Bilyk is back on track
In 2020, Austria's national handball team achieved eighth place at the home Men’s EHF EURO, their best result so far. The decisive draw in the last main round match against Belarus was also the last appearance of team captain Nikola Bilyk for more than 18 months.
Last autumn, the 25-year-old celebrated his comeback after a one-year injury break: first for his club THW Kiel, then in the national team in the test matches against the Czech Republic in November.
After almost two years, the centre and left back has his next major tournament and official match ahead.
“I am extremely looking forward to the EHF EURO after this long injury break. I am sure all the team is highly motivated and everybody is counting the hours until it starts, like I am,” Bilyk says before the Austrian opener against Poland on Friday (20.30 CET, live on EHFTV) in group D in Bratislava.
Bilyk was the youngest of all players at the IHF Men’s World Championship 2015 in Qatar at the age of 18. Since then he made a special impact for the Austrian national team, until he tore his Achilles tendon in August 2020, the first major injury in his career.
“Above all, I learned to be patient. This time showed me once again how much I love handball and how cool it is to play in a team. You learn to appreciate the little things even more, such as the conversations with your teammates, the joint trips away on the bus. Definitely I learnt to deal with my time,” says Bilyk of his long rehabilitation period.
But as proved in the Bundesliga and the EHF Champions League, he is back on track again.
“The confidence in my body and in my knee increased from week to week. There were always steps ahead. I try not to bother with it a lot, and I am not afraid that something will happen again. A lot of self-confidence comes back through moments like here with the national team, where I have a lot of responsibility,” he reports.
Besides Poland, the Austrian side will face Germany and Belarus in their preliminary round – and the goal is clear: proceeding to the main round.
“I am sure all in our team are highly motivated and everybody is counting the hours until it starts. We play in an equal group, in which all teams can beat all opponents. We can win three matches, we can lose all of them. Against Poland, the key will be to crack their physical strong defence,” says Bilyk.
And although everybody knows that Bilyk is the spiritual leader of the team, he does not want to jump under the spotlight that much.
“Handball is a team sport. We can only be successful as a team. We have to function as a team and that is exactly what we are currently working on intensively. If we can do that, I am convinced that we can take another step forward,” he adds.
Austria had to cancel their final test matches against Slovakia, but had intense training sessions instead. Now they just want the starting whistle to be blown.
“Getting back on court in a major event is one of the reasons you started playing and you train so hard. It is a great fun to lead this team, a huge anticipation – and it even gets more, when you win some matches. I am ready for the EHF EURO,” says Bilyk, adding: “I love playing for Austria with the boys.”