With indoor handball still suspended due to ongoing restrictions, the sport is going back to its roots as GAA Handball pushes its new Summer Series.
The initiative aims to encourage clubs around the country to organise outdoor handball tournaments. The key, say GAA Handball, is participation and promotion.
The Summer Series was launched recently with an event at Ballyshannon, which was attended by former Donegal All-Star Frank McGlynn and legendary manager Brian McEniff.
There have also been events in Belfast, where a dilapidated two-court facility at Edmund Rice College has been restored, as well as in Dublin.
The Summer Series aims to encourage clubs to revive some of the estimated 1,200 outdoor ball alleys which dot the landscape.
“Through this campaign, we are aiming to get handball clubs back moving again through outdoor play,” GAA Handball’s national development officer Darragh Daly told the.
“And with that we hope to increase the awareness and profile of our game to the general public. We have had a very positive response thus far with events in Ballyshannon, Dublin, Belfast, and Cavan, to name but a few.”
The latest event took place in Tullyvin, Co Cavan, a court which was originally constructed in the 1940s but lay idle for decades before a local committee, not involved in handball, helped to restore it.
The inaugural tournament took place last month. Among the competitors were dual players Shane Briody, who lined out for Cavan hurlers in their Lory Meagher semi-final win the previous day, and Fermanagh senior footballer Cian McManus.
“More people should know about this game,” said McManus. “It’s the best-kept secret in sport, all you need is a ball and a wall, and it is the best workout you will find.”
GAA Handball’s national festival weekend was scheduled just days after the initial national lockdown in March 2020, and activity has been very limited since, with a brief return to singles play in a select number of grades last autumn before the indoor game was again ruled out.
The sport was represented at a meeting between representatives for indoor sports and Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers and department representatives on July 15.
“At this meeting, the concerns and frustrations of all indoor sports were clearly outlined to the minister and Government representatives,” a statement from GAA Handball read. “The potential lasting impact of the current restrictions and the damage being done to our sports was made very clear to the minister, and several proposals to return to indoor activity were put forward.
“Disappointingly, there was no positive outcome to this meeting, and all indoor sports clearly outlined their frustrations and anger at the inconsistency in restrictions and the perceived lack of a plan for indoor sports to progress out of restrictions.”
With a return to indoor play unlikely to be permitted in the near future, the sport has no choice but to go back to a form of the game which has dwindled away in recent decades.
“With such uncertainty around when we can resume playing indoors, it’s clear that outdoor handball could salvage our sport from the devastating impact of Covid on the indoor version of our game,” said GAA Handball president Dessie Keegan.
“Basically, the purpose of the Summer Series is to get as many players back playing as possible.”