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future is in good hands

A large and enthusiastic group turned out for the recent Olympic Handball Junior Academy session in St Columba's College, Dublin.

Looking after the session was Michael Moloney, a former Irish international player.

"We established the National Junior Academy just over a year ago in October 2008, starting with the under-13 age group, and then expanded. We have under-15 and under-17 players here today," he says.

Olympic handball, which is a huge sport in Europe, was started to provide footballers with an indoor activity that was fast and fun. In Ireland it has long been established in the Tallaght and Terenure areas, thanks to the activities of the Lunasa club -- by some way the biggest in the country.

"We concentrate on the primary schools because most teachers have some basic knowledge of the game. Our job is to build on that."

Since clubs are still a rarity outside Dublin, squad training takes place regularly to give young players plenty of practice. "We would have two sessions a month -- one is a tournament while the other concentrates on training. It's a four-hour session, often with guest coaches, like the national coach Tomas O Branagain, who is here today, so it's very intense."

So popular are the sessions that players travel from as far away as Galway and Sligo.


One big event next year is the Tri-Nations with England and Scotland on the weekend of July 18. The first trial for the Irish teams will take place at St Columba's on Sunday January 10.

Meanwhile, the senior team will play two tournaments in the next fortnight. At the weekend they travel to Ghent in Belgium, thanks to the efforts of an Irish player now playing for a team in Ghent. A week later the team makes one of its regular trips to Lubeck in Germany, where it will play, among others, a team from Bahrain.

Five of the Irish squad members are based in Germany, playing for German League teams, but the rest come from Ireland. The trips are self-financed.