Sydney Uni HC is kicking off its preparations for the 2019 season, and we take the opportunity to talk to coach Lionel Puyhardy, to find out more about the very unique handball project at Sydney Uni, the team, the challenges and his expectations for the upcoming season.
Tell us a little bit about you and your coaching career – how does one become the coach of the Australian champions and IHF Super Globe participants?
In my native France I coached a team in the women’s N1 amongst others, and after I moved to New Caledonia with my family, I coached the female national team there. Taking over Sydney Uni was a bit of a coincidence – a case of ‘right time, right place’ I guess – as I arrived in Sydney in 2016 just when the previous coach left. We gave it a go, it worked, and it’s been a great experience since.
What makes this project in Australia so special?
Firstly, one has to understand that Handball is not as developed in Australia, not comparable to Europe. The local handball community is small, but very close-knit. At Sydney Uni however, we see players from all over the world arrive every year – young hungry talents, students and even former professionals and Olympians. There is no other club in the world I think where this quality of players come together ‘just for fun’ and then get a chance to play against teams such as Barcelona, Montpellier, etc. It’s a very special project indeed.
What is the level of the team, and generally handball in Australia?
As the handball scene in Australia is small, the playing level varies greatly – but some of the teams are very competitive, mainly those in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. They have been consistently challenging us over the last few years for the top spot in Australia. The level of our team is usually comparable with that of a second or third division team in Europe – but some years we excel, like 2015 when we reached the semi finals of the Club World Cup. Generally we can say that we have become pretty competitive vs. the best Asian clubs.
What does your team look like?
Our squad changes every year! While the backbone consists of 8-10 players who are Australians or permanent residents here, the other 50% are new every year. Sydney is an awesome place to live and attracts people from all over the world, be it students, travellers or expat workers. So lots of handball players want to combine the famous Sydney beach lifestyle with continuing to play competitive handball.
Of course, the unique opportunity to play at the IHF Super Globe is a big draw card too. Young European players have maybe not reached a stage in their career yet to play against the EHF Champions League winners – and some experienced players see it as a ‘last opportunity’ to play in the Club World Cup. And to players from South America it’s often an opportunity to show themselves to European clubs and then get a contract there.
What unites all of them is the unique spirit in our club – an ‘amateur team’ in the truest sense. There is no money involved here, so when we play against the best club teams in the world, everyone does this for the love of handball, and because we want to prove that it’s possible for a small, non-professional handball club to compete against the big teams.
Last year, you had a prominent coach by your side for a short period – how was it working with Michael Roth?
Firstly, it was a great honor to coach with Michael. We developed a good relationship, preparing trainings and games together – and the important coaching decisions were taken together too. He brought in his tactical experience – making some small but effective adjustments to the way we operated as a team, and the way we play.
Given his great experience from decades in the Bundesliga, he was able to give give the team an ‘emotional boost’, give advice to the players on how they should go into the game for example, maybe even changing the mindset of the team a little. During the game, he provided the team tactical impulses, while my role was focused more on the players individually.
How is the team shaping up for 2019?
Like every year, it’s a new beginning in January and we don’t quite know yet what the team will look like in 6 months when it counts. We have already had a number of great new players join us, but the squad is by no means complete. On most positions there is still room for additional players – anyone interested in an amazing handball adventure can get in touch via email email@example.com
The plan is to work with a fairly broad squad to prepare for the first highlight of the year, the Oceania Club Championships which usually take place in May/June. Out of this squad, we then select the 16 players who travel to the IHF Super Globe with us, which this year will take place in Saudi Arabia in September 2019.
Who are the participants at the IHF Super Globe?
Barcelona will be there as title holder, plus the five continental club champions. The winner of the EHF Champions League will be determined on 1/2 June, the South American Champions usually are Brazilian teams, Taubate or Pinheiros. The African champions Cup winners usually come from Tunisia or Egypt and the Asian champions have often been teams from Qatar, while last year it was Al-Najma from Bahrain. The there is also a team from the host nation, plus a Wild Card team from Europe – often the EHF Cup winner.
Your expectations for this year?
We’ve won the Australian and Oceania championships for the last 6 years – so of course there is pressure and an expectation that we win these titles again. But every year is different, our team changes, the other teams in Australia get better too – we know we have to work hard if we want to repeat last years’ successes. The big goal is of course to qualify for the IHF Super Globe again, and better our previous results there. Given the club world cup will be held in Saudi Arabia for the first time this year, it would be a new and exciting experience in many ways.