GAA Handball……. a background!
Originally known as The Irish Handball Association GAA Handball has seen a huge development in our image over the past number of years under the rebranding of the association under the GAA branding umbrella which took place in 2009. This has been an immense step forward for our sport. Increased profile and exposure of our games at National level has been the objective of our Association for some time and through this tremendous alliance with the GAA, the strides we have made as a result have been emphatic to say the least.
Currently there are up to 15,000 members between clubs and schools in Ireland spread across 200 clubs and over 100 schools as GAA Handball continues to grow and become an increasingly popular sport in Ireland.
On the courts of play, our brilliant athletes (male and female, young and old) have raised the bar to new heights with unprecedented International and World Championship success. In Paul Brady and Aisling Reilly, we currently boast the best two individual exponents of the sport on a World stage. Indeed while the sport of Handball is played professionally in the USA, Canada and Mexico, the fact that Ireland is currently at the very top of the ladder and yet continue to maintain our hugely important amateur ethos within the GAA, brings immense pride to our Association. Just as our athletes have reached new heights in their playing endeavours, we as an Organisation continue to strive for similar high profile and esteemed status through all other aspects of sporting life in Ireland.
As a GAA Sport, we continue to form the backbone of hundreds of communities throughout Ireland with members as young as 5 years of age and others who continue to play both recreationally and competitively well into their 80s! At the 2012 World Handball Championships, a young Irish player picked up his first World title at just 11 years of age and within 15 minutes on the same court, an 83 year old member from Cork stepped into the World final arena to play in his World 80+ Singles Championship decider. It is thus very clear why we continue to promote our slogan of ‘Handball… a GAA Sport for Life’.
About the game
Handball is a fast paced, highly skillful, hugely entertaining, and fully inclusive sport. The fitness benefits of the game are vast. Speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, and bilateral coordination all come in to play in the sport that once you play for the first time, you wont ever want to stop. But what makes this game so great is that all you require to play is a ball and a wall…..it’s really that simple!
GAA Handball are the governing body for Handball in Ireland, with the game also being played in strongholds worldwide such as USA, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, UK, and Spain; as well as emerging nations Holland, Italy, Belgium, Argentina, and India to name but a few.
Despite being a small nation, Ireland are one of the elite Handball nations, with an array of World Men’s & Ladies Open Champions down through the years. In fact, we currently boast both titles, as Cavan’s Paul Brady remains the 4 time consecutive Men’s Champion, and arguably the unofficial all time best player title, whilst Antrim’s Aisling Reilly holds the Ladies crown.
In Ireland, there are four codes of Handball; 40×20, One-Wall, 60×30 & Hardball. The 40×20 & One-Wall codes are the two international codes, whilst the 60×30 & Hardball codes are traditional Irish games. Having such a variety of codes is great in the sense that there are Handball competitions all year round, providing increasing number of playing opportunities for players. The main competitions are the All Ireland Championships with Tournament weekends run in One Wall, 40×20 and 60×30. There are also club competions, Intervarsities and Underage Team Events run throughout the year.
Four Wall (40×20):
The ‘Small Alley’ as it is commonly referred to is named after its dimensions (40ft by 20ft). Currently the most popular version of Handball in Ireland, it is played in an indoor facility enclosed with four walls and a roof, similar to a squash or racquetball court. The game requires players to wear gloves and eye guards as the handball used is a small rubber ball, and can travel at speeds up to 100mph. The 40×20 has an international outlet, and is played by over ten countries worldwide. The 40×20 season runs from November through to April.
One-Wall / Wall Ball:
With the name being a giveaway, One-Wall Handball is the most fundamental form of Handball as it requires only a wall and a ball. It is without doubt the fastest growing code of Handball, with numbers playing growing substantially in the last five years. Due to its simplicity, it can be played indoor or outdoor, but is generally played during the summer months. The front wall has dimensions 20ft by 16ft, whilst the ball used is similar to a racquetball. It is exciting times for the One-Wall code, that with 33 countries playing worldwide, a new World Wall Ball Association (WWBA) has been established with aims achieving Olympic status. The Irish One-Wall season runs from May through to August.
The ‘Big Alley’ or ‘Softball’ game is widely regarded as the traditional Handball code to Ireland, and like the 40×20, it gets its name by the dimensions of its indoor court (60ft by 30ft). The ball used is much bigger and bouncier then the small alley handball, and therefore gloves and eye guards are not compulsory. The game is generally played in the summer months, due to the fact that traditionally the game was played in an outdoor court, before new roofed indoor alleys erected, during the latter half of the 20th Century. The 60×30 season runs from June through to October.
Hardball is the most ancient of our games in Ireland, and it is also played in the 60×30 court. As the name suggests, the ball used is small and hard, and is made from cork and leather. Padding on the hands is required due to the hardness of the ball that can travel at speeds over 100mph. The hardball season runs from May to June.
Through a comprehensive National Development & Strategic Plan, GAA Handball is growing at a considerable pace. Almost 70 new GAA Handball Clubs have been formed in the past 36 months alone and through comprehensive marketing and publicity, our membership has increased by an amazing 35% in the same period. Over 1,000 schools have adopted the game and have erected One Walls. While GAA Handball thrives locally and nationally it is also important to indicate the massive progress being made internationally. With 33 countries now playing Handball throughout the World and now affiliated under a unified World Handball Federation, ambitious yet realistic plans are well underway which are targeted to catapult Handball into the worldwide sporting arena and hopefully to the Olympics.
GAA Handball Ireland hosted the biggest World Handball Championship event in history when 2,100 competitors from over 30 countries competed in a state of the art purpose built 21 court arena at the Citywest in October 2012. Spectators watched in the packed to capacity arena as Paul Brady defeated USA’s Luis Moreno in the World final, in what was stated by GAA President, Liam O’Neill, as one of the greatest sporting occasions he had ever witnessed.
Ireland currently can lay claim to the best male and female handballers in the World with current Mens World Champion Paul Brady from Cavan who has won an unprecedented four World titles in a row and Antrim’s Aisling Reilly reigning Ladies World Champion. There are not many sports in Ireland that can say that they have the two World Champions in their ranks so it naturally is something GAA Handball is incredibly proud of.
2015 – What lies in store?
In 2015 GAA Handball Ireland will look to send an elite Team Ireland to compete in the 2015 World Handball Championships in Calgary in Canada in August. With Paul Brady looking to claim an astonishing fifth title in a row and Antrim’s Aisling Reilly looking to defend her Ladies title Ireland can be quietly confident of taking home the Gold once more despite determined challenges from players all around the World. On the domestic front our competitions continue to grow in numbers and as a sport we can look forward to further growth in 2015.
Are you up for the Challenge?
If anyone is interested in the excitement or the challenge of playing the different codes of Handball, then don’t hesitate to contact the National Office who will help you find your nearest Handball club from the hundreds all over Ireland.
Telephone: +353 (0) 1819 2385
Visit our website www.gaahandball.ie