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CHRIS O’REILLY: “Handball and the arts work well together and give me a breath of fresh air”



PHOTO CREDIT: Kolektiff Images / EHF

Coming from Ireland, not known as a handball country yet handball is almost his whole life. Playing indoor and beach handball, commentating on games, co-hosting a handball podcast…On all of that, add a little bit of flavor of art – you get Chris O’Reilly, the honored guest of our interview. Handball player, sports & media guy, handball commentator, and art director. Mr O’Reilly will join us at Jarun Cup in two different roles – as a beach handball player and for the first time ever as a commentator. What are his expectations, how did he got involved with handball? Find all about it in the interview ahead of the 15th edition of the tournament.


Handball is practically your whole life. You were/are playing handball, You are working in handball. Everything is handball, so tell us why handball? How did You get involved in this sport?

For me as an Irish person, it’s quite an unusual story. Like most Irish kids I would have played a lot of other sports, so football, two Irish sports Gaelic football and hurling, and a tiny bit of rugby. Then when I started secondary school at the age of 11 there was a Ukrainian family that moved to my hometown, which is just outside of Dublin. The parents had played handball, and they wanted their son to be able to play. So the mother of the family – Olena Karpenko offered to the school I was into to teach us a couple of times a week. I was in the first year of secondary school there and I took it up, just to try it out. I’ve seen it at the Olympics, and I think that was the only real exposure to it, maybe a tiny bit of magazine programs on TV, but besides that, it doesn’t really exist in the media. In Ireland particularly not back when I was 11. I just picked it up from there and fell in love with the sport. There was a group of us in school who stuck with it and Olena has done an amazing job in my hometown ever since continuing to spread her passion for the sport and develop more players. Another player who will be playing in Jarun Cup, together with me on the Irish club team, is Blake, who is also from my hometown, so we are two different generations who got involved in the sport thanks to the Olena and the whole Karpenko family.

You seem like a very busy guy as You are a sports media freelancer, working with the European Handball Federation as a handball commentator, co-hosting an “(Un)informed Handball Hour podcast, Gothenburg Fringe director. Do you have time to play handball Yourself? How do You manage to do it all? What motivates You throughout the day?

I do play a little bit now, a lot less than I used to. Now I am just playing for fun with a club called IK Celtic, I don’t have so much time for training anymore but whenever I can I try to join some matches and I hope to organize myself a little bit better to play more often. In the summer I try to get some beach handball in as well, which is why I am really excited to be at Jarun Cup and also get to play at the tournament. I work 50-50 basically between sports, media, and work in culture with the Gothenburg Fringe festival and I love both sides of it. At the moment I can’t think of anything else besides these two very different worlds – sports and arts. But they wreck well together, they give me a breath of fresh air. And how do I find the time? Well, sometimes I am not very efficient in how I manage it. Sometimes I work too hard, and sometimes not enough, but I think I am getting better at that. Finding the balance between all these working jobs and also my passions, but that’s the key thing I think. Working with things I am passionate about – so both handball and working in culture are things I always thought I would love to do. Sometimes doesn’t feel like a job at all.

Commentating on beach handball is not unknown to You. How are You feeling ahead of Jarun Cup since this will be Your first time as a commentator of the tournament?

Yes this will be the first time I am commentating on the Jarun Cup and I am really excited about that. It was in Zagreb, at Lake Jarun at the beach handball EURO in 2017 that I commentated on beach handball for the first time, so it’s nice to be able to come back. I remember the area being fantastic, I am guessing the organization will be very similar and from seeing other people from beach handball going over to the Jarun Cup every year, and looking at it from afar, it has always looked like a good time, even if the weather is not always guaranteed to be perfect, I am sure it will be great. Looking forward to not just commentating on it but also to play a little bit as well. That will be interesting, coming from the court having played and then talking about it on the broadcast. But, I think it’s a great step forward and I think beach handball really needs it as well. It’s a sport once people get to know, that they really fall in love with. People watching it for the first time, it’s not always as obvious as other sports and how it works. So I think it’s great to have somebody there as a commentator to guide people through who are going to be watching it for the first time. There are a lot of interesting characters in the sports, so hopefully we can give people a flavor of that.

