Experiencing the full value of joyArticle
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BLOG: After years of heartbreak, Veszprem turned up the heat in the second half and backed by thousands of fans both inside and outside their arena gave PSG no chance to recover and ehfTV.com commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin was there to witness the historic moment

Experiencing the full value of joy

Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Not Veszprem, at least not until now. The unbridled joy that greeted the final whistle was something to behold and I have to say, it was an honour to be there at this historic moment in their progression.

They say that you can only experience the joy when you have felt the heartache; I’m not a big believer in that. It’s akin to saying that you can only appreciate chocolate if you eat cabbage. However, Mark Twain once said: “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with”. The fact that the Veszprem fans packed the hall one hour before and after the game shows the synergy between team and fans. They showed up and the team responded.

I have been critical of the Veszprem fans in the past. The vitriol that came post the Kiel loss last year was unwarranted and smacked of sour grapes. They blamed all and sundry for their exit and gained no friends in the process. On Saturday, that was all buried as a cacophony of noise greeted the away team. It began during their warm-up and continued unabated for the next two hours.

What PSG saw were the 6,000 fans that thronged the arena. What they didn’t realise is that a further 5,000 were outside watching on a giant screen, further adding to the expectation and exuberance of the home crowd. Normally, a weight on the shoulders of the home team, on this day, it was a boon, a blessing and a benefit for the men in red. The cacophony to PSG was sweet music to the ears of the Hungarians and together, in concert, they set about dismantling PSG.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. The first half was nip and tuck and Paris was assuredly in the ascendancy come the half-time buzzer. Although the score was 12:12, they looked like they had cast off the shackles and were playing with some freedom. Albeit not all were at their peak, Narcisse looked like he would drag them through single-handedly.

Oh to be a fly on the wall in both dressing rooms at half-time. Whatever Ortega said had the effect of galvanising his team. Whatever was said in the PSG sanctuary had the opposite effect. After 15 minutes the tie was over. Defence and attack were of the highest order and PSG was blitzed. They had no answer and barring a miracle of extreme proportions, Veszprem fans could watch the last 15 minutes of the game knowing they had reached a destiny they have craved for four years.

“FINAL4, FINAL4, rang out around the arena. It was more than a match. It was a crusade, a long march to nowhere that had finally led them to their Xanadu.

So much credit has to go to Carlos Ortega. You can give a man money, but how he spends it is paramount. Coaching top players now is not only about tactics and strategies. If we accept that most modern players can do just about everything, then it is about getting the right player to fit the jigsaw of your team. Ortega went for Ilic as the final piece to push them over the line.

What a choice! He is not as glamorous as Hansen and doesn’t have the panache of Nagy, but he is a guy I would have in my team every day of the week. He is a “no nonsense”, effective team player and if I had my way, I would vote him as my player of the season. He has turned a very good team into a great team. After the game he spoke to me, with his shirt looking like he had just put it through the washing machine. Hermatidrosis is the medical term for sweating blood. He did it all season, along with the sweat and tears. And if an MVP is also an ambassador, then he is a poster boy for all that is good in handball.

Sulic also was awesome. His reputation for two-minute suspensions and occasional over exuberance was put on the back burner as he defended resolutely and attacked clinically. This is a very good team. Nagy completes the triumvirate that will be a handful for all in Cologne.

As I stood on the court at the end of the game and watched the fans acclaim their heroes, I felt the full force of the positivity that at times has been lacking here. Fans cried tears of joy as they waited those few moments longer just to squeeze the marrow from the moment.

I paused too. On the threshold of their pivotal point in time, I was moved to an emotion that is rare in sport. I shared for one brief second the bond that exists between fans and their team. I felt like a gate crasher at a wedding, yet I basked in that one pure second of joy.

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator