The Early Game

'Handball is an old game of uncertain age: 'old' because references to it occur in writings that date back to the eighteenth century; 'of uncertain age' because no one can say when someone first struck a ball against a wall. It has survived in various forms but it is always confined to two or three players. The ball was not always of rubber, the ball court did not always have four walls or even two, the players rarely wore any special attire. Local custom often decided the side to which the ball was to be served and if it were to be allowed to bounce more than once. Even the number of aces or points, which constituted a game, differed; some players favouring a 15-ace game and others a 21-ace game. It may, indeed, have been because of such differences that the game appealed to the 'characters' who, more than in any other sport that I know, abounded in handball. Unlike the team games of hurling and football with their claim on the support of entire parishes, handball was ever a game for the individual.

Only in a doubles game did he have to consider his partner and so he could, if he chose, play a distinctive game that differed from anyone else's. As a result, in handball there have always been players who were technically skilled and, of much more interest, others who displayed individual characteristics, amiable eccentricities, which made them remembered and their achievements recalled. The ballplayer in a singles match could indulge his temperament as he had no partner, no team mates to consider. He could attempt the spectacular 'kill' or essay the impossible return; he could command the occasion like a great actor within the proscenium arch of a ball court. The setting, too, was simple, with little to distract the eye from the 'stage' a sloping hillside where spectators sat, a clay of flogged floor, a front wall with or without sidewalls or wing-walls as they were sometimes called. Gerald Griffin describes such a scene in the first chapter of The Collegians when he talks of 'the young playing at ball, goal or other athletic exercises on the green while the old people drank together under the shade of trees'. '

(Extract from Mc Elligott, T.J (1984) 'Handball - The Game, the Players, the history')

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