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Dublin: 11°C Thursday 6 May 2021

Canavan 'in awe' as handball champs come to Citywest

Paul Fitzpatrick caught up with Tyrone legend Peter Canavan who, as well as being a football immortal, is a staunch advocate of handball and was at the opening of the World Championships in CityWest.

Paul Brady serves to Pittsburgh's David Fink in the exhibition series on Thursday night.
Paul Brady serves to Pittsburgh's David Fink in the exhibition series on Thursday night.

HANDBALL MAY NOT hog the back page headlines – and aficionados of the sport are realistic enough to know it never will – but it certainly doesn’t garner anywhere near the level of coverage, in print and on television, that it warrants.

Don’t take our word for it. Ask Peter Canavan, who was in attendance at the opening of the World Championships on Thursday in CityWest and described the sport, which is attracting 5,000 players and spectators per day to the Dublin venue, as “the best-kept secret in the GAA.”

Canavan was just one of several well-known GAA stars who were in CityWest yesterday of their own accord to sample the atmosphere.

DJ Carey, whose son is a budding player, was also seen signing autographs and watching games while Darran O’Sullivan of Kerry – a handballer in his youth – called out to cheer on his cousin and savour the flavour.

Canavan though is a staple of handball events and, he told, believes it is a sport which is set to really take off.

The three-time All Ireland winner’s association with the sport goes back over 20 years.

“I do recall when I was about 16 or 17 years of age playing a few games for a bit of fun and then for a number of years there was a lull in the sport, it took a bit of a dip,” he said.

“But in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest and the sport has now become very popular. I think the fact that there are so many One Walls now in schools in our own county and throughout the whole country, I think it has sparked a great interest in the sport.

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“My own sons have taken to it as well and I suppose from an educational point of view it’s great to have it, there is so much for the children to learn in terms of movement from side to side, using both hands, using both sides of the body.

It really complements a lot of the skills in Gaelic football and indeed other sports, and it’s the perfect winter sport. And even here today at the Worlds, it’s teeming outside and yet everybody is in here enjoying themselves and the weather is irrelevant.

Having attended numerous competitions, Canavan is clued in to the handball scene and admitted that he is “in awe” of the top players.

“The more I’ve gone to, you get to know a lot of the top players,” he explained.

“And like hurling, people don’t realise how skillful it is until you actually go and attend one of these games and see how quickly everything is played. Handball is the exact same and you’re left in awe after watching the likes of Robbie McCarthy and Paul Brady playing.

It’s amazing the speed and the power which they can generate. So it’s a fantastic sport in terms of participation, playing from you’re five until you’re 75, and from the point of view of being a spectator sport, if you come here and watch it, you’ll not be disappointed.

Brady and McCarthy are just two of the big guns in action today when the blue riband Men’s Open Singles serves off at 2pm.

Reigning champion Brady meets New Yorker Cesar Sala at the 3,000-seater arena, with McCarthy taking on Wicklow’s Johnny Willoughby.

The Cavanman – winner in 2003, 2006 and 2009 – is favourite to retain his title but will have to dismantle a top-class field which includes 30 of the world’s top 32 players.

In another eye-catching clash, former Irish senior champion and two-time World Open finalist Tony Healy takes on rising New York star Tyree Bastidas, a One Wall specialist who will need to be at his explosive best to see off the methodical Cork man.

About the author:

Paul Fitzpatrick

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