Before the All-Ireland final, the only other competitive fixture the Cork footballers lost this year was away in the league up in Monaghan. Their opponents that day moved the game way out into the country where the team bus had to negotiate the toughest driving conditions. The Rebels were greeted by a tight pitch where they could nearly feel the supporters breathing on their backs. Cork had been ambushed and went home empty handed.
Parc Cinq in Brussels is a bit like that and it was there where The Exiles Cup took place today. Our opponents Tir Chonnail Gaels, 2008 British Champions, travelled by Eurostar the morning of the game. The G.A.A. put up a trophy for the occassion and the match was officiated by Will Cashin.
However, there was work to be done before throw-in. We rent our pitch and only get the key at the designated time so there is no chance to prepare the pitch or facilities beforehand. So with the gate open we quickly assembled the posts. Rochey was sent home to get ties for the nets. Whilst all this was going out there was something happening in the middle of the field which may be as good an example as you'll ever see of what the G.A.A. is all about. We've had days of rain in Brussels and our beloved pitch showed all the signs of it. Keary and Conan weren't having it though and Conan stood, rubbish bag in hand while Keary scooped water into the bag with a butter container. Classic stuff.
Our opponents looked formidable. Rochey had been checking their website the night before and informed us they were all at least 13 or 14 stone and approaching six feet tall. We were not disappointed. As we were warming up, Aylward hobbled over to me to ensure I told the lads 'not to get caught in possession....serious, don't get caught in possession against these lads!!'.
The details of the game haven't come back to me yet so this will be brief. It was close throughout. We set about crowding out their attack and gettting quick ball forward. Eoin Sheanon benefited from his and others industry as we won and he converted a high percentage of frees. We contested the sh1tty scrappy balls and didn't let them break the line too often. Hudson and Keary had to deal with alot of difficult ball in on top of them but found good support in the form of Rochey and Dave Bourke outside them.
Midfield was crowded with myself, Johnny, Olof, Colin and Enda trying to make it hard for our opponents to find space. Our trump card turned out to be our newest player. Dave Collins was sprung from the bench towards the end of the first half and was onthe scoresheet instantly. We went in at the half 0-9 to 0-9.
The Londoners got a great boost early in the second half with a goal. It originated from an off target pass from me to Eoin. Someone fouled the recipient and from the resultant free, the ball landed in our square and eventually found the net. Dave Collins went close to goal shortly after and the teams continued to exchange points. I think Rochey may have nailed a couple, maybe Johnny too. We got right back into it then when I went someway to making up for the earlier error. Dave Collins had broke free and my sideline ball fell into his path and his finish was cool as.
Back down the other end, Cluxton tells me they got a penalty. I only vaguely remember it. He says he saved it. A boost. Our opponents were using their full panel and rotating substitutes to freshen things up. Our only other change was to bring Jim into the backs which allowed us release Hudson's energy out the field. It was in the melting pot with time up. We led by a point. It was level. Then Sheanon, from a deadball on the sideline, steered the winning score between the shticks. 1-20 2-16.
There was a good buzz after the game. It's not often we get to play proper football matches i.e. not tournament format. Those boys play every week and are a very organised bunch. Of course, we know the score, the travelled without their Seniors but still had alot of footballers in their ranks. It was a great occassion, totally unique. Such a fixture has never occurred before and if we do eventually relinquish our crown in Maastricht then at least we will have claimed this cup, on behalf of Europe, in its first outing.
On to The Oak now, and wherever the night may lead.....