The year 2014 will go down in the record books as a successful one for the Men’s Gaelic Football team. With this being the 40th anniversary year of the ISSC the importance of the year was not lost on the management team and players.
The players met as a group in January to map out the year ahead and to put structures in place that could make the year a success.
The year kicked off on St Patrick’s Day weekend with the traditional annual Gaelic Football match against our friends from the Cougars Australian Football Club. A wet March afternoon did not dampen the spirits of those involved and a good and competitive game of football kicked off the year in fine fashion.
Next up in the calendar was the annual “Sevens” tournament which takes place at Capilano Rugby Club. Six team battled it out over five weeks for the early season bragging rights. There were some extremely competitive games over the course of the tournament, none more so, than when The Wibblies edged out The Beast Modes in Week 2 in a game of high intensity, high tackle count and some great scores, especially for so early in the season in the Spring rain. The Wibblies went on to win the tournament with a 100% record with some tests along the way. The trophy was presented to WIbblies captain John Martyn who gave a stirring acceptance speech on how great the year could be if we decide to put the effort in.
Not long after the dust had settled on the Spring Series of football we were finally back in training in early May. In the past it had been found to be difficult to keep enthusiasm going with no tournament of note until early August. In 2013, the inaugural Vancouver Championship was formed. It had been a modest success but the plan was to make the Vancouver Championship a key part of our year for May, June and July and build on the foundations set in 2013. A group of players met at the end of April to formulate a plan for the Vancouver championship. There was plenty of good debate on how it would work best. A consensus was reached that we would have three teams who would play each other every second Thursday night in May and June with a finals night in July. There would be three games per Thursday night with each team playing each other. For finals night, the first place team would play the invited Fraser Valley Gaels in one semi final with the second and third placed teams meeting in the other. There was a third/fourth place game as well as a final. The three teams were decided by the group who met to form the championship. Three equal teams were formed after some deliberations.
One thing we lacked in the forming of the Championship was creativity in team names as Team 1, Team 2 and Team 3 battled it out. The first night was very competitive as all team won one and lost one. Team 2 took control from Week 2 as they won every game from there all the way through to the final to be crowned Vancouver champions. They faced plenty of tests throughout, especially in the final against Team 3 but came through as deserving champions. Throughout the championship there were some great battles and it really was to the benefit of the Vancouver team as players were more battle hardened in the Summer compared to Summer past. The championship was a huge success as it gave competitive game to those who needed it for tests to come further down the road, but as well as that, it provided games to those who wanted to play recreationally.
After finals night in mid-July the Western Canadian championship was in sight. Vancouver hosted the tournament to mark the 40th anniversary of the club. Two Vancouver teams took part in the Western Canadian championship, as well as the newly created Fraser Valley Gaels. We prepared diligently for the tournament and went into the weekend with plenty of belief that we could succeed. The Saturday went well with Vancouver Harps winning all three games to top the group. Vancouver Celts struggled in their first game against Edmonton but regrouped admirably to win their remaining games on the day to come second in the group and qualify for the semi finals. This set up a match up between the two Vancouver teams in the semi final on Sunday. This was a keenly fought contest. An early black card for the Celts Mark Turner showed that the referee was going to keep the game under control, a job he did very well throughout the tournament. This black card earned Mark the dubious honour of being the first Vancouver player to receive a black card and possibly the first player in a game in Canada to do so too. The Harps prevailed to win through to the final with extra fitness and some quality score taking up front giving them the edge in an absorbing contest. Defending champions Edmonton beat Calgary in the Battle of Alberta to qualify for the final.
The final was a nail biting affair with Edmonton winning by the minimum on a scoreline of 0-13 to 0-12. Vancouver disrupted Edmonton’s short kick out tactic to a high degree of success, turning over the man in possession or intercepting the ball on a number of occasions in the first half. It was 0-8 to 0-5 to the hosts at half time. Edmonton came back strong in the second half. They had a very accurate full forward line who started to find their range in the second half with some great score taking from various angles. It was a nail biting finish with Vancouver trying hard, forcing turnovers and creating chances but just unable to convert to force extra time or a winner. It was bitterly disappointing to lose and of little comfort to have been involved in a thrilling finale, the best game in the tournament for a number of years.
The hangover of that defeat hung around the group for a couple of weeks. The task of checking on flights and getting players to the North American Championship was a distraction but a small one as the “what if’s” ran laps through the minds. To the credit of the group, while hurting from defeat, the answer was positive as the numbers at training showed that this group would not be dissuaded. A couple of lull weeks of training however were but to a halt after a clear the air discussion at the end of a bad session. Management and players spoke their mind and it was decided we had to increase our intensity and not just phone it in if we wanted to compete at the North American Championship in Boston. The session that followed, as well as subsequent session, showed that the hunger was back in the group and training went on an upward curve as we approached Boston.
At the North American Championships in Cleveland in 2013 we had been outclassed severely by Philadelphia. We went into this year’s championships under no illusions at the task at hand with the message that we would compete in Boston and that if we do that we had the talent to be successful. Our focus was on our first game, nothing more, as we boarded planes at YVR through many different cities on layover to meet again in Boston. We had dinner and a meeting Friday night as we discussed our semi final on the Saturday against Cork – Boston. We started against Boston very positively as we adapted to the normal sized GAA pitch, a difference in size from the rugby pitches of Canadian GAA. At half time we lead by three, 0-10 to 0-7, a position we were content with but should have been a lot more as we were not a clinical as we could have been, both in front of the posts and in possession. This was addressed at half time and we came out in the second half and upped the ante as we put the Boston team to the sword to come through comfortably in the end on a scoreline of 3-17 to 0-14.
The final would see us meet a Philadelphia team again. The Philadelphia intermediate entrant is the runner up of the Philadelphia senior final so in effect they are a senior caliber team. This should have been a daunting prospect but there was a confidence in the group that we would not be over run or out competed by our opponents and that we could win the trophy for ourselves. Saturday evening was spent having a team dinner and a meeting again as we prepared for our final. There was a determination and belief in the room that we could achieve.
On Sunday we headed to the pitch in determined mood. A quick start to the final gave us a 0-6 to 0-0 lead as we settled quickly. The first score for Philadelphia came from the penalty spot and we were once again in a close contest. It was never going to keep going that easily and we were prepared for battle. At half time we regrouped, set out our plan and got ready for the final half hour of our year, all would be left on the pitch. We were having great success with the run game and decided to proceed with that course of action. In the second half we ran hard at them drawing fouls which were being converted or creating overlaps for scores in the scoring zone. All was going to plan until Philadelphia netted from a quick free. Once again it was a battle as the sides were level. There was a calmness and a certainty that we would not be beaten as we got ready to go at them again. Throughout the game the pressure put on by the middle eight was exceptional as they prevented Philadelphia from supplying quality ball into the vastness of the full forward line. Any ball that did go in was contested by the back line bravely. Vancouver kicked on to get the last scores of the game and defended en masse to ensure to disaster at the end. Disaster averted, the full time whistle blew to crown Vancouver the North American Intermediate champions of 2014 on a score line of 2-11 to 2-8. The celebrations were filled with joy as happy Vancouver players hugged and jumped. Liam O Neill presented the trophy to our captain John Martyn. One could reflect on John’s words earlier in the year when accepting the winter tournament trophy as being prophetic.
This year has been a fantastic one to be involved with this great group of players. I would personally like to thank each and every one of them, including all who did not make Boston, on their commitment and effort throughout the year. I’d also like to give a massive thanks to Fred Gannon for getting on board the management team to great effect. Thanks also to Connaught Masonry for their sponsorship of our team tops. There are many people who make up a successful club, so many to mention but a huge thanks to everybody who contributed to our team in 2014.
There are not many teams who get to end their year with a win, we did. Nobody can ever take this success from us. We will savour the joy but we cannot wallow in it as there are even bigger tests ahead next year. Looking forward to the challenge and the opportunity to compete again at a higher level in 2015.