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​The Road To Limerick: McElduff aiming to show Irish can ‘take down’ top New Yorkers

If results over a long number of seasons are anything to go by, Tyrone’s Conor McElduff is Ireland’s best hope of defeating the top players in the world at this August’s World Wallball Championships, writes Paul Fitzpatrick.

The Breacach clubman has been nigh on untouchable in Ireland and has also had a very impressive strike rate at Euro 1-Wall Tour events. At the moment, McElduff is concentrating on the upcoming All-Ireland 4-Wall Senior Singles before his focus will switch back to the wallball code.

“I’m just playing mainly 4-wall now for the time being, it’s a different kind of strokes, different kind of strategy which keeps you fresh and means it doesn’t get monotonous with the same code,” McElduff explained.

“I think it will keep me in great shape, 4-wall has a lot more bending, squatting, different positions… that will help build muscles and keep me fit in other areas which should benefit me for wallball.

“As I said, I’m focusing on 4-wall for now but we’ll have the trials for the Worlds at the end of April, I hope to do well in that and then play a few other 4-wall tournaments and then take a month off and then train for eight weeks solid before the World Championships.”

The 30-year-old is hoping to have the chance to take on the best players from New York, which is widely seen as the Mecca of wallball and, the consensus says, boasts the strongest players.

Conor won the Open Singles at the 2018 World Championships but while he beat some players from the Big Apple, he has his sights set on others this time around.

“I am hoping the top American players come over and compete against the Europeans. I would fancy myself against all of them. Obviously, Luke Thomson (UK) will be coming over, Lur Ziarrusta (Basque Country), those guys are good players but I am hoping the likes of Timbo (Gonzales) and Tywan (Cook) will come over and that will give me the extra wee push to train even harder again.

“I’ve never played Tywan but Timbo is 2-0 against me at the minute so I want to try and even up the score and of course it would be amazing to beat a New Yorker in a world final.

“I know I beat two New York lads in my last World Championships but to beat two of the top players, two of the best ever to do it in the wallball code, that’s the motivation. Yeah, I think those guys will be the main opposition.”

While he has been highly successful since making his breakthrough at senior level in Ireland, the motivation hasn’t dipped, he said.

“I just always want to perform better than what I did the previous year. I want to win the Wallball Nationals in a better style, a better fashion, more convincing fashion. The motivation is just always to be better than the last performance.

“I have suffered a few defeats now so that will definitely get the hunger back again. It’s a very dark place for me and I don’t want to visit that place again. The 4-wall is definitely humbling me in that regard.

“It’s going to give me the hunger and motivation and disciplined lifestyle that I need to compete at the highest level and hopefully get a really good tournament in and a really good result at the World Championships.”

On a wider level, McElduff feels that this event has the potential to help handball cross over to a more mainstream level and add credibility. The game is on the up and this, he says, will be an ideal showcase.

“I’m really buzzing for this tournament. The facilities down there in UL are just amazing, the place looks great, it’s just what we need. I think it’s going to be a real great buzz, I think it will even top what Breaffy used to bring for us for the One-Wall Nationals, it was the best weekend every year for handball, there’s not even a question about it.

“With TG4 on board, filming the Open and broadcasting the game to a wider audience at home and abroad, I think this could really, really catapult the sport and we could see great growth in participation. I’m just really, really excited, I’m buzzing for international players to come over and see the top-end facilities that Ireland can offer. It should just be a really good tournament and hopefully set a precedent, set a standard that all of the other countries can follow in the future.

“I see it as catapulting the sport to greater heights and we will bounce on from there. The sport of handball will spread into the wider culture of the GAA, with the likes of footballers and hurlers, handball is going to be taken a lot more seriously now. We have a state-of-the-art venue to host these championships, we’re going to see the best talent from all across the world.

“The preparations are going well, it’s building up to be the biggest handball event in a long time. It’s just going to be massive for the sport.”

Conor hopes to play doubles as well in the Worlds but was reticent as to who may be riding shotgun.

“I am thinking about playing the doubles grade, I’m still not 100pc sure who the partner is going to be yet, there are a few from Tyrone that I could be playing with and I also have an old foe from the Nationals from years ago that has shown interest in playing so I’m just going to keep that one close to my chest for now and a decision will be made in the next few months on that one.”

Employed as full-time Regional Development Officer with GAA Handball, McElduff is well-placed to see at first-hand the current growth.

“My role in GAA Handball is developing the sport across certain counties, getting it into schools, getting it into clubs, showing the game to a wider audience. I am trying to introduce handball to people who have never seen it before and keep increasing the numbers participating.

“I just want to showcase what a good sport handball really is, it can be played by all ages. Handball is on the up, we’ve seen a rise in entries, there is a real interest there again and in the next three to five years, I can really see handball being in a very strong place.

“I’m just trying my best to help make that possible. I’ve been obsessed with handball from the get-go and I would love nothing more than for handball to be taken seriously as a really good sport and to see many, many more people playing.”

As the Worlds draws closer, the pressure will naturally ramp up. It’s something he is embracing.

“There will be pressure on myself and I kind of want that pressure. In 4-wall, I don’t really have that pressure and no-one is really expecting big things from me and it seems to be affecting my performance to be honest. Whereas if I go to Europe or play in the Irish Wallball Nationals, I’m expected to win and I sort of thrive off that.

“Whereas in the 4-wall, I’ve been trying to make my own pressure but I can’t seem to get the fire in my belly to bring out the performances that are needed to get the wins.

“The pressure will be on again, there are a couple of good players in Europe and with the Americans coming over, the vast majority of the Irish handball community believe that there are no wallball players like them, that European or Irish players stand no chance whereas I think the opposite of that.

“I think if there is anyone to take them down, it’s definitely myself. That just gives me great motivation, I like that pressure. I just want to prove to everyone that I am fit to hang with the top players from New York and I just want to do what’s never been done before and take one of them down in the World Championships. I can envision this happening and I’m just really excited to try to get that done and prove that everyone was wrong.”

The World Wallball Championships take place from August 18-23 next at the University of Limerick. The entry portal is open here.