Shiver me timbersArticle
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BLOG: The VELUX EHF FINAL4 has become like a holy grove of trees, a sanctuary for handball players and fans alike, Tom O'Brannagain writes in his penultimate blog of the season.

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Shiver me timbers

It seems incredible as I sit to write, that this will be the seventh edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Seven is such a mystical number. Just think of the Seven seas, the ancient wonders of the world, the hills of Rome and the continents of the world.

Who would have thought all those years ago that such a seedling of an idea would become the most sought after event in the calendar of handball?

And suddenly an old saying came to mind: “From little acorns, mighty oaks grow”

The FINAL4 has become a mighty oak, the mightiest of all trees. Throughout the major cultures of Europe, the oak tree is held in the highest esteem.

It is the most venerated of trees and is most associated with the supreme gods in their pantheon. This event, nay, this stellar event, has become like a holy grove of trees, a sanctuary for handball players and fans alike.

In Cologne in Germany:
“The holy tree is growing there” (Yeats)

Every kid growing up in Ireland, particularly in my generation, was read the great legends and Celtic mythologies and it is not surprising that trees play a prominent part in our culture and language.

The word druid comes from the word “Dair” (Gaelic for oak) and they were ostensibly “men of the oak”. Yeats, one of our Nobel laureates married that mysticism and history in his poetry and I have drawn from his fountain in this piece.

The more I thought about handball, the men involved, the FINAL4 and the teams; the more I felt there was a link to trees. Call it the ancient in me, but there is a life giving force in woods and forests.

The men who display their skills on the court in the LANXESS are the new-age druids, the wizards, the men of oak. They are strong, tall and proud. In their highest boughs the world rustles and their roots rest in infinity.

A tree might say that it has a hidden seed, a thought, and a possibility. Give it the proper conditions and it will grow. Surely the parallel is there to see. The FINAL4 has given the kernels of handball the chance to flourish.

The young men that participate have the chance to plant the seed for generations to come. And should they emerge victorious, you might picture them wearing the ancient crown of oak leaves, reserved for those of great prowess.

The FINAL4 is an event of strength and durability, both in its form and for those who participate. It is the pinnacle of the toughest of qualification processes. It comes at the end of a punishing season and yet in the surety of their hidden roots, these teams will find the necessary reserves of strength to compete.

Each player among them is a solitary man, but they compete as a family that has branched out into a community, that accesses the soil of a nation.

In all, four disparate nations will take part for the second time in the FINAL4, each club drawing from the well of far flung nations. Each year, the event is, by its very nature, transient, impermanent, something that lasts only for a short time, but the history echoes through the ages.

How many great players have never taken part? How many never will in the future? Only 11 clubs have ever competed at this event.

The FINAL4 is in Yeat’s words:

”The changing colour of its fruits”

Nothing is holier and nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful strong tree. For me the sense of wonderment that comes from a walk among the groves is comparable with my job as a commentator for the matches. Yeats would say:

“The shaking of its leafy head,
Has given the waves their melody,
And made my lips and music wed,
Murmuring a wizard song for thee”.

I can only hope that the magic that plays out on the court is echoed in my wizard song. We can never truly do justice to the exceptional athleticism that we witness, the intricate dance of nature and nurture. It always “leaves” me breathless.

I never knew this, but apparently the oak tree is the most susceptible to lightning. But only for one team can lightning strike for a third time. That team is Kiel. PSG is a sapling at this event. Kielce and Veszprem have a few more rings on their trunks. Who could win is anyone’s guess.

I wish this perennial phenomenon the longevity of a mighty oak. It has branched out in a way, I could never have believed. The house of handball is built of the strongest and sturdiest wood. I wish upon it only this:

“And pluck til time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun”


TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator