"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." If Charles Dickens was a member of Belgium GAA, he might have rewritten A Tale of Two Cities, basing it in Frankfurt and Barcelona on the weekend of 11 June 2011, and making that first paragraph dramatically more positive. But he wasn't, and he didn't, so you will have to bear with this description.
Congratulations to all the chicas who travelled to Bar-th-elona this weekend. It was an absolutely 'stellar' weekend.
Belgium Ladies had a convincing win over the home side, Barcelona Gaelettes, in our first group game and went on to top the group by beating Valencia in the second game. This set us up for a semi-final clash with Irunia, a strong side who had a mix of players from Pamplona, Holland and Estonia. Belgium ladies however had been improving with every game and another strong performance ensured a place in the final against a very strong Munich team who had run riot in Group B. Belgium went out with all guns blazing in the final and came away with a 5-16 to 3-01 victory over Munich Colmcilles. Our workrate was hugely impressive, and our very own Sinéad 'they call her Fitz' Fitzsimons, who covered every blade of grass on the field all day long, was deservedly awarded Player of the Tournament. Our heartiest congratulaions to you Sinéad, it was long overdue!!
A special mention to Gráinne Delaney who was unfortunate to pick up an injury during the week and couldn't travel, we missed you at the weekend and no doubt you would've enjoyed the many many patatas bravas/pain con tomata/sangrias we had, we wish you a speedy recovery and hope to see you back in action very soon. Also a special thank you to Marian O'Malley who travelled from Germany.
A huge thank you also to Aonghus who flew straight from the States to be with us Saturday morning. Not only did he orchestrate everything from the sideline, he also led the way through the carnage that was Saturday night and was still going strong on Sunday.....we salute you!!!
Again, I was not in attendance, so will leave it to the supremely talented Mr. David Barrett Esq. (read more at http://footballingjourneymen.blogspot.com/) to give a rundown of an exciting tournament in the Benelux regional championship...
33 of us, at the last count, travelled to Frankfurt by train, car and bus last weekend. Some arrived Friday night whilst others hit the road at 05h30 on Saturday morning. In that group we had Conan and Eoin, trainers/mentors/managers or whatever title you feel befits their role. Crusher and Paul Hagan were injured but came to play the less glamorous roles of money collectors and water carriers.
The groupings pitted both Belgium teams against each other and we were also joined in the group by Amsterdam. Den Hague, Lux, Frankfurt and Amsterdam B were in the other group.
Our B’s started at a canter against Amsterdam A and were in a good position at half-time. However they had lost their workhorse Conor Mul to two yellow cards. Harsh is an understatement. In the outrageous world of crazy European GAA rules, that means a two game suspension. More to follow on this later in the week.
Amsterdam were a strong side and they powered on in the second half, aided handsomely by their fortune of having a spare man. The lads had to pick themselves up fast as they faced into a local derby against the A’s. Again it was a close first half but again the B’s seemed to fade in the second. The lads had put in similar first half displays up in Amsterdam, especially against Lux, but faded in the second half. It’s hard to put your finger on why. Maybe it’s just a case of getting a couple of wins under the belt and kicking on with the confidence that brings. In any case, the team is in much better shape than it was this time last year and if that problem can be solved, the Shield can become a realistic ambition.
The A’s then faced Amsterdam to decide the group winners. For the first time they had travelled with two full teams and having watched how strong their B’s were, I knew we were in for a battle. We led 0-4 0-3 at half-time and weren’t to concede again. Mike Lucey goaled and another four points were spread across the forwards. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. The backs looked shaky at times and needed Timmy’s class in goal with two point blank saves.
On we went to face our old sparring partners Den Hague in the semi. It was a tricky fixture. They weren’t looking too impressive on the day but they are also the masters at grinding out victories when they are on their knees. I can’t remember ever facing them in a semi before. Every game I can remember was a final (or a group game). In a final, you can completely empty yourself, physically and ‘emotionally’. In a semi though, you have to keep something in the tank, hoping you get to the final.
It was another ding dong battle. They relied primarily on frees early on whilst we blew chance after chance down the other end. It was either level or we led by a point at half time. A tense finish was in store. We couldn’t shake them but our defence, led by Ross and a far from fully fit Colm, was holding firm. We pointed with two or three minutes left and managed to hold out for a 0-7 0-6 win. Tight.
James O Dowd is a relatively quiet man and more often than not gives off an impression that he doesn’t care. He was quite animated after the game though and if there was any complacency creeping in before the final, he put it to rest.
Amsterdam A won a very controversial semi against Lux. Lux were adamant they had won the game with a couple of points to spare but the referee’s notebook didn’t agree. If there was an error, it’s the cruelest way to depart.
Our opponents had called up some of their B players for the final which strengthened them considerably as they were quality players, omitted originally for lack of training apparently. We wouldn’t shake them off so easily this time and again; we went in level at the interval. Eoin made two big switches at half time. The first was to bring Timmy to wing-forward from goal. With his first possession he soloed through their defence only to be denied by a great save. Still, it sent them a message that he needed watching and it gave us a boost as we knew we had fresh legs to pick up some of the slack.
The second move came when Paddy returned to the fray. We have a load of backs who were going well and he found himself on the outside looking in for a share of the day. Still, when his chance came he proved why Eoin and Conan had him in the squad. He won the first ball that came into his corner when we were just a point up. The ball was transferred up the pitch and ended with a white flag being raised. We never looked back and added a third and fourth point to our lead to seal the win.
It gave us a second Benelux victory. Now, the lads (Eoin and Conan) have been clear from the off that we wouldn’t get worked up about Benelux this year and instead use it to test out as many guys as possible. However, we also realise the importance a win has on the group. This was sparticularily sweet as some great lads will pack their packs in the coming weeks. Duffer, Alec, Johnny, Andrew, Mike, Ricky and Killian will all move on. They’ve all played big roles in the development of the team and it’s spirit and we’ll miss them. Saturday may well have been their final act and if it was then it was a fitting goodbye.
Note; A more ‘social type commentary’ of the weekends activities will follow later in the week.