Ireland men look to start a new chapter in Malta

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PREVIEW: Ireland’s senior men travel to Malta this weekend (5/6 November) for the ‘Malta International Handball Tournament 2016’, a test tournament consisting of matches against the Malta senior team and the U23 Israel national team. Played over two days the Irish men will come up against both sides twice over the Saturday and Sunday.

An unfavourable record

When one looks back on the history books, results do not bode well for Ireland’s chances. Having come up against Malta nine times in total in official competition, the Irish side has come out on top only once and this win dates back to 1999 when they won 23:19. Most recently the senior squad faced Malta in the IHF Emerging Nations Championship 2015 in Kosovo. After a poor first half performance, which saw Ireland trail 17:10, they struggled to close the gap in the second as the Maltese side held on for a four-goal win (29:25).

We have to go back to 2012 to the only time an Irish side has come up against an Israel selection. In EHF EURO 2014 Qualification Phase 1, Ireland were totally outclassed by the Israeli side who boasted talents of the then German Bundesliga stalwart, Chen Pomeranz; it didn’t take long for the home team to show their quality as they sailed to a 49:10 home win.

Hopeful youth prospects

However, this 14-man squad selected by head coach Roman Abramenko does boast a number of new names and up-and-coming talents from the Irish handball scene.

Most notably the Denmark-based Krone Grace brothers who will both be making their international debut for the boys in green. Joshua Krone Grace brings top-level experience from playing with the likes of former EHF Champions League and EHF Cup participant Aalborg Handball.

Another international debutant is Chris Bregazzi of German side VTV Mundenheim. Bregazzi, son of former national team coach David, is a speedy left-handed player than can be employed in both left back and left wing.

Colm Thiel of HC Erlangen is yet another young talent who is making noise on the senior team; this is, however, not Thiel’s first outing in green as the left back made his senior debut back in 2015 at the Emerging Nations Championship where he impressed – especially with his six goals against Malta at the ripe age of 17.

Echoes of optimism

Despite poor records against both sides team captain Alex Kulesh sees room for optimism:

“We have come on leaps and bounds since the Emerging Nations in 2015 not only in working together as a team but also with Roman as a coach. There won’t be any easy games this weekend, but I am confident that we can get some results especially against Malta. Israel are a bit of an unknown entity as it is their U23 team, but that is, at the same time, very exciting for all of us – we are here to test ourselves,” concluded the team’s captain.

A full schedule of all the weekend’s games will be publish the morning of Saturday 5 Nov.

You can catch the Irish men in action via a live stream by clicking here.