It's a true fairy taleArticle
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BLOG: The women's club season culminated in a fascinating fashion last weekend in Budapest and the ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain offers a fairy tale for a long summer sleep.

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It's a true fairy tale

IT was the best of times, it was the worst of times or to paraphrase Dickens it was the worst of days, it was the best of days. Because if you compare the two days of the handball festival they were like chalk and cheese.

Semi-finals are never easy. Nerves, pressure and a determination to do well can overwhelm. In the case of Vardar this is certainly the case as the wilted under the onslaught of Bucharest.

The game was never a contest as once again Vardar failed to deliver in another year, in another semi-final. At this stage it's a curse and a dose of holy water and horse shoes in their baggage is in order.

The second semi-final lacked any intensity and as a spectacle was not one that puts women's handball in any kind of spotlight.

By contrast the first game was intense. In fact it was too intense. I'm all for physicality in our game, but not brutality. I'm too long in the tooth now to mince my words.

This game was not a good advert for women's handball. The purists will say that it was a defensive game, well my two old eyes saw something completely different.

And that was a cynical side of the game that I do not wish for my sport. Buducnost are no wilting wallflowers when it comes to defending, but it is on a level that I find unforgivable.

The idea that it is acceptable to stop your opponent at any cost is repulsive to me in the game and it is the bedrock of their philosophy. Györ are no innocents or shrinking violets themselves when it came to facing up to it and the game descended into a war.

The difference between the two teams was that Györ showed a cleverer side of defending, not always depending on a cynical foul but rather stopping the runner, cutting off space.

Whereas last year Buducnost cruised to a facile victory here, this year they were found out. If the initial contact doesn't stop the attack, then there is space around them. Teams have found their weakness and can exploit it.

Faith restored

If I returned to my hotel room a broken man after the first day, then the second restored my faith in this great game.

The third place game between Vardar and Buducnost was played almost like an exhibition game. Two teams wanted to play and we got a brilliant game. 58 goals and some sumptuous play from both teams show what they are capable of.

We saw two different sides of Vardar, but also a different side to Buducnost. The cynicism was still there, but to a lesser degree and the game blossomed as a result.

The final was a classic. I mean a true feast. It had everything. It went to penalties and Bucharest won. They were a breath of fresh air and their victory broke the stranglehold of the big clubs. It also showed me that women's handball deserves a true expert in their field. That is not I.

Here were my predictions:

Györ to beat Buducnost: Correct
Vardar to beat Bucharest: Wrong
Buducnost to beat Vardar: Wrong
Györ to beat Bucharest: Wrong

Can you see the slippery slope there. Although I had prepared as best I could, nothing could have prepared me for the speed and excellence with which Bucharest played. In an away arena, they never succumbed to the pressure.

Maybe looking back at the Vardar game, I underestimated the power of the girls from Bucharest. The television matches do them no justice.

They are a well-oiled machine and they are worthy champions. If the men's side of the game deserves a commentator that travels to watch the games, then if we want to see the women's side progress to the same level, then we must, we are duty bound to implement the same strategy.

In case you think I didn't enjoy myself, nothing could be further from the truth.

Let me tell you a little story. It's a true fairy tale ...

Once upon a time there was a little princess named Bella. Not the girl from Beauty and the Beast, but a little girl from Sweden. She loved handball and wanted one day to play at the top level.

On Sunday 8 May, the erstwhile princess became the queen of European handball.

Her arm is gold dust, she has a handball brain, her speed is deceptive, she is the perfect playmaker, she is the top-scorer and she is a Champions league winner.  

Her name, for today at least, is "Bella Golden".

TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator