Madrid – Round 4
With the cooler breezes steadily giving way to the warm air we knew that summer had hit Valencia. This has meant many things to the San Vicent girls: perhaps the anticipation of summer holidays, the chance to start blending unusual tan lines created by our kit and, of course, the nearing end of the season.
On 8th June we headed to the capital for the last tournament of the season. With the biggest turn out of players this season it was clear that the team had maintained their enthusiasm, spirit and ambitions. Fittingly, this enthusiasm for a final tournament had reached all of Spain, which meant the biggest turn out of ladies teams this year: with two Galician, two Madrileño, one Barcelonian and, of course, the Valencian team all congregating for a day of Gaelic football.
Our first game against A Estrada started strong, as we quickly took the lead in the first half. Quick passing and accurate shots from our midfields and forwards meant that we soon had the benefit of a number of points and goals scored. Rachel, Sandra and June worked hard to push the play forward with Monica able to capitalise on this. Into the second half the team continued to work hard with a strong defence to compliment the attacking play, so when the final whistle blew the score was Valencia 4-11, A Estrada 0-00.
Madrid have been tough competitors this season and this game was no different, where they showed their skills at breaking from the midfield and scoring points from distance. Danielle and Naomi worked hard in defence and the fast forward play allowed us to maintain a near equal score line throughout the game. After some great exertion from many of the Valencian girls it was disappointing that the Harps were able to edge into the lead with just a minute or two before the end of the game, leaving the final score Madrid Harps
0-08, Valencia 1-04.
After a season playing and observing them, we knew that a semi-final against Barcelona would require all our energy and perhaps a little luck if we were to secure ourselves a win. Unfortunately, Barcelona started with speed and a number of shots on target, which allowed them to gain an early lead. Our defence worked hard to minimise this impact with Laura working hard in goal, while the midfield play aimed to move the ball forward. Despite these efforts we ended the first half with a score line, which suggested that our hopes of another final were slipping away. Yet we began the second half with renewed fervour in all parts of the field. A team effort, which saw us playing some of the best Gaelic football we have played as a team this season, allowed us to draw closer to Barcelona´s score. In fact, the second half alone was a Valencian win, yet this was not enough to take us through to the final, as it ended Barcelona 3-08, Valencia 2-04. Here, it would be difficult to mention individual players of merit, as this game showed what we could achieve as a whole team and, certainly in the second half, embodied the team spirit of Valencia.
So, left fighting it out for third place was Valencia against A Coruña. Valencia kept their team spirit alive and with the helpful coordination of June and Naomi all 13 of the Valencia girls were able to contribute to the match. Maeve and Rocio kept the play moving through the midfield with Rocio able to use her football skills well to push the score up. Here experience and new enthusiasm worked well together to secure a win and vital points for the table (Valencia 1-11, A Coruña 1-03).
Congratulations go to Madrid Harps, who broke the season´s deadlock by going on to beat Barcelona in the final. This home soil victory allowed them to push up the points table but Barcelona took the prize of season champions, with Valencia behind in second.
At this tournament there was a high standard of play from so many of the Valencian players, so choosing an MVP for this tournament involved a bit of head scratching. Yet ultimately it seemed there could only be one winner, reflecting not only the day´s successes but achievements across the whole season. June once again worked hard captaining the girls – organising, guiding and motivating us throughout the day. Moreover, on the pitch she showed us all what it means to be a great player with the range of her skills in all parts of the field, point scoring abilities and her relentless fight and determination. Congratulations to June!
Congratulations go to Patricia from A Coruña for the tournament MVP, who throughout the day embodied her team´s passion for the game, showing some great skills in playing up front and scoring many hard earned points.
With the last tournament of the season there was always going to be the sense of an ending, yet this was made more poignant by the knowledge that it would be the last time we would play with the team as it currently is. Emotions ran high at the end of the day, as we knew that we would be saying a few goodbyes. Firstly to Adam, who has contributed a great deal to the club, not least as the ladies trainer this year. We have him to thank for the Madrid Harps describing us as the fittest ladies team (all those suicide runs paid off!), for sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game and for shouting for us (and often at us) from sidelines all over Spain. On his watch all the girls are proud of what we have achieved over the last few months, leaving us with successes that we hope to continue to build on in the future.
