One of the greatest exponents of gaelic football, Tyrone’s Peter Canavan, is enjoying a new-found love for another GAA sport and predicts a very exciting future for the GAA’s sport of handball.
Canavan, who captained the O’Neill County to a first Sam Maguire Cup triumph back in 2003, has been instrumental in the new one wall handball schools initiative in Ulster with 5 courts installed at his school, Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, where the PE teacher has become a fervent fan.
No stranger to success on the field of play, the Errigal Ciaran man believes that the popularity of the game amongst the youth at school and generally is set to reach heights which have possibly never been witnessed before. “It would seem it is the hidden jewel within the GAA as I suppose within many GAA clubs around the country it is relatively unheard off. It is a fantastic sport and in our school, Holy Trinity College, we have seen the incredible benefits of the game and now have five one wall courts, both indoor and outdoor. It is really amazing to see the incredible enjoyment that the children derive from it” said Canavan.
The school and the surrounding area, which had no previous tradition of GAA Handball, exemplifies exactly how the game can thrive anywhere with immense benefits to all ages, boys and girls, and this has been seen in no uncertain terms by the Tyrone star. “At break and dinner time, the courts at the school are packed with more and more children looking to get playing every day. The amount of handballs we’ve sold this past year has been phenomenal, and this in an area where there is very little background of the sport. The major drive in the past few years to highlight it as a GAA Sport has been brilliant and this has translated into greater interest everywhere. It is a fun sport and the game really does sell itself. It is very easy to play by anyone of any age and in terms of equipment, gear and now these new one-wall courts, it is quite cheap for any person, club or school to get into.”
The former six time all star award winner, and player of the year in 1995, continues to have that competitive spirit that was so evident on big match days with the Red Hands. He enjoys playing himself and being at the top of the tree among his teaching staff at the one wall. “A few of the teachers have joined in and played after school. Anybody with a competitive head at all will soon get on to it and want to win at it. Its a sport that you can play at all levels from 4 or 5 to 74 or 75 and there are both men and women playing it. In the school, I’ve managed to take care of any staff who have come to play it, but Im just not at the level of Ducksy (Walsh) or DJ (Carey) just yet,” quipped the two time All-Ireland senior winner.
Canavan also believes that handball is a perfect game for other athletes within the GAA to pursue, especially during the off season. “It’s a brilliant winter sport for any player who have football or hurling as their main sport, in that it really compliments training. It is great to play and enhances your skills, speed and agility and your hand to eye coordination from playing handball is improved immensely. You also develop both sides of your body which is a tremendous benefit for you in playing hurling and football.”
Looking ahead, and following the recent announcements made by GAA Handball Ireland on the approval by An Bórd Pleanala of the €9 million state-of-the-art National Handball Arena in Croke Park, the World Championships at Citywest next year and the possibility of Olympic status down the line, Canavan sees a continued rapid rise in the profile of the sport in Ireland and around the world. “I am delighted that my own kids play it and they really do love it. The news of the new National Handball Arena in Croke Park is going to be fantastic and will provide an outstanding boost for the profile and status of handball. It will do wonders for the sport and will no doubt see a continued huge rise in participation levels. As for the World Handball Championships we will definitely be taking a group of children from the school down to the Citywest as that recently announced plan for the event sounds fantastic and must have every handball fan in the country absolutely buzzing. There is no doubt that will highlight on TV just how big this GAA Sport is set to become not just in Ireland bout internationally too. I have been told that in a few years time that one wall handball could become an Olympic sport so that will provide fantastic opportunities for young children in Ireland of having the possibility of representing your country in the Olympics and that is remarkable. There is no doubt that there is only one way that this game is going and I could not recommend it strongly enough to any school or GAA Club who have not yet included it in their plans.”
In October 2012, it is anticipated that over 2000 competitors from across 33 nations will to do battle for the most prestigious prize in the sport, the world championships scheduled for the City West International Convention Arena in Dublin. In a purpose built arena with International 40×20 and one wall courts all situated in one arena, a massive Irish fan base is anticipated to cheer on Ireland’s best players, namely three time winners, Cavan’s Paul Brady and Antrim’s Fiona Shannon. The Breffni man will be once again favourite to emerge victorious from a highly talented group of players the world over in front of the TV cameras at the Dublin complex and the media exposure highlighting the talents of the elite players is sure to increase the levels of participation and interest in the game even further again.