Better late than never, here are the match reports from the Rennes Gaelic Football tournament held on Saturday, 3 October.
For the usual sharp analysis of the Belgium Men's A team performance, please see D. Barrett's blog.
Below are the tournament reports from (1) the Men's B team, courtesy of our own burshting Breton Matti Bertrand, and (2) from the Ladies team, courtesy of the irrepresible Sylvia McCarthy.
1. Belgium B in Brittany, the report
Once in the train bringing me back to Brussels, all muscles and bones being sour from the shoulders to the feet , it is time to reflect upon the full day of tournament we Belgium B had yesterday in lovely Rennes.
Arriving around the pitch, it was a pleasure for some of those who came to this tournament last year to discover that we would be playing Vannes as a starter, having played for them last year. Good also to see the A’s playing a good first match against the welcoming team. And we were relieved to have the same welcoming team giving us some players, Sébastien, Guillaume and Leo to complete our lines.
So, Vannes. The first minutes were difficult, we were not really organized and some of the players were discovering a new position on the pitch. But we hold the fort with a good spirit of solidarity and aggressiveness in defense. We needed a wakeup call to really engage into the game. Aylward rang the bell, winning the ball in our half and slaloming through the defense which suddenly appeared not as strong as the walls of the old city of Vannes. We simply realized that we were better, that we could not lose this match.
Winning most of the balls with a strong defense, we moved the balls from the full backs to the full forwards with quick-hand passing through every line on the wings, like in the best dreams of Davey Barrett. Beautiful game-play, pleasure for the players and good scoring ratio brought us with a comfortable lead at half time, under the applauses of the whole Brussels delegation along the pitch (always welcome, we wish we had more of this on the next games….).
The second half was the replica of the first: difficult start but good pressure on the Vannes forwards, which tried to save what was possible to be saved; our keeper Willie prevented them from being too hopeful. Then the quick-hands game play of the first half proved again successful and many of us scored a good amount of points and goals. I do not remember now the name of the scorers, I do not think it is important. The key thing is that all our moves were really collective, many players touching the ball before kicking it over the bar or in the net. What I remember now is the smiles upon our faces at the end of the game, this incredible sensation of victory and pleasure we felt all together. Wings were growing on our backs; we were confident we could do much more but only playing the usual two group-matches; we strongly believed we could win the next game and qualify for the semi-final.
One hour and half later, we had to face the reality… The 2nd opponent of the day, Jersey had crushed us and overruled us. Our defense was disorganized by the fact that their best forwards were their speedy and skilled full backs, our midfield was dominated by their fit and strong midfielders and our forwards barely touched the ball because we forgot our quick-hand passing game-play… kicking long passes to relieved the defense proved unsuccessful since the ball was directly coming back at full speed thanks to their fast backs or their powerful midfielders… lack of fitness and lack of fighting spirit… A disaster…
We were morally and physically affected, a bit disunited and disillusioned… 2 good news made us felt better: the A team qualifying for the final thanks to an intense match against Luxembourg and us being eventually qualified for the semi-final of the shield as “best second team”. The latter good news had a drawback: we were playing Jersey again in the semi-final…
Before the semi-final, most of us participated in a “match-for-nothing” against Paris. We were happy to play in order to have the A’s rest, but I have to admit this tough game was hard for the bodies… lack of fitness and lack of players are not the best combination for tournaments.
So, Jersey again.
We started the game with the wrong spirit; the earlier disaster was too present in our minds. However, little-by-little, our collective and individual pride told us “you cannot give up so easily; you cannot do worse than the first game!” We were tired, but we did not want to be shameful of ourselves. The fighting spirit came back, the defense was more aggressive, more balls were won in the midfield and we managed from time to time to move the ball with quick-hands lines by lines. We did not manage to score much than in the first match against Jersey because we made mistakes in the last or before last pass and were unlucky with the shooting; but we were not spectators any more, we were fighting for every ball and had our heads up again. When the referee whistled the end of the game, we felt better than at the start of the semi-final; Jersey was certainly better than us (and won the Shield in the end), but we tried to challenge them. Above all, we managed to challenge ourselves and to call on our pride.
Legs, knees and bodies were painful when Liffré asked if we wanted to play the game for the 3rd place. Despite our fatigue, we decided to accept, since it was a good occasion to play and win another game. And we rarely have the occasion to play 5 games in a tournament! When you travel 700 kilometers for a tournament, you do not refuse 20 minutes of extra game!
The spirit was there, but the reality was different. The neighboring Liffré and its good number of players were much more fit than the remaining 10 of us that had played the whole tournament without substitutes. And honestly, Liffré was really strong. We barely saw the ball, they scored a huge number of points and goal, and the few good moves we played could not do much harm to them.
How should I conclude? On a negative note, taking into account that we played 4 games and won only one, with some unacceptable mistakes and moments of discouragement? Or shall I be positive and put the emphasis on the good game-play we demonstrated against Vannes, the smiles upon our faces after our victory, the progress made by this Belgium B-team since its beginning in March?
I leave the choice to you, but I think there is more positive than negative to be kept from this tournament for us. I will do my best to have the possibility to feel again in Maastricht this incredible sensation of victory and pleasure we discovered against Vannes. See you at training!
Please excuse my English. I hope you enjoyed your stay in Rennes… especially because I was not involved in accommodation booking…
2. Knees, backs and other body parts - an anatomy of Rennes
Seasons may change.
But the fact of the matter.
Belgium ladies rock
Belgium Ladies descended on Rennes in the first weekend of October like a plague of coughing, limping, sore locusts. They came by car and train from the east, directly out of Belgium, some soaring high to Amiens, Le Havre and the French wilderness; others swooping low into the banlieues and traffic jams of Paris on a Friday evening. They came from the north-west, those dedicated to the future of the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty, flying ominously into various French airports to continue the attack on the other teams vying for points and positions on the European Championship scoresheet.
Health-wise, things were looking dismal from the beginning. In your correspondent’s car alone, Clare “Hips of Steel” Brennan, our tenacious goalkeeper, was the sole driver, accompanied by Jane “Put my foot in it” Brennan, Ana “On my single leg” Rios and me, Sylvia “Wheezy” McCarthy. We fought early challenges placed along the route: traffic and an unforeseen lack of petrol, even though our blood ran cold at the realisation that no public toilets were available between Fougères and Rennes. This is only one side of the story – there are numerous other epic tales that will go down in the legends of Belgium GAA tournament journeys.
After a night’s sleep that just wasn’t long enough (who wouldn’t find 5 hours in bed before a tournament hard to stomach?), we assembled at the tournament grounds.
Our first match has long been a problematic one (harking back to Den Haag, when we lost Mide “Lump in her throat” Ni Shúilleabháin to an attack of the parsley), and it is always difficult to tread that fine line between hot-headedness and a cold sweat as we listen to the opposing team begin their patriotic cheer. With sub-coaches Foot Brennan and Leg Rios on the sideline, Coach W called for us to go for the jugular of the Paris team, but to no avail: we narrowly lost the first match, despite some fierce running from Laura “Pain in the Arse” Whiskerd and the “Blood is thicker than water” Ni Shúilleabháins. Our ladies made valiant attempts to share the wealth of injuries, with Steel Hips Brennan clanging into Paris’ No. 9 and forcing her to leave the pitch for the rest of the half due to undiagnosed concussion. Karen “Knees Up” McHugh made a similar heroic tackle on a charging Eileen Jennings, but found herself lying in a mangled heap on the ground.
The next match, against host team Rennes, was another fast-paced affair, in which we were glad of the extra subs ready on the sideline. Joining Barbara “Bulls Eye” Wynne in the forward line was Mary “the B stands for Breakages” Walsh, Amy “Lion-Hearted” Dent and Rosine “Blood-Curdler” Bacon (I’m a back, so I’m a little hazy on what it is that forwards do, but it looked good). Falling into the zone of blood, sweat and tears (also known as the back line), to relieve Steph “Ankle-biter” Dunn and Wheezy McCarthy, were Emily “I’ll be Back” O Reilly and Clare “A is for Apples, B is for Back Off” Appleby. Coach W was down to just one back-up coach at this point, missing Foot Brennan, gone in an ambulance to the hospital with Emmet Devine, who was brought down in the Belgium lads’ match against Rennes. We came into this game with a degree of complacency, but were brought swiftly down to earth again by Rennes, who proved that time and space can contribute a lot to the formation and development of a team. It is one of the things we must remember when we go to Maastricht on 31 October – we are the only team who have attended every single tournament this year. While this means that we are undoubtedly European Champions, it may also contribute to a jaded, lackadaisical attitude when we get to the final tournament of the year – to be faced by our challengers from Holland, Munich and Paris. It would be an immense pity not to bring our A game to Maastricht, to redeem ourselves from last year’s beating in the final. Imagine the silverware!!!
Anyway, back to the tournament at hand. We won our group game against Rennes, who were also beaten by Paris. We had a few hours to burn before the final, so were able to enjoy our lunches and cookies and to scream on top of our lungs for back-to-back games played by the lads A and B teams in the surprisingly warm October sunshine. Bearing in mind the similar time gap last year, we were wary of getting too relaxed, but the thought of Paris and Coach W (temporarily installed as goalkeeper for Belgium B) breathing down our necks stopped us from getting too comfortable. There was no time to get butterflies in our stomachs, no time to twiddle our thumbs and definitely no time to bit our lips – we had to get straight into the game. The battle was down to the wire between Belgium and Paris, with formidable goals coming from the Belgium forwards. Our hearts were in our mouths when Captain Mide was taken down, but she arose to fight on. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when Wheezy McCarthy got caught knee deep in a hole and had to go off crying (much to her chagrin), only to be definitely and impressively replaced by Back Off Appleby. The highlight of this game was the penalty deftly taken and placed in the back of the Paris net by none other than “Pain in the Arse” Whiskerd. Our lads defended our honour to all and sundry, and to them we raised our glasses of cider (they are all we have after all) when we finally trooped off the pitch, the tired and triumphant winners of the Rennes 2009 tournament.
I could end it here, but that would be doing an injustice to the rest of our achievements. We set a great example by remaining in the gathering dusk to watch the A boys’ final (in which they lost to Paris) and the B boys’ 3/4th place playoff. We scrubbed up nicely and roamed around the streets of Rennes en masse for the evening. A final word is for Christine “Not without the Cup” O Gorman, who proved, in her first tournament, her capacity to be a terrier on the pitch and a fine Keeper of the Cup off the pitch.
And so ends the tale of Rennes for another year. Some say they were healed there. Others barely survived the journey home. Now we look to Maastricht.