Monday, June 15, 2009

Belgium Ladies go from strength to strength

The following are tournament reports from the last 2 pan-European competitions contested, and won, by the unstoppable Ladies football team of Belgium GAA. Enjoy!

Belgium Ladies GAA 2009 - The Journey - Part 1 Den Haag

An army of red and black, marching to domination... or a bedraggled mob of coffee cup clutching, bleary eyed scruffs? Yes, Belgium Ladies Football team had arrived.

Due to the unholy earliness of the hour of departure, your correspondent doesn't actually remember anything from the morning, save for a vague recollection of Coach W's flash car at Schuman roundabout, so we'll have to skip over that bit.

In fact, much of the day passed in a bit of a blur for your correspondent - possibly related to complications from a food ingestion incident at an early stage - but what I can't remember I'll make up.

As the ball was thrown in for Belgium's first match - the championship team taking on European stalwarts Holland - Coach W cut a nervous figure, restlessly pacing the sideline. Having suffered a string of devastating defeats in the pre-season under the rookie captaincy of Míde 'Parsley' Ní Shúilleabháin, Coach W - a hurler from Tipperary with self-proclaimed zero experience in ladies football - was drafted in to save the reputation of the team that had taken Europe by storm in 2008. Now his own reputation was on the line.

Pre-tournament omens weren't good. Two of the stars of the 2008 season, Stephanie 'My husband says that looking at the cakes doesn't make you fat' (henceforth to be known as 'Cakes') Dunn and Ana 'Rrreferreeeee!' Rios could barely walk, let alone run; the lynchpin of the team had was missing in breast-feeding action; and the Bomber Brosnan, Jane 'Butter wouldn't Melt' Brennan, Clare 'Forrest Gump' Appleby and Winner Wynne were unavailable.

With the midfield partnership of Cuba and Parsley carrying on a long-established family tradition of sending every single ball that came their way wide, the girls didn't make it easily for the anxious Craobh Rua onlookers. But this team had something to prove.

Up stepped Cork natives Sylvia 'Butterfly' McCarthy and Clare 'Kip' Brennan. "I love Cork," cried Kip Brennan as she launched yet another attack at the wavering Holland defence. "I love to party", thought the Butterfly grimly, as she foiled yet another opposition attack. Playmaker Emily 'The better half' O'Reilly ran the defence ragged, and cast an occasional smug glance towards the lads' team on the neighbouring pitch. "You watching now?" she telepathically communicated to the Cluxton formerly known as Kearney as she spearheaded the Belgium Ladies domination of the game.

Caragh 'Feck her, now none of us can have babies because she's put us to shame with her netballing-footballing-and-probably-dancing-days-after-Daragh-was-born antics' O'Connor was a revelation in goals and proved a more than adequate replacement for Alex 'Loca' Martin. In fact, sources suggest that 'Baby' O'Connor enjoyed the experience so much that she wishes to play in that position for ever

If we're talking of revelations, the Development team was a revelation in itself. Ably led by Mary 'the B stands for don't mess with me' Walsh, Belgium's Ladies Development squad exposed the weaknesses in its far more experienced opponents. Holding former European champions Paris scoreless for large periods of the game, this first foray into competitive football for most of the players was a testament to their determination and tenacity. Rosine 'it's the quiet ones' Bacon, Karen 'the Dub'' McHugh and Maria Paola 'MP' Napoleone fought for every ball and more often than not beat their markers to possession. Rafi 'Cherman' Sebestyen and Jess 'Happy' O'Flynn brought speed and agility to a Belgian side that grew in confidence with every game. Valérie 'the only real Belgian on the Belgium team' Malice showed that she is ready to challenge for Baby O'Connor's place in goal, and impressed the opposing teams so much that she was later co-opted into action for one of them. Bozena 'he's just my flatmate' Jarmontowicz marked her presence with some intelligent positioning and positive aggression, Dominique 'worst week ever' Sanders used her height with good results and Lorraine 'soon to be a cripple no more' (NdlR: bear in mind that this report was written well after the events described) Baldwin created space and movement for the Belgium attack.