Finally, this may be a farewell, or we hope more an hasta pronto, to three girls on the team. There are so many things to celebrate in each of them, not least their commitment shown through travelling to all the tournaments, being regulars at training and circuits and great people to get to know, both on and off the field. Danielle has achieved a great deal – keeping the team kitted up and organised, training the kids and parents, marking the Barcelona girls harder than anyone and being a great friend to so many on the Valencian team. Monica can be proud of many points scored, defenders outrun, defenders run into and all the laughter she has inspired. For Rachel we celebrate all the goals set up, the on-pitch running, the off-pitch dancing and her enthusiasm for all she takes part in.
So, as we reflect on the season – the games played, the friends made – we keep our hopes for the future and say Amunt Valencia, go dté tú slán.
Barcelona – Round 3
After just 4 weeks of brewing anticipation since A Coruña´s tournament Sant Vicent Valencia headed to Barcelona for the third tournament of the season. Facing Barcelona on their home turf and as the season leaders was always going to be a tough test, but the girls made their way up the coast into Catalonia with high expectations and a team powered by positive thoughts and competitive spirit. Once again, the Valencia girls showed their commitment and enthusiasm for the game by travelling up with a strong team, who were looking forward to facing the challenges of the weekend; the first being spending the night in a dormitory/commune with somewhat dangerously high beds, (which at least the girls team managed to safely traverse their way into and out of).
The day´s first game was a baptism of fire, as we faced Barcelona, who had a strong team out for their home tournament. Despite this the first half of the match showed quite little difference between the two teams with some great points scored from both sides. However, Barcelona´s set plays were proving to be highly effective at creating goal scoring opportunities, which kept Valencia´s defence on their toes. Despite being the first game of the day this was a fast-paced and competitive game. Our strong team of forwards made some excellent breaks with Rachael and Rocio working especially hard to push up the field and put pressure onto the home team. With the benefit of a penalty scored, Barcelona edged in front before half time and in the second half, with two goals scored, they were able to secure a win.
Once again A Coruña showed their spirit for the game by travelling the long journey South East to Barcelona. Warmed up from our Barcelona game, we faced them second and were ready to build on the successes and challenges of the first match. A Coruña´s spirit didn´t end with their arrival in Barcelona but translated into a team that work hard to win the ball and score points. A Coruña had a few strong points in this match, yet it was clear from the start that Valencia wanted to ensure a win in this game. After securing a decent lead in the first half thanks to an excellent team effort and the successful conversion of long balls into goals and points, Valencia went from strength to strength and ended the match Valencia 3-11, A Coruña 1-05.
Before the third game with Madrid the referee informed us that, with the scores and goal differences as they were, this would for all intents and purposes be a semi-final, which would allow the winner the chance to square up to Barcelona in the final. With this in mind Valencia started very strong, yet we were met with equal strength and passion from Madrid. Throughout the match there was never more than a point or twos difference between the two teams, which made for a fantastic game to both play and watch – the only casualty being some tired legs on the field and many bitten nails on the sidelines. Valencia´s defensive strategies seemed to be working well to prevent some powerful forward plays from Madrid, with Naomi working especially hard to keep the back line strong and organise the team in this part of the field, with Katy Stableford and Lorraine playing their part to keep Madrid at bay. In midfield June made some fantastic breaks and was able to show off her skilled kicks on target in all parts of the field. With some well structured forward play and the speed of Monica Cohen up front, Valencia was able to creep into the lead. Tensions escalated towards the end of the game when Madrid scored a penalty, but luckily Valencia had done enough to maintain a winning score line; the final score being Valencia 2-04, Madrid 2-03. Certainly this was one of the most exciting and enjoyable games the girls had played all season and we all felt ready to contend with Barcelona in the final.
