Thursday, September 10, 2009

Belgium Ladies retain European Crown

(Editor's note: before we give the floor to the epic tournament report, Belgium GAA is pleased to report that our Ladies football team retained their European Championship in style in Copenhagen on 29 August. Following hot on the heels of our hurlers, this is the club's second silverware of the year. Well done, ladies!)

A report on the Copenhagen Tournament. All fact, no fiction.

Conflict in Copenhagen: Alarms, Alcohol and a bit of football

Perspicacious observers saw the danger lurking in the wings. The Beatles, they said, the boot thrown at Beckham. Maradona, the Supremes, Simon and Garfunkel... Yes indeed, all too often success can sow the seeds of its own destruction, the warm bonds of friendship fissure into the chasms of bitter rivalry, intoxicants and stimulants stain the purity of sporting promise.

And so it looked to be for Belgium GAA, travelling to Copenhagen in the hope of fixing their names in the annals of sporting record.

From the very outset the cracks began to show. While a spokesperson for the team maintains that the travelling arrangements on the Friday - with the squad splitting into two very distinct 'morning' and 'evening' contingents - were necessitated by "practical concerns", eye-witnesses tell a different story, as the activities of the two groups took on very distinct aspects, suggesting an ideological as well as a practical divide.

Strolling the city, soaking up the sites, catching a bit of the ballet: the young ladies who arrived early in the Danish capital were fitting ambassadors not only for the Belgium club but for ladies football as a whole and epitomised the balance between refinement and ambition that has come to characterise Belgium Ladies in their voyages across the continent. What to make then of what can only be called the carry-on of those arriving late that evening?

Laura 'sad eyes' Whiskerd, who is making quite a habit of mid-air imbibition, showed her version of culture and refinement by choosing a Danish beverage over a domestic brew. An unidentified squad member - suspected to be the same individual who was last seen storming the stage in a Munich beerhall - appeared to have difficulty in articulating when ordering legal intoxicants from a bemused cabin-crew member. The same was observed of a third squad member, who in a typically classy fashion emerged from the plane clutching a can of Belgian Trappist beer, but as this player is incomprehensible at the best of times (she speaks ever so fast) no clear conclusions can be drawn from this particular observation.

And then, of course, there was the further split in the heretofore united front as several squad members chose to spend time with offspring and dear ones rather than with team-mates. One in particular, who shall remain nameless (though her surname, when pronounced by an Irish person, sounds like something one might enjoy with eggs or as part of a fried breakfast), was heard to cry: "Au revoir, losers" as she slunk away into Friday's Copenhagen twilight.

In hindsight, however, it is clear that these aforementioned individuals made the wise choice. The Belgium Ladies were awoken at a very unsociable hour by possibly the most unalarming fire alarm known to humankind. Certain players had already been terrorised throughout the night by strange and unmentionable activity outside their door and were thus imprisoned in their room. Luckily, a scientific investigation by the squad's newest recruit (who is sadly afflicted by dog-calling limitations) - which consisted of her putting her hand on the wall for a second and concluding that it wasn't hot, and after all no-one could see any smoke - reassured her colleagues and everyone went straight back to sleep.

Furthermore, the unity of Belgium Ladies faced its severest challenge yet when late Friday evening a bitter and vindictive dispute erupted between two squad members, who happen to be closely related. The hours of darkness brought no resolution and on the way to the sporting grounds on the morning of the tournament the hostilities re-ignited, necessitating the intervention of an aspiring politician from Kerry - herself always an example of reserve and moderation - to smooth things over. Nonetheless, insider reports suggest that under the now seemingly calm waters resentment still bubbles and consequently the publication of the much anticipated "Beauty, Bandanas and Baking" book (publisher: Éditions McCarthy) has been postponed indefinitely.

And so it was that when stalwart of the team, Barbara Wynne, found herself incapacitated at an early stage in the footballing proceedings on Saturday she considered herself well out of it. "I'm well out of it", Winner Wynne declared to a reporter from the Irish Daily Mail. "They're some shower anyway." (In spite of this hostility, the 'shower' wish Ms. Wynne a speedy recovery.)

The weather forecast had been for inclement weather but as the sun shone boldly in a blue and white sky the only dark clouds to be seen were those hanging over the head of Belgium's esteemed trainer, Coach W. Already struck down by a mysterious flu-like virus, Coach W's mood was not improved with the fact that the squad members seemed more interested in playing with babies than with a football. Quotes from Coach W cannot be reproduced here, as the language used is unprintable, but doubtless his demeanour was not improved by the fact that two of the players, 'Sad Eye' Whiskerd and 'Sexy Dance' Rios refused to leave the field of play at any stage, in spite of debilitating muscle and nerve conditions. "I eh love the Gaelic", Ms Rios explained. "Ana, I may need a bum massage", Ms Whiskerd responded.

Luckily for Coach W, one of the more selfless players stepped up to compensate for Whiskerd and Rios's insistence on remaining on the pitch for the whole day. Stephanie 'Sin Bin' Dunn, noticing that - as usual - the Belgian players were crowding themselves out decided to create some much need space by getting herself sent off for ten minutes. It appears that Sin Bin Dunn sacrificed herself for the sake of her captain. "She wouldn't have won an award otherwise", Sin Bin explained at the reception that evening, "By getting sent off I created the need for her to cover back and thus get herself noticed by the officials. It was all carefully calculated." The team and management are duly grateful to Ms. Dunn for her selfless act.

The drama that abounded threatened to cast a shadow on the footballing ambitions of the team, but Rosine 'Copenhagen - it's nice but one can get enough of it' Bacon led by example for a Belgium Development team that played with determination and flair throughout the day. Unlucky not to get the better of eventual finalists Holland, the move of MP 'thou shall not pass' Napoleone to the backs and the addition of the experience of Alex Martin added a new intensity to the Belgium play. As key players such as Jess 'no, I haven't been on a sunbed' Flynn and Clare 'Flexi Ticket' Appleby began to find their rhythm, others such as Dominique 'call me Dymphna' Sanders began to grow in confidence. Belgium Ladies Development team finished fourth in the tournament, and is currently fifth in the overall standings on 54 points, not far behind Paris and Holland, both on 77 points.

The championship team, hearts warmed by the innocent smiles of baby Darragh, decided to put their differences behind them and played like European champions. Anchored, as always, by the reliable shot stopping and excellent vision and kick-outs of Midleton native Clare Brennan, the players shook off the cobwebs of the holidays and - not without overcoming some tough challenges from the very strong opposition - once again ended the day victorious. The tireless defending by Butterfly McCarthy and 'I prefer cats anyway' Ní Fhlatharta, the attacking runs of Sin Bin Dunn, the uneasy truce between Cuba and Chimay Ní Shúilleabháin, the scoring ability of Caragh 'Daragh's mother' O'Connor and Maria 'Yes to Lisbon' Brosnan as well as the aforementioned constant presence of the seemingly indefatigable Sexy Dance and Sad Eyes secured the Copenhagen Cup for Belgium Ladies for the first time.

A veil shall - as always - be drawn over the evening's proceedings, with the aim of safeguarding the reputation of some of the revellers. The dinner and award ceremony passed without incident, thanks in the most part to the intervention of a disgruntled Munich club official - carefully harbouring his resentment for a month - who rugby tackled Butterfly McCarthy to the ground as she edged towards the stage in an effort to grab the microphone from the grasp of the Belgium captain with the intention of giving a prepared discourse entitled: 'Belgium GAA: We're great. Did I mention that Belgium GAA Ladies are great?'.

Belgium Ladies GAA: still together. For now.

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