ROUND 5 - BARCELONA - 11.06.2011

Valencia men march in to history, record first ever title

After what seemed to many an eternal wait, and on the back of a 13-game, 3-tournament unbeaten run, the Valencia Sant Vicent men’s GAA team has reached the pinnacle of the Iberian game, claiming their first-ever title.

Heading into the fifth and final round of action in the 2011 Iberian championship, hosted by Barcelona, Valencia knew that an appearance in the final alone would suffice in seeing them cement themselves as champions. However, the mind-set for the team this year has been one of accepting nothing less than victory, so the goal was to seal the championship with a third straight tournament trophy.

The day got off to a phenomenal start with a commanding victory over the host Gaels. Typically a slow-starting team, Valencia came out of the gates all guns blazing, and were it not for a number of near misses on the offensive end, the final margin could have been far wider than the 0-4 to 0-10 score-line.

Before their second game against A Coruña, the Valencia boys got a wake-up call about the dangers of complacency from the Pamplona-Barcelona game, which saw the team from Iruña lose out by a single point in a valiant 2-2 to 1-6 loss. Sure enough, in the opening half of the A Coruña encounter, Valencia found themselves in a slight hole as Sebas lobbed an out-of-position goalkeeper from a free to notch a huge goal for the Galicians. The 2011 edition of the Sant Vicent team is one of a calm, methodical approach though, and one that does not scare easily. The never-say-die attitude demonstrated in the double extra-time win against Madrid in Pamplona has been carried forward and with some great interplay, the black and orange quickly put pay to the A Coruña lead and found their stride. In the end, Valencia won by a wide margin of 3-13 to 1-1 but were given a sharp reminder of the need for focus from there on in.

Game three had Valencia up against a light but always dangerous Madrid Harps team for what could, in-effect, be a pivotal game in the championship race; a victory all but sealing the crown for Valencia. The possibility of stage fright never affected Sant Vicent as they continued to control all facets of the game. Thanks to some pin-point accuracy from Andrew Pilkingtons kickouts, Paul M (in the absence of an injured Paul R) and Adam controlled the aerial game in the midfield while Liam and Andy W got the hand-passing game moving quickly through the half lines. Up-front Jeff and Colm continued the outstanding play they had produced in Alaquas, while being joined by the returning prodigal son, Freddy. As ever the backlines had opposition forwards on full lockdown with Brendan and Tom combining superbly in the absence of Mick and Cormac. Both players made some incisive forays into Madrid territory and were always ably supported by the experienced play of Fergus. All-told, Valencia continued their high-scoring habits as they netted two goals and banged over 8 points, including 5 from play for the excellent Liam Groarke, for a decisive 2-8 to 0-4 victory. With the win, came the Iberian crown (confirmed as Iruña conceded defeat in the final group game) but not, as some might have expected, wild celebrations for the Valencia team. The focus remained on tournament success first and foremost.

Prior to the final, and in lieu of the cancelled game against Pamplona, Valencia took the field against a mixed team to give playing time in the black and orange to as many players as possible. Travelling with 16 players gave Sant Vicent a great deal of strength-in-depth and was a decisive factor in the men’s success this season, so it was fitting that all that travelled had the opportunity to wear the club jersey. Huge credit must be given to Simon, Andy L, and Paul H who all pulled on the colours of other teams and probably logged more minutes than any other players over the day’s play. Simon, reports say, has been given the freedom of Galicia following an outstanding point in A Coruña’s pivotal win over Pamplona which saw them claim fourth place in the overall standings. His kissing of the crest on his A Coruña jersey following the score led his Gallego friends to hail him as the unofficial MVP.

So on to the final, and familiar opposition in the form of the host Gaels, this time bolstered by the addition of some late arrivals. Dogged play from both teams in the first period saw things close at the break, with Barcelona managing to score the only goal after a strong run from midfield. Again though, Valencia stood together as a team and picked holes with solid passing that saw them edge ahead. Following a goal from Freddy, Barcelona quickly levelled with a goal of their own thanks to a gift from the Valencia keeper. But as they had shown countless times before, this is a team that has coped with adversity as a collective, with a focus on putting things right rather than harping on errors. Quickly gaining control of the possession stakes again, Valencia worked the ball to Jeff who burst through and crashed the ball into (and through) the Barcelona net. Valencia rode that momentum, knocking over another point to run out 2-9 to 2-5 winners.

In doing so they capped a run of 14 straight wins (dating back to the semi-final in Madrid) with their third successive tournament win and first Iberian title.

The celebrations began soon after and continued for many hours into the night, punctuated by the tournament dinner and awards ceremony. Andy W proudly lifted the two trophies on behalf of the Sant Vicent boys, while Cormac made an appearance in time to be named Iberian defensive player of the year as well as overall season MVP.

With the championship win comes the opportunity to recognise and thank everyone involved with the club since its inception four years ago. The title is the result of a huge amount of work put in by a large number of people on the field, in practice and behind the scenes. It represents the culmination of four years of determination and commitment to the club and sport from the likes of Gavin and Deidre, Mick, June and Liam, Paul Murphy, Emma P and many others. From the current squad come thanks to the committee; the ladies for all their support and efforts; the non-playing members and sponsors; Mick for his tireless and often unseen work; Liam and Andy for their organisation and running of practices and circuits; Adam and Paul M for their leadership on and off the field and all the players for making it such a great experience all-round.

The 2011 Iberian Champions are: