Biggest tournament of Shannon's career
FIONA Shannon is heading into the biggest challenge of her handballing career.
Not only does the Antrim star regard the World Championships, which begin today, the ultimate tournament in handball, but a victory in Dublin this week would deliver an unprecedented fourth title in-a-row.
“That makes this year’s Worlds very important,” she said this week.
“But this year is just as important as any other year. It would be great to win a fourth though, but every year is really tough.”
At 34-years-of age Shannon has dominated the sport. Last year she won the GAA International Player of the Year award, and also the Ulster GAA writers award female handballer of the year.
Shannon is part of swathe of Ulster Handballers who are enjoying great success in the game. Indeed, Paul Brady, the Cavan handballing legend, is also bidding to win his fourth World Championship title in a row.
Like Brady, Shannon is expecting plenty of challengers to her throne.
“There are a lot of younger players coming up, who are really strong, so it will be tough,” she said.
“It is always a tough competition. But it’s always tough at the top. But I have trained hard, I’ve been working away on my skills, and I am ready.
“I am just looking forward to the first game, and trying to get that first game over.”
Winning three world championships in a row, and a litany of other titles is an incredible feat. But surely it must come down to more than just training hard.
“It is a mixture of everything, working on the physical side and the mental. You need to be mentally prepared, but you have to work on both aspects of it,” she said.
Unlike every other sport in the GAA [bar poc fada], handball singles is different because the pressure is on one person alone. There are no team mates to lift your spirits, and you have to deal your successes, and mistakes, on your own.
That pressure become all the greater when the handballers play in the biggest competition in the world.
“It is so different to any other major competition that we play in,” she said.
“It only happens every three years, and just the fact that it is called the world championships makes it important. You have the best in the world taking part.”
Though when Shannon talks about the best in the world, she’s inadvertently referring to herself. Her first appearance at the world Championships was in 2003, in Dublin, and she won, leading to an extraoridnary run of wins at the event. Yet Shannon said that competition has changed since then.
“This time your main opponents will be from the Irish players. When I started it was the Canadian and Americans that were the best, but now the Irish are in the top four. I suppose that since then the Canadians and Americans have retired and now the Irish are at the top.”
There is another reason why this year’s championships will be different, and better for that matter.
“I have been down to see the facilities. They are great, and it is also great that they are all in one area, for convenience. It keeps everybody together. It means that you can see everybody play, and you don’t have to travel much between venues.”
It also means that the supporters will have less travelling to do. Shannon said that there has been quite some excitement in the lead up to this year’s competition.
“I have got great support from family and friends. Everyone knows that it is on and have been wishing me well. It is good that it is going to be televised online which means that everyone will be able to watch it,” she said.
“Because it is in Ireland this year, there has been loads of coverage which is great for the game.”