Nestled within the homely comforts of the UCD Sports Centre, the UCD Olympic Handball have been building slowly over the past couple of years.
Nestled within the homely comforts of the UCD Sports Centre, the UCD Olympic Handball have been building slowly over the past couple of years. A sport that is far from mainstream on these shores, handball has accelerated into being a rapidly rising niche in mainland Europe.
To put the comparison of how Ireland fits into the European model of a sport on the rise, there are only six senior teams that compete on the Emerald Isle – in both male and female disciplines. That begs the question, what is Handball exactly? To find out, The University Observer set off to find out more about the sport – with a little bit of a helping hand from UCD’s own Olympic Handball Club.
A game of handball consists in which two teams of seven players each pass a ball using their hands with the aim of throwing it into the goal of the opposition. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team that scores more goals wins, naturally enough. Modern handball is played on a court of 40 by 20 metres with a goal in the middle of each end. The goals are surrounded by a 6-meter zone where only the defending goalkeeper is allowed; goals must be scored by throwing the ball from outside the zone or while "diving" into it.
The sport is usually played indoors, but outdoor variants exist. The game is fast and high-scoring – professional teams typically score between 20 and 35 goals each per game - although lower scores were quite commonplace until recently enough. Physical contact is allowed as a defender to try to stop the attackers from approaching the goal.
Clear? Maybe so. To find out more, we called in the expertise of UCD Olympic Handball’s own David Kiely who explained why one should join the club located on the Belfield campus; “It’s a really popular sport in mainland Europe. I’d say it’s as big as football as it is over here,” Kiely explained.
“A lot of the tackling is very similar to Gaelic football, basketball and a little bit like rugby as well. It’s a very physical game. When I took it up, I thought it was non-contact, slow and not a good game to be honest. I only took it up because a friend of mine told me to go with him and here I am today running the club! Also, in the UCD club there’s a lot of Erasmus students and internationals so you get to meet a lot of people from everywhere and that’s what’s nice about it. It’s something different and something you wouldn’t get anywhere else really.”
While it was an eye-opener to David when he first joined the club – there are plenty more fascinating tales to tell about the club as he continued; “As it happens, we have two players on our starting team – our men’s team – who play for Ireland. A lot of the call-ups for the Irish team come through us. They ask if anyone involved with the club has Irish heritage so you could end up playing for Ireland at some stage which isn’t something that is normal with any other club.
“We also play in the senior league which is a nice thing to have to say to people. We play in the Irish Premiership for handball. It’s something funny because to play in the top leagues in Europe you have to be insanely good. Everything is done very officially – the shaking of the hands, waving to the crowd - even if there’s no-one there! - it’s a good laugh to be honest with a good social aspect to it.”
With a potential call-up for Ireland in the pipeline should you possess the talent to achieve it, there is also the opportunity to represent UCD in the British Universities Handball Championships – with UCD becoming the first Irish university in the British Championships. But, it was only an uncanny turn of events that led to this opportunity presenting itself for the Handball Club as Kiely mentioned; “I guess my personal highlight was three years ago. Over the summer of 2017, I played handball for a handball club in London – I was born there – and my family live there. I played for a mediocre side, Chelsea Handball Club.
“A few of the players on the team were university students and they were telling me about this competition. It’s called the British Universities Handball Championships. They played it up to be the Champions League of Universities in Britain and Northern Ireland and in September of my second year in college I emailed the head of the English Handball Federation and I asked if UCD could participate in the event.
“They said we could participate but we had to qualify. As there’s no qualification process in Ireland, we hosted a game against UCC. We won the game easily enough so we emailed the result to the Federation and they said we could participate.
“The highlight was going to that event in Kent. We played Durham, Oxford and Edinburgh Universities and that was a real eye-opener to be honest. The level over there is way higher than here and that trip was great for developing the club over the past two years, I think. This year we happen to be going to that same tournament again – which will be a great experience!”
Should you wish to get in touch with the UCD Olympic Handball Club, you get in touch with them via their social media channels – while you can also email them (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more details about the club and schedules.