Thursday, April 16, 2009

Amsterdam Tournament - Benelux, Rd 1

The Belgian GAA team had an inauspicious start to the 2009 season on the first Saturday of April as they returned empty handed following the 2 hour trip to Amsterdam. Observers of the days events may have thought the Belgian lads had sampled some of the city's famous wares the night before but, alas, no such excuse can be given for the three defeats suffered by the defending pan-European champions. However, it was the first time for many of the team to play together and hopes will be high that performances will improve from here on in.

The first match for Belgium was the old foes, Luxembourg. Belgium started with a new-look team with debuts for the likes of Johnny Phelan, Martin Crowley and Oliver O'Callaghan. However, optimism was high as the team was backboned by a number of last years' star players including Stephen 'Cluxton' Kearney, Olof 'Brolin' Gill, Eoin Sheanan and Micheal O'Floinn. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the appearance of Sheanon in the backs – presumably in the hope that he would be more likely to pass rather than try to run the ball over the line all by himself from the half-back line.

The change in personnel affected Belgium though, as they were very slow out of the blocks and were picked apart after only a few minutes by a slick Luxembourg move which ended with Cluxton picking the ball from the net. Showing great spirit however, the lads rallied well towards the end of the first half to trail by only a point at half time following some fast interplay between Messieurs Sheanon, O'Floinn and Gill. A large number of changes at half-time, however seemed to affect the balance of team as Luxembourg kicked on while Belgium were unable to put their normal fast game. While trying to push forward, Belgium were caught on the break on a number of occasions - the most notable break bringing a second goal which effectively ended the game.

Next up was Den Hague - where it was obvious the men in yellow were eager to make amends for their two defeats to their rivals in the final tournament of 2008 in Maastricht. And so it proved as Den Hague played some excellent football, taking full advantage of the inexperience in the Belgium ranks to score four unanswered points for a comfortable half time lead. The second half saw more of the same with Belgium competing in the middle third – with Micheal O'Floinn again prominent, but unable to build any momentum and often being found out in possession. The defence was under severe pressure and only for another storming performance from Captain Phil Cushen, the damage could have been far greater. Den Hague, on the other hand, were moving the ball very well and took their chances when they came to ensure a final result of 8 points to no score.

The final game was against Amsterdam and also counted as the 3rd/4th place play-off. This was a keenly contested affair between two well-matched sides with plenty to play for - Amsterdam aiming to claim a significant scalp in their home tournament and Belgium aiming to avoid a whitewash. Amsterdam had the best of the first half however with Belgium again failing to click into their normal fast game and the lads found themselves down by a point at half time. Stirring words from the injured Davy Barrett at half time did the trick though as Belgium roared out of the blocks in the second half with 6 great points. Micheal O'Floinn and Sheanon were again prominent while Mikey Keane also popped up for his customary vital point. At this point though Belgium took their eye off the ball and let Amsterdam in for a soft goal suddenly balls started to go astray and runners failed to pick out supporting players. Then disaster struck as Amsterdam snuck in for a second goal and suddenly the game was wide open. At this stage though, the 'Dam had their gander up and struck for a couple more points towards the end as a tired Belgium pushed forward. Despite our best efforts to get back into the game it wasn't to be, as the hosts held out for a good victory over the boys from Belgium.

And so Belgium had only the wooden spoon to show for their efforts on the day. However, as was pointed out after the game, there was no disgrace in this defeat as Belgium fielded a team with as many as six players making their debut over the course of the day. Much was learned over the course of the three games and certainly players like Johnny, Martin, Mattie, Oliver, Ruairi and Dominic learned much that ever could be learned on the training field of Parc Cinqentanaire. Last year's players too learned that there a number of newer lads pushing hard for their places and that performances will have to improve if places are to be kept.

Next up is the second round of the Benelux Championship in Den Haag on May 2nd. The aim there will be to have a number of players back as well as some newer lads such as Eoghan Kelly and Ciaran Hudson, in making an extremely competitive panel. We hope also that this will give us the numbers we need to enter 2 teams to carry the Belgian flag. Unfortunately we will not be joined by Galway's own Ryan McMenamin - aka Kevin Keary, who is stationed back in Cork canvassing for a job.

Finally, congratulations to Micheal O'Floinn who picked up the 'Player of the Tournament' award (his second in only three tournaments!!) in recognition of his outstanding display on the day. A special word also to Conchur deBarra who, having left the field injured against Amsterdam, found out afterwards that he will be in plaster for two months after breaking bones in his ankle. He can be comforted by the thought that Eoin Sheanon has kindly offered to go round for a cup of tea and a chat about Dublin football. The lucky fella!

Craobh Rua abu!

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