Both Keelan Smith-Connor and Alex Lynch are in their mid-20s and each aspire to be an Olympian in their chosen sport of European Handball having represented Australia at Asian Championships.

That path is very difficult though given the qualification structure for Asian and Oceania countries. Both know that handballers can play until well into their 30s and are hopeful they’ll still be playing top level handball when Australia receives an automatic spot for Brisbane 2032.

Nevertheless, if events turn out otherwise, personal ambitions will be put to one side, because for these two UNSW handballers – who more than just play the sport they love – to inspire the next generation means everything.

“I’d be very happy even if I wasn't in the team knowing that we would have helped develop a very good team that would be competitive (at an Olympic Games),” Smith-Connor said.

“I'm hoping in the next 10 years, we'll be developing a team that could actually cause a few surprises on the world stage and make handball one of our staple sports.

“So that any kid, when they say, ‘We play handball’, they're not thinking 4 squares.

“They're thinking 40 by 20 metre courts with the sticky ball and renowned around the world.”

Lynch concurred with that sentiment.

“It's been a while since I started and it's always good to talk about where and how I started because I'm trying to get some of the kids to start again today, try and build up the sport a bit more,” he said.


Alex Lynch in goals at the 2022 Men's Handball Asian Championships, Credit - Chris Seen Photography.
Alex Lynch in goals at the 2022 Men's Handball Asian Championships in Saudi Arabia (Photo: Chris Seen Photography).


Lynch started playing the game in 2009 when still at high school in Queensland going on to represent the Sunshine State at underage level.

“We were a bit over playing just the normal mainstream sports,” said Lynch of his high school experience. He joined the UNSW Handball club last year after moving south for work as a sales account manager for Dell Technologies Australia.

Smith-Connor completed a UNSW Bachelor of Commerce between 2013-2015, followed by his Master of Taxation in 2019, and is now a Senior Tax Officer with the Australian Taxation Office.

“(My beginnings in handball) go back to the Sydney Olympics,” Smith-Connor said.

“Dad was a volunteer at the Paralympics…and as part of that we got given these VCRs of all the different sports, and one of those was handball.

“I still remember that video of the guy explaining European Handball to Australians.

“I grew up on the Central Coast, so there wasn't really much going on up there for handball, but I was always aware of it.”

Wanting to make friends and go to Uni Games led to some tryouts and Smith-Connor found himself hooked.

“I tried out for the soccer and basketball teams, and saw that handball was an option (and thought) this will be my opportunity to give that a try and get to go to Uni Games. Luckily enough, I was selected in 2014,” he said.

“I’ve been a Uni games tragic ever since, I was going to be the team coach last year as an alumnus.”

In January, Lynch and Smith-Connor travelled to Saudi Arabia as part of the Australian Men’s Handball squad for the Asian Championships, a tournament severely affected by COVID for the Australians.

The team was forced to forfeit three of its seven matches due to the impact of COVID-19. Unfortunately, both Smith-Connor and Lynch contracted the virus, although they recovered to play four and three matches respectively.

“We had COVID, we had injuries, just everything went wrong,” said 26-year-old Lynch, who is a goalkeeper. Smith-Connor, 27, plays a position called the pivot.

Of the seven players from each side on court, the pivot stands in the “defensive line and causes a ruckus basically.”

Australia won one of its four matches, defeating India, which both men were part of. The team also played the very strong nations of Iran and hosts Saudi Arabia.

“They were always going to be tough times when we when we got drawn against them,” Lynch said.

“And India was a really, really good contest for us because we're very similar skill-wise.

“It was a good competition (despite the setbacks), I still take a lot of things out of this competition.

“I was very happy that Keelan and I were part of the only win that we got on tour, which was against India, in the group stage.”

Smith-Connor added that “there was a group of guys who pretty much got sick in the first week and were in isolation for seven days, then the rest of the team caught COVID halfway through, (having) to isolate the second week we were there.”

“We had a revolving door team was how we coined it.”

The tournament was their second Asian Championships after both debuting in Kuwait during 2020.

It was a difficult preparation leading into January’s Asian Championships given not much handball was able to be played at a club or state level due to the pandemic.

At club level, in Sydney, there are four clubs which each enter a team in the men’s competition, and three compete in the women’s league.

Then there is the Oceania Club Championships, usually over four days, the winner of which qualifies for an Inter-Club World Cup called Super Globe.

“Sydney Uni wins (Oceania Club Championships) a lot … but we’re getting there every year, edging closer to being competitive,” Smith-Connor said.

There is also a state-based competition with invitational teams from the Pacific and New Zealand, and it is from this from these competitions, that generally, invitations are issued for the end of year national selection process.

On a club executive of five, Smith-Connor looks after the finances as treasurer and Lynch takes care of social media, doing whatever they can to keep the UNSW Handball club ticking and build the sport.

“The women’s team is a bit smaller, so maybe it's about 10 or 11 (women),” Smith-Connor said. “There would be about 25 men.”

The UNSW Handball club has got their season under way in recent weeks after eight months with no play.

Keelan Smith-Connor at the 2022 Men's Handball Asian Championships, Credit - Chris Seen Photography.

Keelan Smith-Connor at the 2022 Men's Handball Asian Championships in Saudi Arabia (Photo: Chris Seen Photography).