We faced the season leaders in the final. We met them on their home turf. We were up against a highly experienced team, who wanted to build on their run of success. Yet these challenges only made us even more ready for the battle! In the first half both teams showed their sheer determination to win and all our players felt the pressure from Barcelona. Some very close marking and determination to get behind the ball halted Barcelona in some of their set plays. Barcelona´s shooting abilities kept Laura on her toes, but she was able to make some athletic saves, as well as showing her abilities in a moment of glory by saving a penalty. Juxtaposing this with the longer balls played to Monica up front allowed Valencia to keep the trophy in sight as we entered the second half. Both teams seemed determined to ignore the cries from their legs to stop and the increasing pounding of their hearts and played another fast and tense half. The defensive line worked hard holding off some strong attacking moves and the team´s midfields and forwards continued to give all they could to the game. As the end of the game raced towards us tensions came to a head when a foul was enacted against Valencia´s Danielle, which led to a sin bin for both Valencia and Barcelona. More than anything, this eruption of frustration was testament to Danielle´s close marking and consistent efforts in defence. So with just a hair´s length in it Valencia continued to fight, no one exemplifying this drive and persistence more than June. As the final whistle blew with Barcelona just four points in front, we felt the surge of disappointment at yet another final slipping away from us (the final score being Barcelona 1-09, Valencia 1-05). Yet as each and every team member had given their best to the game and with the girls feeling that we have achieved such a lot and improved so much this season, this disappointment was only short lived.
Later in the evening it wasn´t only the all you can eat buffet or the tables adorned with Lazy Susans that gave us cause to celebrate. Valencia could be proud of all their players but none more than Monica, who was awarded Most Valuable Player for the ladies tournament. The referees remarked upon her ability to turn and outrun even the most experienced defenders and her consistent goal scoring abilities evidenced in all the day´s games. This award exemplifies both Monica´s skill as a player and her hard work at training – an amazing achievement from a player, who was new in the sport in January this year.
Being voted Valencia´s Most Valuable Player it was clear that all the girls appreciated June´s pivotal role, as both player and captain. On the field she showed her skill and versatility, defending with strength, as well as pushing forward and contributing a great deal to the final scores of all games. Moreover, as captain she was able to inspire and maintain team spirit for the entirety of the day.
Despite the steady approach of summer, we are not quite ready to hang up our football boots and head to the beach on a Sunday morning. Instead the girls will continue to train, building on the successes and knowledge gained in Barcelona, and await the final tournament of the season in Madrid on June 8th.
La Coruña – Round 2
The second round of the Iberian championship held in for the second time in La Coruña proved to be a huge success with some excellent playing surfaces – grass pitches that the Valencian lads weren’t too accustomed to on the eastern coast.
Valencia’s men’s team started the day in strong fashion against the newcomers Mecos Ogrove. Playing with some slight variations in defence, Declan coming into partner the long-serving Mick as full backs with Andy White and Liam Groarke forming a strong partnership on the 40.
Some very promising build up play and passing possessions brought about numerous scoring chances early on with Pat and Adam to the fore from the outset. The difference in class soon became apparent it was obvious how the result was going to go from early on with KJ in the Valencian goals seeing very little traffic in his direction. The players around the middle gobbled breaking ball up quickly with Paul Hickey and Andy White showing great anticipation and awareness on any loose ball. – After numerous forays into the opponents half and a good flexing of the muscles in the opening game, Valencia ran out easy winners 4.06 to 0.01.
The second game of the day threw up a very exciting contest between the Santiago based newcomers Irmandinhos A Estrada. This boisterous bunch seemed to have the physicality to deal with any of the teams on the day and this surely proved to be the case after only a few minutes of this contest. Numerous heavy challenges were going in but the Valencian boys were warming up well showing little evidence of the nervousness that hampered the team in the opening games of the home tournament a month earlier. Continuing his great form in his debut season, Pat seemed to really have brought his shooting boots with great movement and inside forward play. His deceptive balance and agility carved out a number of scores while creating frees as well which were duly converted by the ever-reliable Andy White. The defence had a little bit more to do in this game and acquitted themselves well as a unit with Declan impressing under the high ball. Despite gaining a considerable amount of possession at times, los Irmandinhos were never capable of converting this into anything tangible in the form of clear cut chances or scores. A good physical challenge for the Valencian boys to prepare them for the games ahead with the match ending at 2.04 to 0.01.
