As the dust settles on the 2015 Masters European Championships at St Albans, the Irish men’s Over-40s squad re-engage with their families, school runs recommence and the cuts and bruises start to heal, there is still a glance at a the medal hanging in the kitchen, tucked safely in a draw or proudly on display in the lounge, then a smile takes over and again the realisation of what we have achieved, a European Medal for the first time in Irish Masters history.
As you reach to the mobile phone to check the latest round of group whatsapp messages it becomes apparent we all feel the same, the banter is still there, the camaraderie and the bond between 16 players that have made Irish hockey history will never die.
Yet still thinking of what could of been having pushed both finalists, England and Holland, so close. So plans at amend this at the World Cup have already started.
After the group stages, we faced England in the semi finals a team that we had beaten and been beaten by us in the last 12 months, we knew it would be tough and that they would out for dominance in their own country.
Coach Richard Mason was replaced David “Chats” Chatteejee who kindly agreed to help work the bench. We were given an inspiring pre match pep talk by Skipper Paul (Pfit) Fitzpatrick: “A semi-final of the European Championships….. this is a life moment lads….. enjoy it!”
Dressed in our new shorts sponsored by Opennet the game started in rain which continued throughout the match however, we adapted better to the conditions.
England couldn’t handle the rat out of the traps start, closing them down and making leads runs that Usain Bolt would have trouble catching and we consequently punished them.
Duggie Good, fouled in the act of scoring, was awarded a penalty stoke. Paudie Carley stepped up and maintained his 100 percent record, 1-0 Ireland. The rain continued to the point of water logging the pitch and despite calls through their tears from England to abandon the match, we were hungry for more and, after a 15 minute break, play resumed.
England continued to press and whenever the defence was breeched the they found the ever present Gordie “face masks” Clarke in the type form to worry David Harte, short corner after short corner saved.
England’s panic for a goal created chances for Ireland however none could be converted, the pressure finally became too much and on the 43 minute mark, England got their goal, quickly followed by their second.
We pressed harder and still created chances but not enough to bring the score line level. With eight minutes left, we went to 11 outfield players but found the English defence of 11 players within their 25, too tough to break down.
On 68 minutes, they forced a break away to give us the nail in the coffin and send them into the final to face Holland.
After a day’s break spent on the physio table and working through areas for improvement, the team enjoyed a lovely evening meal before getting an early night to be fighting fit for the Germans and the third fourth place playoff match.
Having beaten us 5-0 in the World Cup only a year ago, Germany came into the game very relaxed, we welcomed back Frankie “The Conductor” Byrne to orchestrate a win.
They started well and with us missing the Jools twins, Julian “I collect cards” Hinds and Julian “I’m faster than a Maserati but do you want to buy one” Stevenson, we worked the bench as much as possible.
The weather held and five games of hockey in six days took its toll on both teams; Germany took the lead in the 20th minute, “completely against the run of play”, a quote from the umpire.
However, their joy was short lived and after a flowing move from Philly B at right back unleashing the youth pace of Grattan “The Enforcer” Evans. Pfit was found in the circle to force the ball home 1-1 25 minutes gone.
The next 20 minutes across the second and third quarter were tense as we both pushed for a winner, the tireless work of Peter “more tackles than a Massey Ferguson” Young in midfield, and with Allen Irwin running up and down the line more times than Robbie Fowler in a night club (allegedly).
The defence held firm, it was up to the attacking midfielders and forward to produce a winner. On the
43 minute, the winner came, Grattan’s hard work and pushing his body to the limit paid off with a winning goal, with the transfer window open, Bray HC will be lucky to keep him.
The rest of match was extremely tense, the Germans unable to think of losing threw everything at Ireland, without the closing down and runs to release the pressure from Peter “I’m Swat Trained” Bland.
They surely would of made it 2-2. The final whistle blew and with 10 men on the pitch, thanks to Younger, the relief was instant, we didn’t know weather to collapse with exhaustion or jump with joy, but I think you know what happened. The joy was overwhelming.
Every member gave their all over the week and did their country proud, the stand out performer and the players player of the tournament was Philip Barbour, not only the gentleman of the team, but four goal line clearances and playing right back as if he was 18 again. I’m sure Craig “I beat the English” Fulton will be calling soon.
The week was a success, St Albans Hockey Club had great facilities and everyone was smiling and helpful despite the weather. Being many players first time at such a tournament, it takes a lot of time, dedication and money, all are all lucky to have understanding and supportive families, not to mention jobs.
A lot of the money is from our own pockets and without the important sponsorship of Openet (www.Openet.ie) and Millbrook Paving (www.millbrookpaving.ie) such trips wouldn’t be possible.
From my point of view, I feel honoured to grace the pitch and at an event with a players such as you, to win a medal and make history only makes it sweeter. The memories will last a lifetime, watering can on me when we meet up (again :))