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9 days ago - 9/14/2018

Tom’s Top Ten

We all love a good top 10, don't we? This year will be the 10th edtition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. X marks the spot in Cologne. I thought perhaps a nice way to pep you up, as if you already needed it, was a different take on a top 10 than we are used to.

The picture that struck me most during a summer of inactivity was that of the young keeper Milosz Walach from Kielce getting a chance to perform in a minute section of a game, a penalty shot. He saved it and his reaction filled me with wonder and joy. The kind of feeling you got as a kid when you discovered something new or the never since emotion that welled up in me when I played my first international game for Ireland and saw the flag hoisted to the strains of “Amhrán na bhFiann.”

It got me thinking about what handball is all about and I figured it's primarily the players. And then I asked myself: if I were a coach, what would I look for in my players? Same questions for men or women.

Here are my top 10 questions, in no particular order:

10: Is he a winner?

Has he led his team back while staring defeat in the face? How often has he done it? Is he able to be cold-blooded and ruthless and just input enough emotion that it doesn't impede his performance? How does he approach being in front or behind in a game?

9: High handball I.Q.?

How does he respond to coaching? Is he a player, who does his own study or does he need to be pushed to do it? Does he focus on a game plan and carry it out without excessive need to question everything? How quickly can he take on board the subtleties of differing game plans?

8: Did he run before he could walk?

Some might call it the ‘cot factor.’ Was this a kid who jumped out of his cot in the morning when one of his parents came in? Was he somersaulting over the sofa before the other kids his age were crawling? OK, it's not vital, but the core question is: “Is he a born-athlete?” If he is, all the better.

7: Selfless?

Is this guy a team player? Is he willing to put his own personal glory aside for the benefit of the team? Is he counting his goals in a loss or is he the guy that is willing to be appreciated by the purist rather than the statisticians?

6: Toughness?

Is this guy tough? And I don't just mean physically tough, but mentally and emotionally tough. Can he deal with the pressure of the modern game? The constant social media surrounding every player means that nowadays you must have a thick skin.

5: Charm factor?

Now in this one I'm not talking about what the public sees in the daily interviews that are available across the board. This is what his teammates say about him while they're off the record. Publicly doesn't count! If his teammates rhapsodise about him when you're having a cosy chat in a faraway corner, the chances are he's the one.

4: Hard-working?

My bottom line is that hard work is the basis for all genius. Is he the hardest working player on the team or one of them? If he's not ready to chase that lost cause at the key moment, then so many of the other things don't matter.

3: Body Language?

If you've watched this player live, what is it like? Does he cajole, encourage and disparage in equal measure? Does he demand the same of his teammates that he demands of himself? Does he exude a confidence that strikes fear into opposition and raises the spirits of his own team? Or is he complaining at every decision or blaming everyone else for a poor team performance?

2: Raising standards?

Does he make the players around him seem better than they are? This is key. Does he raise the performance level of other players? Have you seen a marked increase in those playing around him compared to when they are no longer playing with him?

1: How big is his heart?

Now we're not doing anatomy classes here or scanning his body to see how big his heart actually is. It's a whole range of everything we've talked about before and also his love: his love for his sport, for his teammates, for his coach and for his supporters. The love that makes you go that extra yard. This to me is the player I want to work with. (Now no taking scalpels to your favourite ever player to check it out).

If you find that player, or even a few that exhibit those traits, then you have a chance to put your name on that trophy on the Xth anniversary of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

I know, it's not much to ask.

Author: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV.com commentator