The last group game saw a renewal of an old rivalry with Madrid at this both teams were well warmed up and were ready for a real challenge. An edgy start saw some scrappy interchanges of play but Declan and Adams ability in the air and the Mayo duo of Pat and Liam set about threatening the Madrid defend with some vigour. Valencia’s defense got on top early on limiting Madrid to pot shots from distance with Niall and Mick particularly impressive in shackling any of the danger men in the Madrid offense. Valencia were never going to completely run away with this one but with the addition of some free kicks from the accurate Andy White and a goal from Liam/Pat. The boys were always doing enough to keep their noses in front. A solid defensive base was in place with Mick, Lofty and Niall marshaled by the on looking KJ. Some close shaves did transpire in the Valencian goal. With KJ called into action to deal with a goalmouth scramble. Madrid did manage a couple of nice points from range and forced a free kick with the backs coming under considerably more pressure than the previous two games. Further insurance points were tagged on by Adam and Pat to leave the final score line of 1.05 to 1.02.
A well-needed break duly ensued with lunchtime thoughts turning to the final pairing in the previous years tournament in Coruna, Los Fillos versus Valencia. Huge improvements had been seen in their play back in June 2012 so the Valencian boys knew going into game that reaching the final would not be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. And so that improvement was duly witnessed within the opening minutes of the semi-final with a cool finish to the net by the La Coruña half forward. Valencian had got their warning and knew they were in a game. Uncharacteristically for this tournament, Valencia suffered from a very slow start but after the goal and wake-up call, Andy White and Adam helped to slowly turn the screw with good possession being won around the middle and the link up play gradually kicked into action. After a shaky start Declan and Niall returned to form to steady the defensive ship thus building the platform to start the impressive offense from earlier on in the day. Great unseen work from Paul Hickey and Lofty allowed Liam and Andy White provide some excellent opportunities for Pat, the sharpshooter on the day. Coruna, fighting hard the whole way throughout the first half hoping to impress in front of an eager home crowd. Unfortunately for them however some good possession was wasted or turned over with exceptional interception skills from the quick reflexes of Adam and Niall further back the field. Up front meanwhile, Liam and Pat came up trumps again with some nice approach play and shot selection meaning the last 5 minutes of the game was played out with the result in no doubt. The game running out on a 2.08 to 1.01 score line
And that was it, Valencia through to their second final in a row to face the winners of the Barca/Madrid semi. As expected, albeit after some serious pressure from a resurgent Madrid, Barca won to set up a familiar looking final pairing. An eastern coast dominance of the 2013 Iberian championship would continue and as the game got underway a very poor start from Valencia’ perspective ensued. Barcelona secured possession from the throw-in, engineered some nice hand passes with the result of a coolly slotted goal amidst frantic defending by Valencia. Keeper KJ advanced from his line but despite his and a number of players presence the Barca corner forward opened up a cushion that Valencia were never to close. Without dropping their heads Valencia battled back to gain some good possession in the following minutes. However a Barca free kick preceded a game changing disaster in the Valencian defense. A threatening foray forward by Barca resulted in a foolishly aggressive strike by KJ, which unfortunately turned the game into an uphill struggle. An already difficult task had now become a whole lot tougher. Barca, quick to read the game situation, dropped players back and choking any threat from Valencia meaning they could keep the ball patiently and score at will without having to over exert themselves. Valencia starved of any worthwhile possession could only watch as their opponents set about holding onto the ball, forcing frees and running their game plan with great purpose. Valencia, to their great credit didn’t drop their heads and kept battling despite their efforts every time seemingly to be in vain and despite missing a real gold-edged opportunity of a goal with Pat. In truth, Barca was in the driving seat right from that moment of madness. Andy White and Adam tried their hearts out, attempting to kick start and ignite something offensively but with Los Fillos’ Tom (our borrowed corner forward for the day) having to fill the vacated spot in goals, the forward line lacked lack any real zest which had been more apparent in earlier games. Some easy and non-contested points were added on by the Catalans in the closing minutes to put a flattering touch to the final score line of 1.09 to 0.02.
