Reasons to be cheerful…

Dear Handball friends,

Its that time of year again when we all go into festive mode and get busy preparing for Christmas and the New Year. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who is involved in making our sport in Ireland a great success. Handball in Ireland exists because of the enthusiasm and commitment of individuals up and down this country who are putting their time and effort into organising and running events, matches and training.

We have had some great events in 2011 and some momentous changes, I’d like to reflect for a moment on the year past, on some of the developments that have occurred and what this means for the future of handball in Ireland.

For some years now the IOHA has been in transition, moving from an almost purely volunteer organisation dependent upon the efforts of key individuals and  permanently short of cash to provide proper support services to clubs, schools and players. This was our life, this was what we came to expect as our lot in Ireland; a minority sport that could only continue by heroic and steadfast effort on the part of individuals and groups who dedicated large amounts of personal time and effort to ensure that handball in Ireland continued.

To be sure there are a lot of positives from this era, not least the continued involvement of many committed people, parents and players, teachers and sports professionals. Also lets not forget the super support we garnered from abroad in the last few years. Many people in Germany in particular, but in other parts of Europe  are friends of Irish handball and the IOHA.

 

Through many years of ups and downs we have maintained competitions at every level for girls and boys and we have added women’s competitions which had fallen away in recent years. Many thousands of young people have been introduced to handball in Ireland and independent surveys show it is a popular sport which more people would like to play. Third level students and sports departments are very keen to work with the IOHA in the development of clubs and teams in Universities and Colleges around the country and we have teams active in competition in every province now. This universally positive response hasn’t appeared by magic, it is the result of long years of promotion and spade work by the volunteers in the sport both inside and outside of the IOHA.

 

Our relationships with the Olympic Council of Ireland, the Irish Sports Council and the European Handball Federation are very cordial and positive. Building trust and credibility with such organisations requires years of engagement and commitment. The fantastic support we receive financially and professionally from all of these bodies is evidence of the high regard they hold this association in and their acknowledgement of our ‘coming of age’.

 

I could go on all day about the strengths that exist as the result of our voluntary efforts over the years, but I want to thank everyone for their hard work and dedication over the last few years, I hope everyone recognises the opportunities for the sport now that we are moving to a more professional platform, I know you will enjoy seeing our sport blossom in Ireland as we raise the profile and the standards throughout the country in the coming years.

 

The IOHA vision for the future is now being realised. We appointed our first full time General Manager, Lúcás O’ Ceallacháin to take the reins in April and this is transforming the way the Association works, creating a new impetus for handball and the IOHA.  The staff in the handball office in Sports HQ, including Lisa and Susan were tasked as a priority to create a professional central organisation and this they are working on to great effect. Already this year there is increased support for the volunteers and increased money for grass roots development.

 

The IOHA development strategy is being held up as an example to other sports in Ireland and Europe and we are more likely now to achieve our stated aims and objectives in future. We have a very solid and able team – voluntary and professional, to support the organisation and we are in a better position to provide for future growth in numbers of players at all levels.

 

In the coming year the IOHA through partnership with our neighbours in Britain and Europe will embark upon a promotional campaign to raise awareness and support for our sport. This will bring more people into our sport with new ideas and new directions. Fresh thinking will challenge many of our ideas of how the sport should be run in Ireland and its all for the good.
I have always felt that Irish people could and should be well able to excel in handball, the game suits us as it relies in many ways on the skill sets for our great team sports in GAA, Football and Hurling and the physicality and discipline we gain from our other great team sport Rugby Union. The plan is simple really, to lift the profile of handball in Ireland and attract more athletes to seriously consider committing to playing in our competitions throughout their playing careers. In order to achieve National and International success we will need all hands on deck to ensure our competitions are attractive, our clubs and teams welcoming and eager for new recruits and a visible and able organisation to support our development goals.
I know for many people now that the talk of doom and gloom on the economic front has taken the wind from our sails, however I can think of no better way to support our country at this time than by helping to prepare our young people to develop their physical and mental abilities through involvement in this great team sport. The benefits of participation in sport are well known, handball is one of the most popular Olympic sports and I have no doubt that we have the ability, talent and facilities in this country to reach the very highest levels of success on any stage we choose to aim for.
In addition to physical and social benefits, participation brings economic success also with the development of International events and competitions bringing visitors to enjoy the country. The Challenge Trophy in Limerick this year generated €250,000 for the local economy and we intend to host many more events in the coming years. Our intention is to generate at least twice as much revenue as we are provided in grant support and plough it all back into the sport.
As you can see I’m very excited and confident about the future. I hope you all enjoy a good break over the Christmas and New Year and that you all look forward as I do to 2012. The time is right now for handball in Ireland to step forward onto the national and international stage with confidence and vitality. There is a lot of work ahead in the coming year – we will have some great times I’m sure!
Beannachtaí an tSéasúir agus Nollaig shona daoibh go léir,
Fintan J. Lyons
President
Irish Olympic Handball Association