playing time, to feature on the court as much as possible, even if mistakes are made. Because this is how you learn, this is how you grow, both as a player and as a person.

My career just took off from that moment. And it has something to do with the hunger I had for winning and with the fact that I was growing up faster than any other player. I think I had the proper maturity, which came a bit early, but it helped me become the person I am and the player I was.

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I played for Rulmentul Brașov between 1980 and 1984, then moved to Știința Bacău, which was one of the best teams in Romania. And here I made my first memories in European handball, a few that will be very, very hard to forget.

In the 1985/86 season, we played the European Champions Cup final, against Spartak Kyiv, a Soviet powerhouse that truly dominated handball back then. We made the trip to Kyiv by train, it was a gruelling trip.

But when we got there, nobody was on the streets. It was an eerie feeling. We did not understand what was happening. Remember, this was 1986, there were no mobile phones, no internet, no way to find out what was happening around.

What happened was the Chernobyl accident. There were no referees coming to the game, they put something together and played the game. When we got back home, our clothes were buried, we were tested for radiations. It was something we had never thought of, looking back to it, it was a truly remarkable experience.

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But my career continued and I signed for Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea, which started to become a powerhouse in the Romanian league and in European handball from that moment on.

Oh, I forgot to tell you, but the atmosphere in the Traian Arena really reminded me of the fans that were flocking to see us. Some of them – in fact, almost the full arena – were coming five hours before the start of the game to take their places into the stands.

It does not matter where I was playing, in Brașov, Bacău or Râmnicu Vâlcea, I always liked to play for the fans. Sure, winning was important. But those goosebumps I had whenever I got to the arena and took the court, wow, one of the best feelings ever in my whole life.

I was always thinking about a nice pass, a great goal, something to make the fans cheer even more. Because they were coming to see us, right? That connection, that simple feeling that everybody was coming to cheer for us and believe in us, made me the player I was back then.

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I always felt that this connection was the proper motivation to give everything on the court. It may sound like a cliché, but I was ready to walk through walls, to break everything in front of me to reach our objective.

Yes, I was a fan favourite and I think it was because of this penchant for serving the public and making them enjoy the sport, and also because I always thought a nice pass for a teammate was better than a goal I scored. I do not know why, I think I was programmed this way.

I think I was very lucky to be born in Romania, even if in my early years, we were not allowed to leave the country and play abroad. Sure, offers came in plenty, with Hypo Niederösterreich from Austria and other teams from Germany knocking at the door. I probably could have left eventually, but I was always very close to home, bound by the domestic land, like we like to say in Romania.

When communism fell, I decided it was time to move abroad, even if it was difficult to leave the country. But in 1992, I signed for HC Podravka Vegeta, who was a true powerhouse of European handball, a team with enormous ambitions.

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It was an exciting experience, joining an already-established team, with plenty of good players. In the 1994/95 season, we lost the final against Hypo by only four goals. It was the moment we decided to try to be even better and finetuned our approach for the next season.

We only lost two games that season and provided a huge comeback in the second leg of the final against Hypo to take our first-ever EHF Champions League Women trophy, after securing a 25:20 win. It was definitely one of the best moments of my career, winning that trophy we coveted so much.

I cherish that memory, because we were really on the top of the world, our fans were happy and for me, personally, it was beautiful to finally win an international trophy, which I missed in my trophy cabinet.

It is that feeling of happiness and self-fulfilment, because you ran a lot after that win, after those medals, after a trophy and you finally get it. And, yes, it feels special, it feels amazing, it is a memory that you are going to keep for the rest of your life.

Hun Rou Tirca Mariana Tirca Sorina Maria 01 Photo Uros Hocevar

Unfortunately, I have never secured a medal with the Romania national team, which is definitely a thing I would have wanted, because I loved to play for the national team, it was a superb feeling, which can hardly be tied.

We had a superb generation, we played very well, but teams were quite close to each other in terms of potential back then, so it was all about the small things which decided the outcomes.

If we have had the infrastructure now in place in Romania, I think we could have done better. We finished fourth and we could have done better. But this is life and we cannot turn it back.

But, still…

… my name is still going on in handball. But not through me, despite being a coach in the past years and founding my own club in Brașov, where I tried to create new players, because my belief is that Romania have an untapped potential, with very, very talented children.

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No, my name is still there, on the shirt and in people’s minds, through my daughter, Sorina, who now plays in the Champions League for Romanian champions Rapid București and for the national team.

She was just named the MVP of the Carpathian Trophy and the top goal scorer of the competition, with 19 goals. Last season, she was Rapid’s top scorer in the domestic league, with 147 goals. Maybe she has something from her mother, right?

No, I am just kidding, but I realised that she could become a handball player from the age of two. When I was named the coach for Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea – I had already retired from my playing career – there was this media day at the club.

Everybody wanted a picture with Sorina because, of course, she was always with me at the training sessions and at the matches. And the way she held the ball during that training session made me realise she is an innate talent for handball.

It was just this position, the biomechanics which inspired me back then and made me believe that she has the potential to become a handball player. Sure, it was not set in stone, it is impossible to say that at that age, you are going to become a top star.

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When we moved to Brașov, we took Sorina to swimming, tennis, skating, but the path she chose, or we chose together, was handball. And it looks like everything is going the right way. She should have starred earlier, but it is also nice to see her now, fully developed and strong, when she is 23 years old.

She is a Romanian champion with Rapid, plays in the European top competition and is slowly starting to become a stalwart in the Romania national team. She has great qualities, a huge handball IQ and loves to play handball.

It helps me bring back a lot of memories and I am immensely proud of her. I simply cannot state in words how happy I am for her to see how good she is. I really hope she will beat my performances and titles. I would be even happier, even prouder. This feeling is superb, I must say.

Sure, it will be difficult for her to beat my record of 2,043 goals scored for the national team, but who knows? Everything is possible in handball, right? Especially if you do it like I did, not for the money, not for the job. Just for passion, just for the fans, just having fun on the court.


Mariana Tîrcă
October 2022

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