Hannon is new kingpin of handball in Ireland

Last weekend in Mullingar, St. Comans Roscommon clubman Tony Hannon was elected to the highest office in the sport of handball in this country when he became the  President-elect of the Irish Handball Association. He will serve one year as Presedent-elect before taking up his role in April 2008.   A native of Sligo Tony has lived in Roscommon Town since 1980 and he has won All-Ireland medals for St. Comans and Roscommon as well as being an administrator at club and county level in both Roscommon and Sligo.   Married to Frances, Tony has two sons, Jason and David and two daughters, Sharon and Elaine. I spoke to Tony on Wednesday about his lifetime in the game of handball and his new role. When did your interest in handball start? My late father was a huge handball enthusiast and was secretary of the handball club in my home town of Ballymote, Co. Sligo so I began playing early and I represented Sligo at minor level. Even at an early age I was an administrator with my club and county in Sligo. When I joined the Gardai I worked in Clare and I didn’t play while I was there but in 1980 my father passed away and I came to Roscommon and I wasn’t long here when I was coaxed back to play and I’ve never looked back since. Who were the people who influenced you here in Roscommon when you came here? Packie Hoare was the biggest influence because he was such a father-figure at the club and then in latter years there were others like Michael Naughten and Felix Kiernan but I loved playing the game and there is such an interest in Roscommon in handball it was easy to keep it going over the years. We are very lucky in Roscommon because we have some of the best administrators in the country. People like Mark O’Gara and Michael and Ann Naughten and many others are worth their weight in gold. We are so lucky to have people of their ability. How did your playing career go? I loved playing and I was lucky enough to win a number of All-Irelands playing with Stephen French, Martin Bruen, PJ Moran and Mickey Walshe. All the titles I won  were doubles so I suppose you couldn’t call me a loner! I have made some great friends playing handball and the link between handball and the other gaelic games is huge here in Roscommon. Mark O’Gara won an All-Ireland medal at football (U 21) and All-Ireland handball medal the same year (1966). Pat Clarke was another with honours at both codes and it continues to this day. There is a huge interest in Co Roscommon in handball. That’s a big help? Yes it is. We have had wonderful players down through the years all over the county and especially at St. Comans. It is great to see such talented young players as Rikki O’ Gara, Damien Martin, Chris Doolin and many others realising their potential and of course we have many brilliant young players especially the girls who are winning All-Irelands all around them in recent years. People like Ann Naughten have done so much work in the area of juvenile handball over the years. Tell me about the election and why you decided to throw your hat in the ring? I served as an administrator in Sligo and Roscommon at club and county level and  I was persuaded to run this year. The election took place last weekend at the Annual Convention in Mullingar and there were two other candidates, Walter O’ Connor of Meath and Richard Willoughby of Wicklow and in the end I beat Walter by just one vote to win. It’s a great honour for me and I am looking forward to my term. I will just be the President-elect for a year before my two-year term starts next year. How would you rate the standard of handball in the country as a whole right now? It has never been as high. We have the official world champion (Paul Brady) and several other brilliant senior players such as Eoin Kennedy who are as good as any players that have ever played the game. There has also been a massive rise in the number of young people playing the game – male and female – and it has led to a big rise in standards all round. The standard of facilities are improving all the time and we are really looking forward to the completion of the new handball alley complex in Croke Park where they are building four 40 x 20 and two 60 x 30 state-of-the-art alleys. These will be ready for 2010 and in good time for the World Champioinsips which will be held here in 2012. Are you happy that the game has a high enough profile? No. We need to do a lot of work in his area. Handball is a game for male and female from the ages of 8 to 80. There are categories and grades to suit every player and it is a great way for people to exercise and stay fit throughout their lives. A lot of people do not realise that handball is a truly international sport. It is played in the USA, The UK, Canada, Mexico and Australia and the one-wall version is played in Spain, Italy, Belgium and in South America. It should have a far higher profile here and I intend to work on that. What will your priorities be in office? A huge priority will be to raise the profile of the game as I have said. I have been very disappointed at the lack of any meaningful TV coverage of handball over the years. I will be meeting with Nicky Brennan (GAA President) to outline our demands with regard to improved TV coverage when the GAA sit down with the companies to do the next deak for the TV coverage of Gaelic Games.   I also want to ensure the development of the game throughout the country is improved and that the development of juvenile handball will be strengthened too. Your new role will involve a lot travelling. Will that bother you?   Not really. It’s a great honour for me and I am looking forwrd to the challenge of the role. For me handball is the greatest game in the world and I will be very proud to lead the Association and I am looking forward to my year as President-elect to learn the role and the to the two years in office.