The Valencian men have a lot to learn from this tournament and will head to the championship-deciding tournament in Barcelona with great courage and a sense of all or nothing/ nothing to lose.
Congratulations to Adam Whyte who was given the Most Valuable Player award by the referees at the La Coruña tournament for his dynamic midfield play despite his team losing in a hard-fought final.
How many English, Scottish, Irish and Spanish Gaelic footballers can you fit in one night train carriage? Reminiscent of a classic joke from simpler times, this question struck us as we boarded the night train to La Coruña on Friday 12th April. Instead of a laugh (or perhaps groan) inducing punch line, instead I can offer a genuine answer – 9, plus four people’s kit, luggage and an array of picnic food and utensils.
With this particular challenge overcome other questions came to the fore. Would the Sant Vicente boys and girls improve on their Valencian tournament successes and disappointments? Could we halt Barcelona in its charge to another victory?
It is certainly testament to the passion, enthusiasm and commitment of players in the club that so many traversed the 949 kilometres to make it to La Coruña for the second tournament of the season. Luckily, as the sun edged its way through a cool Galician morning, all those feelings were able to override those of tiredness after long car, train and air travels, as the players assembled at La Coruña’s pitches. The verdant Galician landscape and the blanket of a strange substance known as grass underfoot felt like…well Ireland I guess, so we were all ready to start the day’s play.
First on the day’s agenda for the girls was the match against the home team. La Coruña’s spirit was clear from the start and their team showed the ever-increasing passion for the game in the region. At half time Valencia had managed to edge in front. The strength and speed of Valencia’s attackers then stepped into full flow in the second half, leaving the final score Valencia 4-05 La Coruña 1-02.
Next came the meeting with Madrid’s team, which showed the balance of experience with the enthusiasm amongst new players. With Madrid’s strengths in all areas of play and some strong kickers it looked set to be a challenge for the girls. The second half showcased some excellent points from all the attackers, especially the kicking skills of June Harrington, and Valencia soon used their determination to win the game, Valencia 3-05 Madrid 0-03.
It would be a cliché to describe the blood and sweat of the game, yet the image is apt, as the girls left the pitch tired, satisfied and in some cases bearing battle wounds. However, this on field battle soon gave way to off field possible lifelong friendships – with Valencia’s Monica Cohen forgetting her pain and forgiving Madrid’s Leslie for her hands on defence strategies!
Barcelona´s girls had shown their skills in the Valencian tournament, already declaring themselves as the ones to beat. With a strong, skilled team battling our equally determined team, this match was certain to create some sparks. After a fairly steady start from both teams, at half time there was little to tell between them. However, Barcelona edged into the lead in the second half with some strong points. Tensions reached their height in this game and Valencia´s girls left the pitch with a few injuries and a strong pulse of adrenaline!
Yet there was little time to wait for the team to face Barcelona again, as the final took place later between them and Valencia later that afternoon. Despite Valencia´s team spirit and hard work during training, the first half fell victim to the tiredness and injuries of the day; Danielle Rudden and Rachael M pushed pain aside and played for the good of the team. Yet even with a better second half performance, Barcelona had secured enough of a lead to make it difficult for the girls to turn the score line around. Unfortunately, the Valencian girls left the final disappointed at the lost oppportunity to win a tournament. Certainly, it was made clear on this day again that the Barcelona Gaelettes were a strong force to be reckoned with.
Despite carrying the weight of dashed hopes and sore legs, the team were able to enjoy the warm and somewhat raucous Galician hospitality of the evening. Barcelona´s player, Tessa McGovern received the accolade of the tournaments most valuable player for her consistently high standard of play. Tessa´s strong presence during games is something that we can all admire and aim to emulate.
Now as the Spanish summer sweeps towards us, we look forward to travelling to Barcelona on 11th May for the next tournament, with hopes afresh, to face the challenge of holding onto the chance of a season victory.