Teqball pioneers hope to inspire a new sport learning curve
AS a primary school teacher, Gaelic footballer, and Championship soccer player, Mark Kelly wouldn’t normally have much spare time.
Yet the past year hasn’t been normal, of course. Rather than baking banana bread or learning a musical instrument, though, he’s decided to introduce a new sport to Northern Ireland.
Teqball is effectively a form of ‘football table tennis’, but played on a table with a specially curved surface, with either one v one or two v two players.
A host of soccer greats, past and present, including the likes of Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, and Ronaldinho, have tried their heads and feet at the game.
With the footballs currently put away for both his GAA club Cargin and Championship soccer side Newry City, Kelly has become a Teqball pioneer, along with friends J B Dobbin and Samuel McIlveen of Ballyclare Comrades, after this season’s Championship was cancelled earlier this month.
“We were lucky that we got the [Antrim senior football championship] played [with Cargin] last year and then I joined up with Newry. I got a bit of an injury but I was working towards some kind of a season – and then the news came…
“The two fellas I’m doing this with play with Ballyclare, in the same league [NIFL Championship].
“Before Christmas we couldn’t go and play five-a-side or rent halls. We were doing some running but one of them suggested ‘Why don’t we try that Teqball?’”
Kelly, who teaches at St Paul’s PS in Beechmount, Belfast, spotted Teqball online and decided he had to get involved: “Scrolling through social media, I saw Man City and Spurs and other clubs using them. The way the soccer scene is going here, getting more professional, I thought it would be coming over to Ireland soon.
“We got a table and played 1 v 1, then got another fella involved and played 2 v 2, and started really to get into it.
“We invited other friends up at different times, keeping within the restrictions, and set up a wee ‘Antrim’ group and began to think ‘there could be a real interest in this’.
“Especially with lockdown, God knows when we’re going to be able to get 22 together for a game of football or 30 for a game of Gaelic. We thought ‘This might be a runner’, let’s try to give as many people as possible the opportunity to play this, within these restrictions.”
As its name suggests, Teqball helps improve technique, as the self-deprecating Kelly points out: “I definitely wouldn’t have the best first touch, being honest with you, I’m more of a battering ram. In 2 v 2 the other guy can tap it up in the air and I can head it down.
“There’s that idea about having so many thousand touches [of a ball] each year in order to make improvements – you’re getting hundreds of touches in each game [of Teqball], which is brilliant. It’s a good way to sharpen your skills.”
The level of interest is including from Cargin clubmates: “Mick and Tomas McCann have been torturing me asking when they’re going to get a game.
“I’ve had a quite a few GAA players contacting me [via a Facebook page and Twitter @TeqballNI] and Irish League Premiership boys as well, asking ‘When is this available?’
“Samuel is a coach, involved with Ballyclare Colts and runs camps and parents are wanting to know when their kids can try it out too. There’s big interest around it.
“Teenagers can play it no problem, and we might amend our rules slightly for some players, allowing it to bounce once off the table, for example, just to make it as inclusive as possible.”
Lockdown and downpours have limited the time they’ve been able to play recently: “We’re just keeping it in one of the boys’ sheds and if it’s not raining we pull it outdoors.
“Right up to December 23rd we were having games of 2 v 2 – then the restrictions came in over the Christmas period. We haven’t been able to play as much since that hard lockdown.”
However, as the weather improves and restrictions ease, Kelly sees a bright future for Teqball: “We’d really want to have tournaments in Antrim, a base, where you can go and play a game of Teqball with your mates, rent a table for an hour, that sort of thing.
“Initially we want to promote it. Long-term we’d like people to get their own Teqball tables and expand it, have tournaments and so on. It might be something schools or clubs get, just another sport for people to play.”