The Navarrese shovel has been orphaned in professionalism after the withdrawal of Xabier Ibargaray Iribarren (Erratzu, 10/19/1985). It has been a bittersweet farewell since the defender played his last game with the Innpala company on January 8, 2021. Weeks later, a hammer blow at home to the little finger of his left hand cut everything short. Ibargaray has suffered an ordeal this year, but has been able to pick up a shovel again.
However, the Erratzu paddler’s record since he debuted in 2008 is enviable: three pairs, two singles and three International Opens. But above all, he is the defender who has played the most individual finals with six. “It’s been a wonderful 14 years and I’ve fulfilled a dream,” he says.
How are you?
-I had already made up my mind that this was over. Being a year off and not being able to play, and even if you want to come back, the company is not going to trust you like before.
February 17, 2021. What do you remember about that day?
–I went to the health center with a sprained finger (little finger on my left hand) and they put it in. They told me that in principle it was a dislocation and that I didn’t have to worry. Fifteen days later the finger was still crooked, there was no way to bend it. They sent me to the traumatologist in Pamplona and told me that his finger was broken and that there could be something else. Then I went to rehab and the finger didn’t get any better. They sent me to Ubarmin to operate but they told me that it was not a guarantee either. They were going to delay the operation until October.
How was the injury?
-At that time a friend of my wife told me that there was a very good physio in Beasain. There I began to see some light. The tendon was not ruptured and an MRI had to be done first. I went to a doctor in Donosti, all this for private reasons of course. It had pulleys C1 to C2 and had to be operated on. I had to think about the operation because I couldn’t afford it and the doctor called me with the solution: to infiltrate my finger and a custom-made splint. I can’t stretch my finger, but I can lead a normal life.
Have you tried training?
-I have trained something with a short shovel in the town. With good feelings, impaling well. Switching to a more affordable tool is always easier. I also don’t want to put pressure on myself. If I fit to play, go ahead and if not, nothing happens.
“Playing against the best has been a motivation to get the best out of me”
On a mental level, how has this year stopped?
-The first months were fucked. Summer comes, the finger does not respond. Autumn arrives and the finger is still just as bad. Little by little you have to go through mourning. I spend a lot of time with my wife and children, and they have been very supportive. In the end, for them and for everything I have pushed forward and I have been able to turn it around.
His goal “between eyebrows” was to be the defender with the most individual finals.
-I am proud to be the defender who has played the most individual finals and has won the most txapelas. I have always liked Individual.
Was it your favorite tournament?
–Yes, with a difference. You depend on yourself and that’s where you see what you really play. If you have a bad day you go home. If it happens to you in Couples you can add with your partner and you can take the game forward.
With what remains of these years of professional?
–Especially with the fact that I have fulfilled a dream. I have faced the best like (Vladimir) Luján, Gaubeka, Fusto, Imanol€ Playing against them has been a pleasure and an extra motivation every day to give my best. It has been 14 wonderful years. I stay with the companions. In the end it was sad, but I was able to enjoy what I wanted and I showed the level that I had.
You will be 37 years old, do you think you still have years left?
-Yes. You only have to see that Fusto is 41, Gaubeka 44 and they continue to fight. The shovel is a sport that allows you to further extend your career.
“The 2019 individual txapela is the one that made me most excited because it was the result of years of work and the effort of my parents who brought me down to train in Pamplona as a child”
What is the txapela that you remember most fondly?
-The 2019 Individual was the one that made me most excited without a doubt. It was everything. It was the result of years of work and the efforts of my parents who brought me down to Pamplona to train for two days when I was younger. I also had an injury in 2018, I returned to a good level and I won. I also remember the 2013 Open with Miki Laskoiti. They invited him to play in professionals. He was my youth teammate and he also made me excited.
Who have been the toughest rivals you have faced?
-As defenders, Imanol and Lujan have been the ones I’ve fought the most with. In individual my black beast has always been Pablo Fusto. It is very uncomfortable to play against him because of the effects he gives to the ball and he does a lot of damage. Along with Gaubeka, they are the ones I have struggled with the most.
How has the professional shovel evolved in the years it has been?
-There are great ballplayers. It cannot be compared because they are different times. When I made my debut we played at Deportivo, which is a long pediment. It took a lot of punch and a special blow. They were beautiful years. Then we move on to the short pediment. There is more rallying and it is more accessible to people. It is difficult for the fans but little by little they are picking up the level. There is a very nice level with pelotaris like Iñaki Urrutia and Ibai Pérez that it is a pleasure to watch them play. It’s a nice painting, but I prefer the debut painting. There were the best pelotaris of the last 20 years.
“I have always heard since I debuted in 2008 that the shovel was dying, we are in 2022 and it is still there”
What future do you see?
–I have always heard since I debuted that the shovel was dying. We are in 2022 and the shovel continues. She is very loved in Bilbao. The Diputación de Bizkaia has it with care and as long as they feel like it, the shovel will continue.
It is only played with a long shovel, a modality that is hardly practiced by amateurs. Do you think you should also bet on the short shovel?
-No. It’s totally different. The short blade material has changed a lot so that paddlers can also play (leather). The (long) shovel is the future of the shovel. With a short shovel you can play nice games and put on shows, but the shovel is not going to move from professionalism.
How do you see the level of the Navarrese shovel?
-Being in Bilbao you lose track a bit. I know that there are great pelota players like Mikel Sanz or Labiano who are doing very well. I know that the San Miguel twins (Raúl and Juan Ignacio) continue to do a very good job on the fronton. Navarra has wood to get champions. In other territories there are not as many pelotaris as here, but as long as there are kids and you win, one will come out for sure.
“Navarra has the wood to bring out champions; as long as there are kids and you win, one will come out for sure”
He has left professionalism. Do you intend to continue playing?
-Yes. As long as you can, have time and don’t require much sacrifice, the worm is still there. I’ve been playing since I was 14 years old and you want me not to get scabies with pleasure, it doesn’t itch. I have spoken with Real Sociedad in Donosti to train with them. If I get the level and I have time, I will play with them.
Do you see the Biarritz World Cup in October as very difficult?
-It’s a thorn in my side because it’s the only thing left for me to win. At a professional level I have won everything, in amateurs too. I’ve been to the U22 World Cup, but I’m missing the absolute. It would be the icing on the cake. Winning the World Cup is a challenge for me. I don’t know if I’ll make it, I don’t want to put pressure on myself either. First, little by little I want to get back to the level I had before.
Name: Xavier Ibargaray Iribarren
Place and date of birth: 10/19/1985
Job: Arcelormittal in Berrioplano
Professional debut: 3/20/2008
Palmares: Three Couples, three International Open, two singles (one in Second and one in First). He is the defender with the most finals in the Individual with six (five in First Division, one in Second Division).