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​McDonnell looking forward to ‘the most spectacular handball event ever held’

The President of GAA Handball has urged the handball family to come together and help ensure the World Wallball Championships in Limerick this August is “the most spectacular handball event ever held anywhere in the world”.

For the first time, a dedicated Wallball World Championships will take place this year, with the competition confirmed for the University of Limerick on August 18-23 next, where the matches will take place on a custom-made, 10-court facility in the state-of-the-art UL Sports Arena.

And, says Conor McDonnell, excitement is building for the event, with the early bird entry portal (offering discounted rates) closing in a month’s time.

“We are very excited that in our centenary year, the World Wallball Championships will take place at the University of Limerick. It’s a fabulous arena that we intend to build,” stated McDonnell.

“A lot of work has gone into the planning of this event and things are coming together very nicely.

“We know we have some of the best players in the world, even some of our own development officers like Conor McElduff and Eilise McCrory are European and national champions and we have many other elite players like Catriona Casey, Fiona Tully, Fiachra Ó Dúill, Martina McMahon who has just come back from injury and will hopefully be playing in her home city of Limerick.

“But this event will also be very family-focused and will cater to handballers of all levels, not just at the elite end. It is going to be an unmissable tournament for the handball community around the world.”

One of the great attractions of this event, he said, is that the tournament will be self-contained on the UL campus, with accommodation on site and superb facilities.

“The amenities on site are out of this world. There is an Olympic-sized swimming pool, there are gyms, restaurants, there is public transport linking the venue with the city.

“People have discussed the entry fee for the Worlds, we are concerned that people aren’t entering early and we are encouraging them to enter using the early bird system over the next four or five weeks which will save costs.

“The reality is that the entry fees for the Worlds are on a par with Minnesota in 2018 and of course the good thing about our venue is it alleviates the cost of taxis to and from the accommodation and venue, and the accommodation rate of €70 per night in a campus environment, in the middle of the city, in the peak of the season, is really second to none. I mean, you wouldn’t get it anywhere else in the world.

“For those travelling from overseas, the venue is so close to Shannon Airport and the public transport system is so good that is will be very convenient.”

Conor expects a large entry of both Irish and international players. He has been liaising with handball organisations around the world and the feedback has been very positive.

“We do expect 700 to 1000 competitors. We know that this will be the most spectacular handball event ever held anywhere in the world and we would encourage families to make holidays of this, to come and stay on the campus whether they are playing or supporting.

“It will be spectacular and the excellent accommodation rate will encourage people to attend and make it a real wallball centenary sensation.

“I have personally contacted 40 handball associations in 25 countries, these vary from 3-wall, wallball, CIJB, frontball and other codes and I’m encouraged by the responses.

“Okay, there are clashes with local and national events with some of the countries but if you fail to plan, you plan to fail so it’s important for our committees and ourselves that we make contact with as many experienced people as possible – and we have done that.

“I just want to thank at this stage the President of the World Handball Council Dessie Keegan and his committee, they have been really exceptional in the help that they’ve given myself, David (Britton) and the team involved.

“Matt Kreuger from the USHA has also been excellent and promptly come back to me any time I have asked him anything. It is really important to have that support from experienced people.”

The President feels that this is a very exciting time for the sport of handball, with unprecedented interest levels in the recent 4-Wall Senior Championships and two major World Championship events scheduled for later in the year as well as a huge amount of work going on off the court.

“We are on the verge of signing with a sponsor for the Worlds and this announcement will take place later this month. We are very excited about this and again, it’s showing our game in a positive light.

“The streaming on TG4 has been excellent – our Open games and main finals at the Worlds will be streamed on the Sport TG4 YouTube channel live and that is fantastic. I was looking at an email from TG4 yesterday and the viewing numbers watching handball have gone through the roof.

“They are so impressed by the quality of Mac AV’s coverage and of course the commentary. This is great media coverage, it will bring the World Wallball Championships to a global audience and I’d like to thank the team at TG4 in that regard.

“It’s great to see national coverage highlighting the World Handball Championships in our centenary year.

“The GAA is a major supporter in thus, it’s a worldwide amateur organization with between two and three thousand clubs worldwide. I’d like to particularly thank the Ard Stiurthoir Tom Ryan for his support during this whole initiative and of course the World Games chairperson Ciaran McLaughlin.

“He has been a tremendous help. The new Uachtarán Jarlath Burns will hopefully be in a position to attend and we wish him very well in his new role.”

Conor hopes to see handball clubs and individuals really embrace this event, which he believes has the potential to be transformative for the sport.

“Fundraising is important, when we travel worldwide for handball events, our clubs and counties fundraise for this. Just because it’s on the island of Ireland, it’s still important that people fundraise and get things going to alleviate part of the cost on families who are attending.

“This will be a spectacular event and it’s not all about winning. Even myself, in the Over 60s category, I am just a mediocre wallball player but I will take part in it and I will encourage my family and friends to pack out the place as well. It’s important that the handball family all back each other to make this a global success for our sport.”

World Wallball Championships entry portal and info here