Caitriona Casey

Caitriona Casey of Ballydesmond and Cork in action

A ball and a wall - the rest is for later

By Kevin Egan

Give them a chance, get them started, and keep them interested – but don’t worry about formats and facilities.

That’s the message from Handball star and primary school teacher Caitríona Casey, who has seen firsthand in her work as a primary school teacher how the sport can capture the imagination of young children with no handball background, as long as there’s some imagination and thought put into how the game is presented.

“I’m lucky to come from a club (Ballydesmond, Cork) where there is a huge tradition of playing the game, but the main reason that’s a factor is it means that someone will introduce you to the game.

You don’t need decades of club history behind you for that to happen. I teach senior infants in St. Peter’s National School in Phibsborough now and in this general area, there’s probably as much Olympic Handball as GAA Handball. But we play here in the school every week – the kids call it ‘small ball’ and they love it, there’s so much you can do to get them into it” she says.

“We have a PE hall but it’s not very big, like a lot of schools in an urban area, there isn’t a huge amount of space. But there are lots of games you can play to introduce the basic skills and to work on hand-eye co-ordination, whether it’s relays or versions of dodgeball, even simple throwing and catching exercises. Then you just let each child find their own part of the wall and play away.

Casey, who has accumulated an incredible haul of national and world titles since bursting onto the national scene as a prodigious teenager almost a decade ago, has raised the bar when it comes to the women’s game. Her rivalry with Limerick’s Martina McMahon and her incredible doubles partnership with club colleague Aishling O’Keeffe has illuminated the sport, and she maintains that at every level, the standard of play among girls and women is higher than it’s ever been.

Caitriona Casey
Caitriona Casey

“In terms of the numbers playing the game and the quality of the play, what you see at underage level now is better than it ever has been. There’s great depth out there, and it shows that if you can just get the game to more children to try it out, they’ll take to it.

“I see girls now that are well able to play alongside boys of the same age and while it gets trickier as you get older, if for no other reason than the ball used in women’s is different from the ball used in the men’s game, even coming into adult the skill levels are very similar.

“It’s amazing to watch, and it’s the same for boys and girls; once you get players into the game, they love it and they’ll line up waiting for the their turn to get on court and play their own singles game.

As long as you play timed games or something like that to make sure no-one spends too long on the outside looking in, they’ll consider it worth the effort. You don’t need much, just a wall and maybe a bit of chalk or tape to mark lines and you’re good to go.

“There is a lot of debate in handball about formats and all that but when they’re playing underage games is not the time to worry about things like that. If one-wall is the gateway to get players into the sport and to help it grow, then let’s just be glad of that, and then in time we can think about increasing the number of courts we have where these players can move on and get into 60x30, 40x20, all in time.

“For now, the focus should be on more summer camps, getting more schools into learning the basics, because I’ve seen right here in Dublin, just like in did in my last job in Cahersiveen, that players will take to it if they’re just given the chance.  

Just give them a ball and a wall - then worry about the rest later.