This will not be Your first time working in Zagreb, since You’ve worked at EHF EURO 2018. Which role is more challenging? Being the beach handball or indoor handball commentator?

I worked at the Beach Handball EURO 2017 and also have been in Zagreb for the EHF EURO 2018. I have also been in Zagreb a number of times for the Champions League as well. I really enjoy being in Zagreb.

Particularly with weeks like this, there is a lot more people I won’t know. Usually with indoor handball, you have a better idea of the squads because they don’t change so much, whereas in beach handball it changes a lot, in every single tournament. Teams are quite a bit different, it’s not so easy to research the teams beforehand. So I think there will be a lot of short-term planning and a lot of short-term homework being done and whereas I like to know every single player playing in the matches that might not be possible here at the Jarun Cup. But I am looking forward for that challenge as well.

Do You consider Your job as a commentator, or podcast co-host to be much easier when You have a handball background, meaning being on the other side of the microphone?

Having a handball background is really important in these things as a commentator and hosting a podcast as well because you need to have knowledge of the sport, and that’s the most important thing. I have heard other people commentating not just handball, but other sports as well, who don’t really know the sport or are not as heavily involved in it. Yes, they can do an okay job, but it lacks a real kind of passion for it. Just the confidence of knowing that you have an idea of what is going on, because I think a lot of people watching the sport know the basics, they don’t need to be told everything that is happening right in front of their face, but it’s good to be able to give some new nuance to what is happening on the court and therefore I think that having some background in it or being involved in it, playing at whatever level and also knowing the people as well, having met them, having commentating on them before or playing against them that is very helpful as well.

Could You tell us what Your preparation process for one match as a commentator looks like? 

It’s like I mentioned before, I like to know all the players that are playing, so I am making sure I know who is in the squad, what positions they play in, and have an idea of how they’ve been doing recently. Besides that, then facts on information about the teams that are playing, how their recent form is, so if I can watch some recent games I do that. Often for the Champions League or the Bundesliga which I am commentating on as well, I have a good overview because I am watching and commentating a lot of the same teams over and over again. When it comes to the national teams, again they can change a little bit so a bit more work goes into it. For beach handball, there will be a lot more changes in the teams from the last time I commentated on them. The last time was for the EBT Finals at Champions Cup last year and also the European Championship. I will do the European Championship this year in Portugal, so Jarun Cup is a great preparation for me as well, seeing the national teams and national team players who are playing for some other clubs. For Jarun Cup it’ll be a little bit of preparation on the go, preparation while playing against some of the teams and then also that will be great preparation for me for later in the summer.

It’s the big anniversary of the tournament this year. What are Your expectations ahead of the 15thedition of the Jarun Cup?

That’s fantastic news. I have been looking at it from afar for the last few years, seeing what a great time everyone has when they head over to Jarun Cup. It’s the big opening competition of the season, which I think is fantastic. I think it will be a really high-level tournament with the national teams that are preparing for the European Championships later in the year. I think that will make for a really good competition. It makes me a little bit nervous as somebody who will be playing at the tournament with a very inexperienced team, but that’s also very exciting to be able to play against such high-level players. It’ll set the tone for the rest of the year. I guess a lot of the teams will be using it as a chance to figure out things for the rest of the year see how best to prepare themselves for the other big competitions coming up later. Overall, I think the spirit of beach handball is clear with every single tournament I’ve gone to work in or play in and that’s the main thing I am expecting and looking forward to – getting into that beach handball spirit.

What would be Your message to the audience to invite them to follow the Jarun Cup this year?

Get a feel for the experience, get a feel for the beach handball atmosphere at the Jarun Cup. It’s a great organization, the courts are fantastic, and it’s a brilliant location. The teams will be at a very high level as well and for the first time wherever you are watching around the world you’ll have a chance to have some English commentary, so I will do my best to convey all of that good stuff to you. Head on over to follow the games at the Jarun Cup, join me in the commentary booth, and maybe see me play some games as well. It will be a great few days and a great way to celebrate the 15th edition of the competition.