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World handball champion faces a return to the day job after cut in funding

By Declan Bogue

Published 27/08/2015

Aisling Reilly claimed world titles in singles and doubles in Calgary, Canada
Aisling Reilly claimed world titles in singles and doubles in Calgary, Canada

A Belfast world champion handball player will have to give up her sporting ambitions after her grant from Sport NI was cut.

The news emerges just days since Aisling Reilly, from the St Paul's club, claimed world titles in both singles and doubles at the world championships, held at University of Calgary, Canada.

"I have been on a career break since 2013 and have been a full-time athlete," Reilly explained to the Belfast Telegraph, after beating Catriona Casey in the final last Friday.

"My funding was coming from Sport NI, but it was cut in March with the budget cuts. From March, I am not funded anymore and I am going to have to go back to work."

Before she went full-time at her sport, Reilly was a civil servant, but is unsure what path to pursue for her work.

She explained that while the grant on offer was no fortune - "It just covers your day-to-day living and allows you to go training" - it was necessary in order to become part of the Elite Athlete programme at the Sports Institute of Northern Ireland.

"It just allowed me to go training in the mornings, get all my physio and everything I needed throughout the day," Aisling said. "Beforehand, I was going to work at 7am, training before that, coming out at my lunch break to get physio, and going back to work after that. It was very draining."

She added: "Finding a job is going to be hard and trying to do this full-time is going to be very difficult. It is something I want to keep doing for as long as I can.

"I want to be the best in the sport for the next three or four years, or as long as I have left. I am going to do everything I can to maximise my chances but I just don't know what my next move will be."

The results of her full-time training have been spectacular. Before the world championships, she and Cork's Catriona Casey had alternated between the top two seeds.

Casey's move to America brought her the US Nationals and United States Handball Association Collegiate Championship, enough for American handball promoter Dave Vincent to hail her as possibly the greatest ever female player.

However, after beating New York's Shirley Chen and Tracy Davis of California, Reilly mastered the challenge of Ciana Ni Churaoin of Galway in the semi-final to line up a clash with Casey in the final.

She went on to secure the singles title, and sealed the doubles title along with partner, Martina McMahon of Limerick, last Friday, beating Casey and her partner Aisling O'Keefe.

Her progress she dedicates to the team at the Sports Institute of NI and her strength and conditioning coach, Peter Smith.

"I don't need to look after my training and my programmes, Peter looks after all of that for me," Aisling said. "In evening times I have to look after what I do in the court, that's my responsibility."

While in Calgary, Team Ireland stayed at the site of the former Winter Olympics Village from 1988. They were supported by the Handball Association, but when Reilly usually goes to America around four times a year for tournaments, she has to organise her own accommodation, places to eat and physio care.

This Sunday, she will be introduced to the crowd at Croke Park when Dublin meet Mayo in the All-Ireland football semi-final, before a homecoming party at the St Paul's Complex on Shaw's Road.

Belfast Telegraph

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