Bring on the Basques

June 20, 2006

1. Damien Martin. 2. Eoin Kennedy. 3. The Irish team - back row, left to right: Eoin Kennedy Dublin, James Doyle Armagh, Dessie Keegan Mayo. Front row: Damien Martin Roscommon, Ger Coonan Tipperary, Darragh Daly Tyrone
For the third time in five years an Irish handball team will travel to take on the Basque handball national team in the Pelota handball challenge. Ireland yet to record a win over the Basque on their home court but hopes are high that this years team can rewrite the history books and record an historic victory over their Basque Counterparts writes Michael McGee The links started way back in 1932 when four of the top Basque players took part in the Tailteann games. Eoin Duffy the then Police Commissioner organised exhibition matches in the Garda handball depot court in the Phoenix Park. An audience with President Eamon DeValera was organised with DeValera mentioning to the visiting handball team that he too played handball when incarcerated after the Easter Rising in Kilmainham. It was not until 2002 that the links was re-established when Eoin Kennedy, Tom Sheridan, Walter O' Connor, Kenneth Kane along with former Irish Handball President Tony Hayes and International Officer Tom O' Connor made the long overdue return trip. The Irish team was announced and they are Eoin Kennedy Captain Dublin, Des Keegan Mayo, James Doyle Armagh, Damien Martin Roscommon, Ger Coonan Tipperary and Darragh Daly Tyrone. All the players have played against the Basques with Kennedy the sole remaining member from the team that travelled to the Basque region in 2002. In last years encounter the Irish team accounted for the Basques by 313-82 overall score. The challenge games will take place in Segura 90 minutes journey from Bilbao. There are a number of differences to playing. The court size is almost the same with the Basque court 1 metre longer than the Irish 60 x 30 court. There will be a moving back wall in place almost the same distance as in the Irish big court. In serving the players have to bounce the ball before the short line which is 14 metres from the front wall. The player can pass that line but the ball must bounce before the short line. There is a tell board on the front wall 50 centimetres from the floor where the ball cannot hit. This is foreign to Irish players as they are used to "killing" the ball. Also there is no right sided wall only a front wall, left wall and back wall. The players practised with the new ball in Croke Park on Sunday. Before the presentations of playing gear I talked to Lorcan O' Ruairc Riarthoir Naisiunta about the trip and I began by asking him that the handball link with Basque Federation is certainly getting stronger and what is the Council's stance in promoting this in future years? "The Irish Handball Council would be very strong in promoting the link with the Basque Country and widening this in the European Context as well stated O' Ruairc. The Basque Federation are very keen that Ireland would host a European Championships in 2008. This would provide and International outlet in softball and hardball as well as one wall players. The 40 x 20 code has a tremendous advantage over the other sports on the International court because of the World, U.S, Canadian Championships and other International events that take place in 40 x 20. The Internationals with the Basques can also develop into a European context which might make it more attractive to players to get involved particularly in hardball which was suffered in recent years according O' Ruairc. The National Secretary is confident the Irish team will do very well especially in the one wall games. Further discussions will take place during the visit. Some of the points we discussed with them at the previous meeting in April will be developed a bit further that would include coaching, exchanges between the two country's and the development of coaching ideas and techniques as there is a lot in common between the various codes in handball. We can learn a lot from each other. We would like the players to be involved in these discussions from a playing point of view on how the International games should be developed and continued said O' Ruairc I then spoke to Eoin Kennedy the Captain of the Irish team and I asked him what are the major differences between the two handball codes. There are some fundamental differences really one key difference is the lack of the kill shot in the Basque game compared to ours. They have much longer courts and the real difference is the ball which is a lot harder than ours. I asked Eoin the prospects of recording their first win in the Basque region. "It is going to be very tough said Kennedy. The ball in particular is going to take some getting used to. We are going out to win and do our very best taking it seriously and we will see what happens". Next question I asked Eoin that the Basques are committed to the links with Ireland continuing how can this be enhanced and what would he like to see happening from an Irish viewpoint. "The Basques are very committed and enthusiastic to the games and are always pushing for the next encounter which is great for our sport stated Kennedy. They are a powerful organisation with a lot of links to media. It would be nice to see it getting more publicity on this side. Eoin thanked John McLoughlin of the Irish Handball webpage for all the publicity they are getting. Kennedy praised the Basque players when he said they are tremendous athletics. When we go over we are playing the top amateurs and they have even 100 players playing professionally even at a higher level. Because it's such a huge sport similar to our Gaelic Football. They have a lot of really top class athletics playing and they are very skilful". Last question put to Eoin Kennedy that the Basques are far superior to the Irish as regards promoting the game. What can we learn and take from the Basques Federation to improve handball promotion in this Country. "We can take a lot from an organisational point of view declared Kennedy. They have a lot of people who are solely dedicated in promoting the game. At the same time it is there National sport really. They have a major advantage over us where as we have Gaelic and Hurling which are team sports and will always have more support. While we could learn a great deal to promote our own game we are never really going to get to the same high level of exposure as them. We can still improve big time with our media coverage". Itinerary is as follows: Thursday June 22nd Arrive Bilbao Airport 15.40 hrs - Trip by bus to Segura (90 minutes by motorway) 17.30 Accommodation in Segura 18.00 Official & Press reception at the Village council of Segura 19.00 Visit to court where the challenge games are going to be played. Visit the village of Segura 21.00 Dinner Friday June 23rd 17.00 Ireland v Euskadi (Basque Country) One Wall Under 22 singles: Darragh Daly Under 22 doubles: Damien Martin/Ger Coonan Senior Singles: James Doyle Senior Doubles: Eoin Kennedy/ Dessie Keegan Saturday 24th June 13.00 Basque traditional sports exhibition in the village 17.00 Ireland v Euskadi (Basque Country) Pelota Compromise Rules Marching parade of the 2 teams (with their flags) Basque ceremonial dance & music. Under 22 Doubles: Ger Coonan/ Darragh Daly Under 22 Singles: Damien Martin Senior Singles: Eoin Kennedy Senior Doubles: James Doyle/ Dessie Keegan Trophies and Presentations 21.00 dinner Sunday 25th June 8.30 Depart Hotel travel to Biarritz Airport 11.30 Depart Biarritz Airport to Dublin

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