Potential for handball players to compete for Olympic glory, but building the sport must start from scratch

Irish handball players could one day have the opportunity to challenge for an Olympic medal, believes GAA director of training and games Shane Flanagan.

Handball has been hit harder by pandemic restrictions than any other GAA family code and following declining membership numbers and based on the recommendations of its recently released strategic plan – the sport’s first in a decade – a major structural overhaul was announced last week.

Chief among these is the sport which now comes under the auspices of training and games in the GAA. Four new full-time regional development officers are to be employed and GAA Handball is looking to strengthen ties with overseas handball bodies, with One Wall handball seen as a key target area for potential growth at home and abroad. ‘foreign.

“There’s huge potential internationally,” Flanagan said.

“If we can get it right and build stronger relationships with the various international bodies, we have a huge opportunity to make the game really, really appealing to young children. The opportunities to play in America, across Europe and God knows where else, they don’t exist in Gaelic football or hurling unless you’re lucky enough to go on an All-Star tour or something like that.

“At the start of my introduction to handball, 16 or 17 third-grade students headed to college games in Missouri. They funded their own trip, which takes some commitment, but I’m sure they did well. fun and I think that’s what we have to sell.

“I think we should also try to put handball in the Olympic charter, I think that would be a great prospect for the GAA as a whole and I think that’s a vision we should have.”

Flanagan believes handball can be widely introduced in primary schools, with the initial aim of regenerating the network of struggling clubs.

“I think the first area we need to focus on is the clubs. We have 189 clubs on paper and of those there are around 130 active clubs across the country. Our aim should be to support those 130 clubs, to identify why these other clubs are not active, to examine the development of minors in these clubs and to try to remember that you have a sustainable organization that has in the region of these 200 clubs across the country .

“There is potential around links with local schools in terms of increasing participation. This is the main focus of the new regional roles we are proposing under the new structure, it is basically to bring in and support volunteers within these clubs. Build relationships, build capacity within these clubs, and make the game engaging for kids.

“That’s the benefit of the relationship with games development centrally, we have the resources and the facilities to help promote not just handball but all Gaelic games.

“We are being challenged in many parts of the country, especially in urban areas, to develop the game and I would probably suggest that from a handball point of view it’s very cheap, it’s not a game expensive to play and if you look at other sports that don’t rely on huge facilities they tend to grow well in urban areas and I think that’s where handball probably has its greatest potential in the future. ‘coming.

The sport appointed Tom Moloney, from Offaly, as interim national handball director last year and he admitted he was shocked by how weak the club network was.

“The thing has to be improved and the club will determine everything,” Moloney said.

“When we broke down the number of clubs, we were actually scared. A province like Leinster has 40 active clubs, there are 24 active clubs in Ulster. We should be able to improve this.

“The people who are going to solve it are the people from the counties and the clubs. The power belongs to the grassroots people. GAA Handball president Dessie Keegan expressed similar sentiments. Previous efforts to tweak things have met with resistance at times, and Keegan urged members to support the new structure.

“There is a tsunami of energy for our sport but we have to accept that we have to change. I see this as a three-pronged approach – the first is the structure of the office, the second is the constitution and the third is our Clár The problem is if we have all this energy coming in, you’re going to hit a wall unless we’ve got the other areas sorted.

“We are hiring more staff. The GAA invests in us. Now it’s up to us to decide if we’re going to invest in ourselves, in the areas I’ve talked about.

“The GAA can’t do more than it does, it’s up to us, the handball players, now. This is the first time in 100 years that the GAA has seriously, seriously supported us. We have a €12m handball center at Croke Park, paid for by the GAA, we will have seven staff, paid for by the GAA.

“Now is the time for us to prove to the GAA that we are ready to be a modern organization.”

The National Handball Center at Croke Park has been plagued with problems for more than 15 years, but a list of problems is currently being drawn up and it will soon be fully operational, Flanagan confirmed.

“There is a commitment to open the venue, to make it active as an administrative center first, but also as a center of activities at all levels and a starting point for international tournaments and becomes the envy other international bodies,” he said.