And then....drama. The championship captain collapsed in a heap on the sideline in a suspected case of parsley poisoning as a bemused Coach W looked on and wondered why he'd got himself involved with this shower who only ever shut up talking when they were choking on parsley or drinking.

This initial drama paled into insignificance, however, compared to that which occurred when the two Belgium teams met.

Previously unsuspected and undetected tensions bubbled to the surface when Austrian native Worst Week Ever Sanders found herself marked by the Cherman. Reports of the events that unfolded differ wildly, but what we do know is that when the dust had settled the Austrian was prone on the ground, blood gushing from her eye, and had to be escorted to hospital.

Strange days indeed. Karen 'the Dub' doing a turn in goal, "Rreferrrreee!' Rios finally getting herself a place in the forwards and La Whisk trying out every position on the pitch to see which she liked the best. All returned to normality, however, with Belgium winning the final, in no small part due to Baby O' Connor's kick-outs and Belgium's superior fitness. L'Union fait la Force, as the Belgian motto goes.

Belgium Ladies were, as is their trademark, somewhat late for the dinner that evening, and all were, as is also their trademark, stunningly attractive, if a little sun-kissed. Cuba Ní Shúilleabháin showed why she is named after an island that likes to party as she led one of the more demure squad members, Cakes Dunn, very far astray.

After the day's events I tried to catch up with the successful manager, but Coach W - suffering from sunstroke - was unavailable. Instead, one of the more needy players offered herself for interview.

Me: So, what are your thoughts on today's football?

Laura Whiskerd: The Whisk had a great game. She was terrif. Brill. She was ever so fast and her eyes sparkled like a radiant sun. I love Gaelic. Sigh. I love babies. Double sigh.

Belgium Ladies GAA 2009 - The Journey - Part 2 Luxembourg

Departure: Schuman 07h45

We all gathered ourselves at Schuman in our usual tired manner. Of course there was a very excited Maria Brosnan to wake us all up with her renditions of Beyonce etc, the usual carry on! ;-). We split off into our different cars to head down to Lux. Big thanks to Clare B for driving the mammoth mini-bus to and from Lux - a few slight issues as to where to find the petrol cap, however, after having done so all went smoothly!

For this particular tournament we had an extra special guest travelling with us. Stephanie Dunn (don't ask me how or why) had somehow managed to acquire a Paris Hilton style lap dog in a shoulder bag whom she felt would benefit from being brought to a GAA tournament. Don't ask me why. If she had turned up with that at Croke Park I can only imagine the looks she would have got ;-)

So anyway, we all set off with the mini bus, Beyonce and Penny (the lap dog) down to Lux...


For the second tournament in a row, Belgium Ladies football have been lucky enough to have enough players to send down two playing teams. This is a fantastic achievement in itself seeing as last year we only just started up as a club. It is also hugely beneficial because at these tournaments people (as we witnessed) tend to drop like flies due to injuries and the heat and having as many good players as we do this year is brilliant!

Belgium's A's matches:

First up was Rennes - opposition which had started out with a fairly weak team last year. Needless to say this year they had definitely improved, with some very fit French players who were able to give us a run around. It took us a while to wake up and settle down but we beat Rennes handy enough, and as our captain pointed out 'even when we play badly we can still win...' ;-) We knew that we would have to up the pace against other teams; however, Rennes was certainly a good match to have at the start of the day to get us into the swing of things.
Next up was Munich. Munich is one of the other strongest team in the competition this year. They have clearly been training very hard and I think they have made it their one goal this season to beat Belgium! They have very fit players and certainly know how to work the ball out of the back line. After a great inspirational speech from Coach Willie as to how to suss out Munich's tactics we were able to beat them - but not by very much. They certainly gave us a shock, and had it not been for some brilliant saves from super goal keeper Caragh we might not have won the match. I think we won by 5 points to 2. Needless to say it was a close match.
Next up Luxembourg. Some of us have fond memories of playing against Lux in the infamous final in Munich last year, which went to extra time and seemed to last an eternity (Mide was practically in tears when the final whistle blew and we had beaten them by 2 points). With Luxembourg you never know what to expect - at certain tournaments they have a very strong panel, but at other times the opposite is the case. This year they have two very good players who are stagiaires from the University of Limerick, but even still they did not pose a threat to our team. At half time Willie made some changes to positions which threw us slightly, however, we dealt with it and were still able to win the match. This meant we had come top of our group and were up against Holland in the semi-final.

We knew the semi-final against Holland was not going to be an easy match, but having gone from strength to strength throughout the day (due to those lovely watery jam isostar drinks – personally I have never tasting anything so rank in my life) and inspiration from star supporters Lorraine, Penny and Darragh (no Jane, I didn’t try to steal him)… we felt confident. Having lost Clare Brennan due to a sprained finger and generally being a little sore and broken we were determined to not get any more injuries. This was easier said than done as Ana had to come off after half time due to a bad fall and a very painful knee injury. We all still have our fingers crossed that you will back soon Anay!!
Despite these set backs we beat Holland well and secured a well deserved place in the final. Paris and Munich were in the next semi-final after us and so we knew we would be facing one of them!

The final was against Munich. This was Munich’s first time (that I can remember anyway) in the final and we knew they would be hungry for it. I don’t want to get all cheesy but the final for me was really a great display of how great a team Belgium GAA ladies football really is. It was not just due to the effort of those players on the pitch that we won, but because of the panel of all 20-something of us that travelled down that day. Girls were ready to come on from the side-line throughout the match, which is what team sport is all about. Steph was next to go with a hamstring injury and Caragh also suffered a nasty hit in the face from one of the Munich girls. However, in our true form and with some great goals from the Bros, Cuba, Mide and everyone else we won the final, and the tournament! Victory number two for Belgium GAA ladies! Hats off to Munich for providing a good game in the final – they will definitely be ones to watch, especially at their home tournament in July.

Belgium B’s matches:

As I said I unfortunately did not get to watch all of the B’s matches – however, all I can say is that the amount of improvement since the first tournament, in the words of the Bros, is ‘unreal’. Seeing as almost everyone played on both teams throughout the day there is no real divide between the ‘As and the Bs’, and to have so many players is something we should all be proud of. The B team put out a great performance against our favourite rivals, Paris ;-), with some fantastic saves with upcoming super goalie Valerie and some great defending from Jess (keep an eye out for copies of ‘Jess and the Giant Parisian’ coming to a bookshop near you ;-)). There was nothing in the match against Rennes and I am sure – as was pointed out by numerous others, that come the end of the year we will be witnessing a Belgium A vs. Belgium B final!!

Special congratulations should be given to Stephanie Dunn (and her lap dog) for winning player of the tournament. Steph – you were awesome and I hope the hamstring is better soon!

I did not stay up to witness the evening’s festivities as I, along with some other mentalists – Clare A, Rafi and Cuba came back to Brussels to run the 20km on Sunday, however, I believe that Sylvia and Rosine were spotted in the early hours of the morning staggering around Lux somewhere after getting in trouble with the police for trying to flog pirate videos of a certain ‘Phil Roche’ performing a ‘dance off’.

Back in Brussels on Sunday evening everyone gathered again for a bbq in the Michael Collins. It was great to see so many of us there and great to have a bit of ‘craic’ as you Irish would say with the lads (even though they smell, we love them really – especially in those super sexy 70’s blue jerseys). One word can be used to describe Sunday evening – BALOOBAS. That is all.

I would list all the players here but there are so many I don’t think I can!
A big congrats to each and every one of us on another fantastic day out and great display of football from Belgium GAA. Bring on the Paris tournament at the end of June!

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