Last weekend saw the 2013 Irish Olympic Handball Association (IOHA) Cup in Dublin. Seven senior men’s teams from all over Ireland participated in the tournament which was hosted by Dublin City University.
The sport is still in its early years in the island of Ireland and the Belfast team is currently the only Northern Irish team registered with the IOHA.
Belfast recruited Maghera man Niall O’Neill and Cookstown’s Marek Kluka from the Magherafelt-based Mid-Ulster Olympic Handball Club, to join up with their squad for their inaugral competitive appearance.
Having only recently played two friendlies, an inexperienced Belfast side were without a win going into the competition. They were given a baptism of fire in their first match against a side that haven’t lost in five years, Dublin International (DI).
DI’s level of fitness and great selection of skilled international players got the best out of the eclectic mix of Ulster based men who fought hard in a 23-9 defeat.
Dublin based team Astra also proved to be worthy opponents in the second group match as they continually pushed the Belfast defence to its’ physical and tactical limit.
The lack of experience was obvious as Belfast were hit by five successive two minute suspensions for dangerous tackles, including their goalkeeper! Losing 22-12 Belfast had to settle for third place in the group and a 5th/6th place play off against Lughnasa the next day.
On Sunday, Belfast finally pulled together and got the ball travelling. The defending mistakes from the previous match were gone and a rhythm was imposed by a more confident and mature team.
Despite trailing 6-4 at half time, Belfast turned the game around with some excellent play from their French contingent, with the Mid-Ulster men playing a vital role. At the final whistle Belfast achieved their first ever win with a convincing 12-9 victory, a massive step from a club that only started less than six months ago!
Niall and Marek will join the rest of their Mid-Ulster colleagues on Sunday at University of Ulster Coleraine as the team play their first ever matches against Coleraine and Belfast.
To find out more about either club you can find them on Facebook at midulsterolympichandball and belfastolympichandball.