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A novice's guide to the Handball World Championships: Knowing your dump shots from your crotch serves

The action begins today in CityWest.

The set-up at CityWest this week for the world championships.
The set-up at CityWest this week for the world championships.
Image: Paul FitzPatrick

Paul Fitzpatrick is at CityWest all week for the World Handball Championships, which begin today. Here, he gives us a quick glossary of some handball terms with which you might want to familarise yourselves.

I CAN WELL remember my first time“studying the form” in a dingy bookies’ shop on Aungier St in Dublin (the same one, incidentally, that was used in Nordie cult classic Man About Dog).

Hungover after sinking the last dregs of the grant, I said I’d cross the road from the college and give the old gambling a shot.

The algebraic list of numbers on the racing page soon changed my mind.

It took a local bowsie, as they say in the fair city, to explain what it all meant.

“It’s easy, bud,” he confided, noticing my confusion and sidling over, explaining that“328-FP FIDDLING THE FACTS (31)” meant that the nag had fallen, was pulled up and hadn’t ran in a month.

“Same as meself so,” I said, crumpling the paper and exiting stage right before yer man tapped me up for a couple of euro. But lo, that wasn’t end of my gambling days. I wish I could tell you that, as Red said of Andy in the Shawshank Redemption.

The thrill of the chase is a hard thing to shake, even if there isn’t a more impenetrable glossary of terms in any sport than there is in the turf game. Any, that is, apart from handball.

So, to make things easier for anyone handball neophytes befuddled by the myriad terms here on TheScore over the next week, here’s your handy cut-out-keep-guide.

Dead roller: The one phrase every non-handballer seems to know. A flat ‘kill’, which connects with the ‘butt’ of the wall and rolls out, flat. See also ‘flattening the ball’.

Crotch serve: Also known as a crack serve. A serve which catches the sidewall as low as possible and rolls out. The perfect serve, if you could hit 21 of these, you’d be unbeatable. Naty Alvarado, the Californian who is here this week, once served 31 unreturnable aces in a row in Seattle against Marcos Chavez, winning 21-0 and going up 10-0 in the second. That’s the equivalent, almost, of hitting two nine-dart finishes in succession.

Hook: When a right-hander exaggerates the natural spin on the ball, causing it to bounce erratically. A famous exponent of this is Lurgan’s Merve “the Swerve” McCann. I used to think that it was only because his name rhymed that Mervyn picked up this sobriquet, in the same way as “Luke the Hook, or Jim The Spin”. I was wrong. Swervin’ Mervyn is the king of the spin. His protégé Charly Shanks — who has been known to put a three-foot hop on the ball (ask Dessie Keegan) — is the heir apparent to his throne. Shanks is now based in New York but flew in for the Worlds early this week and will be a major threat in the Open Singles.

Reverse: The opposite to a hook, when a right-hander ‘comes over’ the top of the ball, causing it to straighten. Paul Brady is a master.

Spud: A particularly slow, dead or old handball. In some clubs, a good ball, fresh out of the tin, can be replaced with a spud with just a little sleight of hand. And who better than a handballer to do it… If you’ve got a precious new ball, watch it like a hawk.

Dump: Not what it sounds like. A dead-weight shot, hit with the open hand, which, the speed of the ball nullified, drops in the corner and dies. Doubles specialist Michael Finnegan is the dumpmaster in these parts and has been known to dump kills against even the hardest hitters in the game. Again, ask Dessie…

Tomahawk: A very American term for a very American shot. A golden rule when teaching young handballers is “keep the fist closed above your waist”. The tomahawk breaks it. It’s a spectacular sort of smash with the fist from shoulder height — unless it rolls out, it’ll pop back up, so it’s low percentage. Low percentage = great handball!

Stuffing: Stuffing a player occurs in doubles. Pick the weaker of opposition, freeze out the good fella and“stuff” the other, usually — but not always — the man on the right. The Yanks play a slightly different doubles strategy to us, with the server dominating rallies. Let’s see how they take to stuffing.

Alley cracker: The name for the large red 60×30 handball.

Pass: An attacking shot which is aimed at hitting it where he ain’t. Not as spectacular as a kill but safer, it takes the opponent out of position, tires him out and generally gives you the upper hand. As the famous saying among the top Yanks on the lucrative pro circuit used to go, kill for show, pass for the dough. Which brings us to…

… Kill: A shot hit so low on the wall that the opponent can’t return it. The thing that separates the good from the great. The famous American player, John Bike, once asked for a word of advice from a young player, recommended the following: “if you’re hot, shoot (kill). If you’re not, shoot till you get hot.” Then again, Bike once replied “tequila” when asked his favourite shot…

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Paul Fitzpatrick

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