Time for teams to strip themselves bareArticle
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BLOG: ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain shares his emotions of a lonely runner before he visits two European capitals over this weekend.

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Time for teams to strip themselves bare

I find myself this week in a very maudlin mood as I prepare for another dash around Europe. My mood is introspective and reflective. The words of Tennyson's Ulysses come back to haunt my reverie:

“I cannot rest from travel:
I will drink Life to the lees:
All times I have enjoy'd Greatly,
have suffer'd greatly,
both with those That loved me, and alone.

It is the loneliness of the long distance runner that leads me to two capital cities this weekend for the matches in Skopje and Paris. I don't quite know what has me thinking on these two matches in such depth. Perhaps it is the jarring jolt I got when suddenly discovering that it is not always easy to predict outcomes in sports. Or perhaps it is the majesty of these two great cities of such historic import that fills me with trepidation.

“Much have I seen and known,
cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments”. (Ulysses)

For we are at the business end of a long season. The two teams of Vardar and PSG welcome other powerhouses to their back yard in the guise of Kielce and Veszprem respectively. The grandeur of the face-offs is reflected in the cities. Monuments of former greatness pervade the streets, a reminder to both home teams that they are representing history, culture and a people.

It brought to my mind the “Kairos Moment”, that supreme moment in time, the moment of opportunity when all seems possible. And so it is this moment for Vardar and PSG. To achieve this particular point in time you must observe, reflect, discuss, plan and act. Can you imagine the team meetings, of all four teams, that we will witness this weekend. The hours they have spent poring over a gameplan, their opponents and themselves.

“How dull it is to pause” (Ulysses)

As teams and as individuals we must constantly strive to betterment. Any team that is stagnant at this point of the season will be gone. Home court advantage is key to survival and it is for this reason that I am focusing most on Vardar and PSG. The others involved, Veszprem and Kielce, have reached the promised land of the FINAL4 before, and so have the scent in their nostrils, the experience that can carry them over the line.

Both of the home teams fell at the final hurdle last season and so must be in a similar reflective mood to me. And in this reflective mood the “Johari Window” suggested itself.

A place where you must discuss the elements of the individual (and in this case the team) that are known to yourself and others. What is open, hidden, blind and unknown. It is time for teams to strip themselves bare, to discuss their frailties and strengths and alternatively those of the opposition.

It is time for teams to find something extraordinary, that will surprise. And in the cauldron of knockout handball, that is not an easy thing to do.
Which Paris will we see? The dysfunctional team or the union of superstars? Which Vardar will take to the court? Those who destroyed Plock or the team that capitulated in Poland.

The fact is that Veszprem and Kielce have nothing to prove, to us, coming into these games. But that is not to say that it will be easy for them. But they know how to perform, they know how to win. Only a defeat apiece mars an otherwise unblemished record for both these teams. The up and down nature of the home teams is what is an imponderable in all this.

Neither away team will take the fixture lightly. Paris has to beat a big team eventually. It's a matter of probability and who is to say it won't be Veszprem on Sunday. Vardar, also, will fancy their chances against what looked a frail defence for Kielce last time out against Montpellier.

“I am part of all I have met” (Ulysses)

The fact is, after having pored over hours of games, I feel like I know these teams intimately. I know their weaknesses and strengths. I know their personalities and I feel a great affinity for them all. And yet, when the checks and balances are done, I can see reasons why each should win or each could lose.

It's a window of opportunity. A chance to fulfil dreams and repay faith.

I refer back to the “Kairos Moment” and its most important element.


Is there another more inspiring word!

“I am become a name” (Ulysses)

Could Vardar and PSG claim that mantle, if, they make it past this round?

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator