Thursday, April 14, 2011

Football Round One: Luxembourg

Saturday 9 April 2011 saw Belgium GAA face scorching temperatures and strong oppostion in Luxembourg. The first round of the mens Benelux championship and the ladies pan-European championship took place in Berbourg. It was a long day, punctuated by sunburn and ambulances.

The mens teams were divided evenly for the day, with the A team coming 5th overall and the B team overcoming Amsterdam to gain 3rd place in the standings.

The ladies teams were playing on the deadly astroturf surface nearby, and their competition saw the A team retain the Luxembourg cup for a third year after their final against Paris. The B team won the 5th/6th place playoff against the home team.

Well done to all the teams involved, get well soon to those recovering from injuries on the day (Anay, Ciara, Eoin and Sinead), and to remind everyone that the summer is on the way and suncream is the most important accessory for any self-respecting GAA player.

A team reportage from Colin Byrne:

It was a mixed day for Belgium 'A' in Luxembourg with a new-look team taking the field under the watchful gaze of Conor Aylward and Conan MacOscair. First up was Amsterdam and things looked good for the Belgians when they ran up a 4 point lead at half time following a well taken penalty from Michael Hough and some excellent runs from half back Paddy Cassidy into the forwards. Paul Quinn, Johnny O and Ger McMahon were also showing prominently at this stage.

However, the work rate fell off considerably in the second half as Belgium lost ground around midfield and failed to win much breaking ball, thus allowing Amsterdam come right back into it. In the end Belgium had to rely on a dubious free from the aforementioned Michael Hough to secure a draw (1-4 to 0-7), even if substitute Ruairi Duffy did have the chance to sneak victory right at the death. Goalie Brendan Lynch also deserves special mention for the string of saves he pulled off to deny Amsterdam.

The second game against the hosts was always going to be a tough one, given the determination of Luxembourg to reclaim their home tournament losing it to Belgium in 2010, and so it proved. The hosts had a very strong midfield while Belgium were having difficulties in that area, not helped by an injury to Darragh Cotter which restricted his movement. Phil 'Crusher' Cushen performed miracles in the half back line but was unable to stop the Lux runners from coming through to set up 3 goals in total – 2 in the second half which negated a mini revival from Belgium. Again it could have been a lot worse were it not for goalie Brendan Lynch. As it was the game finished 1-04 to 3-10 and, thanks to the result between Amsterdam and Luxembourg, Belgium A were disappointed to be competing the 5/6th place play-off against Lux 'B' rather than the semi final.

This was a game which lacked the usual tournament intensity – though Conor Aylward and Ruairi Duffy did try to liven up with 2 of the better displays of the day – even if they were playing for the opposition! This was a game in which Belgium 'A' were well on top and, although it was won by 5 points, most of the players would agree it should have been a bit more. Chances were not taken, runs were not made and wrong options were taken. However, a win is a win and even if it didn't mask the problem areas shown in the other two games, it was a good way to finish the day.

B Team reportage from Dave Barrett:

Canadian Experiment Bears Fruit

The Aussies have the Irish experiment in the form of Setanta, Kenneally, Walsh and Co. In Belgium we have our very own Canadian experiment in the form of Will. If Saturday was about seeing a guy’s potential, the big man did himself no harm.

He was the star of the show against Lux B in the first game with the tasty feints and no look passes. People talk about transferable skills in sport and he has certainly brought a few from across the pond. His goal towards the end of a 3-10 to 0-4 victory over Lux B capped a fine debut.

With The Hague having already beaten them, it meant we had both qualified for the semis from the three team group. In our head to head, we were still well in touch at half time thanks largely to a resolute defence with Kev and Ross excelling in the full back line.

Outside them, Shane was marshalling one of The Hagues’s more prominent attackers to reasonably good effect. The other member of the quartet, 48 year old Fergal Mythen, was anonymous for large parts of the day. From a defenders point of view that can be taken as a compliment because if his house wasn’t in order we’d have been a lot more aware of him!

Ricky, Eoin and Timmy took most of the scoring responsibility but a lot of those chances were carved from the industry of Conor Mul and Mike. However, the gap in class became more evident in the second half and whilst the defence maintained good discipline, the runners coming through were picking off scores from distance. The Hague progressed and we headed for a semi with Lux A.

The Lux lads looked the most balanced side on show and have a few new lads who have brought a lot of quality to their side. Our legs were going a bit and it was very much the same story as the previous game. Again our defence was firm, conceding very few shots on goal but Lux were able to pick off points from distance.

The score of the game came when Johnny P summoned Gordon Ramsey from the bench and whilst his angle may not have met the culinary tastes of most managers, he served up a magnificent dish from out near the sideline.

Things ended badly as Eoin went in to contest a ball and dislocated his shoulder. This will leave him sidelined for a considerable amount of time and it’s a big blow for him as well as the hurling and football teams.

On to the 3rd and 4th place playoff and there was no hiding our determination to finish the day on a high. A placed ball from Ricky got us going and despite the visible tiredness, the lads worked like dogs, displaying great attitude and commitment. We led at half-time and fortunately the penalty that sealed the game arrived before Timmy departed to cuckoo land. He rippled the net and soon after came off worse in a clash with Mike and had to leave the field with concussion.

We departed satisfied but realistic about our performance. Most lads had played to their ability and could be happy with their showing but The Hague and Lux have set the standard which we must now aspire to. Kev, Ross and Will led the way for our player of the tournament. Kev is knocked out by virtue of the fact that such performance is expected of him whereas Ross and Will were more unknown quantities going into the day. My vote goes to Ross due to 1) my bias for defenders and 2) his consistency over the four games.

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