It's huge in Ireland

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

To the Irish it's a national sport.

Right up there with hurling and Gaelic football.

The origins of handball can be traced back to ancient Egypt, however, it was in Ireland where the modern game evolved.

Because of that, it's little surprise the biggest contingent at the 2006 Waterford Crystal World Handball Championships hails from Ireland.

Over 300 Irish players are registered to take part in the event starting today in Sherwood Park and Edmonton.

"It's probably played in every village and town in Ireland," said Tom Walsh, president of the Irish Handball Council. "We have very good structures in place, clubs in every village and town, and they cater to underage players right up to players over-60."

Leading the Irish contingent at the event is current world doubles and singles champion Paul Brady. The most decorated Irish handball player ever, Brady is going into the event having already won the Irish and U.S. Open four-wall doubles and singles titles.

A victory in both events here in Edmonton would give him an unprecedented sweep this year.

On the women's side, Fiona Shannon is the one to beat. The Belfast native has won eight national championships and is the defending singles world champion.

"Paul is a very dedicated player," Walsh said. "He's played in many tournaments in the United States and he's very capable of beating the best you can put up against him. We're very lucky in that sense to have him - he's very good."

There are also a number of junior players who have come from Ireland to take part in the event.

Darragh Daly, 18, is competing in the men's under-19 tournament. The Carrickmore, Ireland native has been playing handball for the last eight years and is favoured to win the title.

"I would be here if I didn't think I could win," Daly said. "I'm looking forward to it. I don't know a lot about the players that I'm playing. I'm just going to go out and do my best and see how it goes."

Gary McCrory, 20, also of Carrickmore, is the top-ranked player in the Men's B event. This is his second world championship.

"Hopefully all goes well and I can go home a winner," he said. "When you ranked, if you're playing someone that is not ranked and they think they are better than you, then they're going to try to do whatever it takes to beat you."


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