A blockbusting social scene has played a major role in the development of our club over the last two years. Saturday night was our end of year dinner and the jewel in the social circuit of Belgium G.A.A. Attendance jumped to 80 and even at that we missed some usual stalwarths like Alan, Caragh, Conchur etc. The session is always cunningly discussed as a 3 course dinner and our hosts in de Valera's pull out all the stops to ensure the pub is prepared suitably.
We had fourteen trophies on display; 7 ladies football, 5 men's hurling and 2 men's football. Despite arriving less than enthusiastic about the prospect of another big session, I quickly found my feet. Some of the FCI seconds remained in situ after the post-game food so we again told each other how wonderful we were after our 2 0 win. Keary, Olof and co were busily fixing their ties, rehearsing their speeches and generally trying to look well. People filtered in gradually in an assortment of costumes. Hudson wore a vest whilst Philip Roche presented himself in a tightly fitting suit and accompanying moustache. There is no dress code but equally no problem wearing whatever you want. The girls always go the extra yard though and on Saturday night they may even have bumped Munich out of my 'top twenty things that are great about Belgium G.A.A.' and bettered their 5th place ranking in the process.
I sat with Enda and his wife Mia (spelling?). Hartey was there too and then Seamus and Clare A. We had good banter and stuck to our disciplined approach regarding eating; not too much, not too little. Olof grabbed a hold of the mic after the main course and proceeded to hand out the awards. The hurlers were up first and Martin was ushered up onto a chair so the masses could see him. The 25 man panel were all presented with their County Championship medals and Conor Aylward deservedly received the 2009 Player of the Year award, restoring the credibility to the prize after Eoin Sheanon's victory in 2008.
Ladies Camogie was next. Unfortunately no medals but the Player of the Year prize was handed out to Cork woman Sylvia. Colin Byrne managed to claim more stage time than anyone else despite having no medal to hand out. He did have to present the Football Player of the Year prize though. It was a tough call this year as we had two teams and thus many people to choose from. We asked for the opinion of everyone and in the end it boiled down to a couple of lads. It was Cluxton who received it though; his performances in some key games like the Exiles Cup sealing it. He is small in stature for a keeper but shows great bravery and one on one shot stopping ability. He won it because he deserved it but it also doubles as a nice parting gift before he leaves Belgium with his wife Emily at the end of the month.
The Ladies footballers had much to celebrate, winning all their tournaments and the County Championship for the second successive year. They also had two teams and have an enviable array of talent at their disposal which will make the other clubs in Europe wonder how to stop their three in a row bid. Laura received their Player of the Year award.
The final award was for Club Person of the Year. It went to the 2008 Footballer of the Year, Phil Cushen. Crusher, as he is better known, suffered a horrible knee injury back in May which will sideline him into next year. However, he didn't disappear and was always on hand to help with training or any other jobs that needed doing. He is a wonderful example to all.
What ensued afterwards is hazy. These nights provoke almighty emotion, with everyone proclaiming the greatness of the G.A.A. and what our club has done for them in Belgium. It really is unbelievable to see 80 people in de Valera's, in Belgium, at a G.A.A. do. One of the great losses to G.A.A. members at home is that so many of them will never experience the energy and passion which people have for it abroad. They can never understand the obstacles which clubs face here as they try to build their club in an environment where it has no grounding, no foothold, no history. Unlike clubs at home, you cannot be passive; you must stand up and contribute. Saturday is the pinnacle of it all, when we sit amongst each other and celebrate the successes of the year. It is a wonderful occasion.