The handball club’s European adventures in the last year took them from eastern Spain to northern Netherlands and twice to western Italy to take part in the European Pro Wallball Tour and the European GAA Handball Championships. The club returned with nine gold, five silver and three bronze medals along with several new international connections. The players also got the chance to experience the local handball variations played in these countries.
The year commenced with the players running for cover and scrabbling for suncream in the 30 degrees’ sunshine of Valencia at the Spanish Pro Stop. Eleven UL players struggled to acclimatise to the sudden appearance of the bright yellow orb in the sky in late October on the first day. They managed to re-group quickly and utilised the unique “Irish whip” to outfox their opponents during the singles games. Paudi Quish looked in ominous form until he narrowly lost to the eventual champion by one ace in the Open Division. In the B division, UL flooded the quarter-finals with five representatives. Michael Hedigan emerged from the pack as he produced a series of astonishing comebacks to claim the title defeating a Spanish player in the final. Quish again flew the flag in the Open division in the doubles where he again came up against the eventual champions at the quarter-final stage again. In the B division, UL produced 4 out of 8 quarter-finalists with Michael Hedigan and Daniel Relihan battling their way to the title in another series of close encounters. Liam Bradshaw and Dan Noonan powered their way to the C title as they overcame several European opponents.
The next trip also exposed the players to an another extreme change in weather as UL travelled to the snow covered environs of Franeker, Northern Netherlands for the Dutch Open. The UL players adapted to the cold conditions quicker than the sun soaked conditions of the Mediterranean. UL completed the double in the B division again as Jamie Kelly comprehensively defeated all opponents as he claimed the B singles title in a statement of intent in his first European tournament. He teamed up with James Prentice as they stormed to the B title producing several electric performances.
The European GAA Handball Championships took place in similarly frosty surroundings as UL travelled with two teams to the tournament. The second team of John Bosco Hurley and Jack Coughlan began their campaign first as they competed in the Challenger division. They formed an exciting partnership as they finished second in the division and qualified for the European Championship as a result where they faced the no. 1 ranked Italian in the semi-final of the Championship. They suffered early setbacks in the singles but bounced back to rattle the Italian champions in the doubles as they took an early lead and maintained it until late in the game. Unfortunately, they fell just short and were unable to qualify for the final but bounced back to claim bronze to go with the silver they won in the Challenger division. The A team of Paudi Quish, Jason English and Adrian English faced another Italian team in the semi-final and qualified for the final after a comprehensive victory. The final proved to be highly controversial as numerous debatable decisions went the way of the Italian hosts. UL fell to a narrow loss as a result and returned home in disappointment.
The club returned to Italy in March for the Italian Open of the European Pro Wallball Tour and for the first trip of the year the weather was similar to that in Ireland. The weather appeared to suit Paudi Quish as he stormed through the group stages of the Open division. He maintained this form as he reached the final for the second straight Italian Open where he faced the European no. 1 from Spain in the final. He fell behind early but managed to halt the Spaniard’s momentum and he recovered from a 9-3 deficit to win 25-12 and cause a huge upset. This is the club’s first win in the Open Division of the European Pro Wallball Tour and has resulted in Quish reaching no. 6 in the European rankings.
It was an incredible year for the club and with further trips to London and Belgium to come, it is hoped to bring more success back to the West of Ireland.