Growing up as a teenage in 1990s Cavan, Paul Brady always dreamt of winning world titles. The handballer’s singing namesake once penned a song, ‘Crazy Dreams’, and perhaps the dream of five consecutive world titles is one of the former Cavan footballer’s craziest ever. Now, the 35-year-old is on the brink of making an outlandish childhood dream a reality as he travels to Calgary, Canada to compete in the World Championships.
“It’s hard to put into words how I feel about going for a fifth title; it’s not something I think about too often.
“Obviously, I’m very proud of my achievements to date, but I try not to think about what’s gone before.
“I take every tournament and every game on its own – I just want to keep winning.”
Thousands of hours have been spent in the handball alleys of Ireland by arguably, the greatest handballer to ever live, but he does not see it as a sacrifice; Brady quantifies it as a choice he made to pursue greatness.
“I’ve always wanted to be the best; it’s an innate part of me and I suppose that means I’m never short of that desire or drive to win,” explained Brady, also known as ‘Gunner’.
“I started playing handball at 12, which is late for most players.
“I suppose I got addicted very quickly and in a way, it chose me, rather than me choosing it.”
Brady enjoyed some success in the early years, but in 1997, a turning point came in his handballing career, when he won the 17 and Under World title in Winnipeg, Canada, beating top American, Brad Alesi.
“I was about to quit just before that, but once I won that title, I knew I could push on from there and, one by one, I focused on taking down the players ahead of me, Eoin Kennedy, Kenneth Kane and Tony Healy.”
In the coming years, Brady also took down World Number One, the USA’s David Chapman. In fact, Brady first victory over Chapman was for the biggest ever prize money in PRO Handball in 2004, when he defeated the American at the Washington Athletic Club, to collect $50,000.
“I knew once I bet him that day, I would always be able to get the better of him,” said Brady, and so the story continued as he paved a successful journey through the US PRO Tour over a few consecutive seasons. Despite enjoying success, the money on the PRO circuit was poor, with most tournament victories only offsetting the cost of the trips, with a little change to spare.
Brady also had sporting commitments, and hailing from a famous footballing clan, it was no surprise when he joined the Cavan senior football panel in 2002.
“I was 22 at the time, and up to that point, I had been concentrating on handball and had declined offers to join the under-21 panel in previous years,” recalled Brady.
“Over those few years, I was burning the candle at both ends in trying to establish myself in the county set up and still compete at the highest level in handball.”
On a number of occasions, the Mullahoran footballer was forced to play All-Ireland finals and championships inter-county games on consecutive days. However, in 2007, alongside long-term playing partner, Finnegan, he competed in the All-Ireland Senior Doubles final in Cappagh, Limerick at 12.30pm, where the duo defeated Mayo’s Joe McCann and Dessie Keegan. At 6pm, Brady lined out at wing-half back for Cavan in their Division 3 League semi-final against Roscommon in Croke Park.
“I remember getting to Dunboyne Castle Hotel after breaking speed limits to get there on time,” recalled Brady.
“I was so unsettled, I couldn’t eat and I didn’t play well that day at all; we lost, and I think I knew at that stage mixing both codes couldn’t last much longer.”
Brady was a dual-player for nine seasons, a feat that could not be undertaken for many seeking to be the best, but he undertook the challenge and eventually, he had to make the decision to choose one.
“It was an easy decision for me really; handball was always my first love and I knew, in order to be the best, I had to concentrate on my game,” explained the primary school teacher.
“Handball doesn’t get the same profile, but that was never my motivation; it is what it is and I try to enjoy everything I win now because I know I’m in bonus territory.”
Many will see this as Brady’s last crack at a World title and he is not short of motivation in the drive for five.
Story and pictures by gaahandball.ie