From Cathal Harkin – from the pitch side in Birmingham, comes this fairly excellent report of the day.
All-Ireland Junior Championship Quarter-Final
Wolfe Tones (Liverpool, Britain) 1-02 v 1-12 Belgium (Europe)
What do you get if you cross a Colombian, a French, a Canadian, a Spaniard, some Belgian and a few Irish girls with an Australian coach? A damn good gaelic footballing team. This is exactly what this Belgium team were. Make no mistake about it, they were full value for their comprehensive victory over the Liverpool Wolfe Tones and in the process of winning this All-Ireland Junior Championship Quarter-Final; they created history by being the first European champions to be incorporated into the All-Ireland series. History will continue when they play the Munster champions in two weeks time at the Maastricht.
This game was a home tie for the British Junior champions and it took place in perfect Autumn conditions in Pairc na hEireann, Birmingham. What was only a two hour journey for the Wolfe Tones, was a 2-day journey for the Belgian team, as coach Peter Jenson stated. “We made the journey yesterday (Friday) from Belgium and we went through the tunnel and stayed overnight in Luton, or as the Colombian girl called it Loo-ton.” Travelling was just not one of the problems that the Belgian team faced as the pronunciation of Luton would suggest. “Some of the girls don’t have the greatest English but we would always try and shout at them anyway!” Encouragement was not a problem for the team because from the sideline both substitutes and coach alike, made plenty of noise in spite of their non-existent support.
The Wolfe Tones started the game well and bossed possession in the opening stages but could not take any scoring chances. Belgium in fact opened the scoring through the boot of Caragah O’Connor after a poor kickout from Kitty Murray, but finally after 10 minutes the Wolfe Tones opened their account and in somewhat traditional fashion: a goal from Carmel Hackett. Hackett, opened the Tone’s scoring in the semi-final with a goal and was on target again. A great run and lay-off from Denis McDonagh to her, resulted in the Augher native finishing to the net with their left boot. Another good run from McDonagh resulted in Nikki Laverty pointing from a difficult angle to put them three points to the good. This point in the 11th minute was to be their last until the 58th minute, a gap of 47 minutes. You do not win All-Ireland quarter-finals playing this way. Subsequently the European champions began to play football and tore their opponents apart. Margaux Mansanarez who would excel at wing-back all day teamed up with Ana Rois who would in turn find the marauding Elaine Kennedy to shoot and score. Kennedy would go on and play a huge role for Belgium with her aggressive and direct running. Two more points quickly followed with a free from Ciara Farrell and a great score from long range courtesy of Sinead Fitzsimmons. Then travesty struck for the Wolfe Tones when Kennedy after another searing run, blasted the ball to the back of the net to leave the score 1-04 v 1-01. From here Belgium would not look back and from the 23rd minute onwards there only looked like one winner. Time and time again Fitzsimmons and Mansanarez cut holes through the centre of the Wolfe Tones defence and were unlucky not to add more scores on numerous occasions. Another free from Farrell finished the scoring for the opening half to leave it 1-05 v 1-01 in favour of Belgium.
The Liverpool Wolfe Tones were missing some of their influential players for this game, however this does not excuse them for their poor performance in the opening half. It seemed that they made the long journey for the game instead of the Belgians because they were sluggish throughout and somewhat disinterested. If the game was within striking distance for the Tones at the start of the second half, then the opening 5 minutes would squash such notions. Kennedy again was to the fore, as she rifled over a fierce shot after a strong run. Fitzsimmons, had a great chance of goal but blasted over. Then the flurry of scores was completed from a Farrell free. The scoreline quickly ticked over and it read Belgium 1-09 v 1-01 Wolfe Tones. The Wolfe Tones struggled for penetration in front of goal and any ball they decided to hit in long was mopped up by towering full back Grainne Ni Fhlatharta who was a colossus all day. Time and time again she repelled the Liverpudlian’s attacks and set up moves for her team. It was then the fast-moving Belgians made hay. For many of the Belgian players this was only their second-ever game in the 15 a-side format but you couldn’t tell. What was clearly evident however, was the skill-set they used during their 7 and 9 a-side games in Europe, was brought to the table and the Wolfe Tones couldn’t live with it. When the Tones did manage to get through, goalkeeper Irene Kirwin was equal to deny McDonagh on two occasions. Scores from Caoimhe Ni Shuilleabhain and Rois, both from tight angels piled on the misery for the British champions. A late score for the Wolfe Tones from Leitrim lady, Janette Maguire finished the scoring in what was a very disappointing day for the girls in green, white and yellow. A lot of the Tone’s girls failed to turn up bar Niamh Cahill, Grainne O’Gara and the industrious and hard-working Maguire, however even if the team performed better it may not have swayed the result. Belgium were simply fitter, powerful and the better footballers and deserved their victory.
The shy and retiring team captain Aisling Fenton was gracious in victory. “I want to thank the Wolfe Tones today, they put in a super effort. We knew we would have to play out of our skin and we are really delighted to have won this and especially in 15 a-side. We are looking forward to the visit of the Munster champions to our home ground in the Maastricht in early November.” Aisling would again state the togetherness of the club which has up to 130 club members “We have girls from all various nationalities who play and they are as Irish as us. This is who we are.”
This result is a milestone in the history of the GAA, history was created in Birmingham on Saturday; watch out in the next round for more from this exciting Belgium team.
Wolfe Tones: Kitty Murray; Ruth Kelly, Nicola Donaghey, Niamh Cahill; Shannon Finnegan, Grainne O’Gara, Clodagh McPeake; Janette Maguire (0-01), Caroline Donaghey; Nikki Laverty(0-01), Aoife Jacob, Laura Farrell; Denise McDonagh, Carmel Hackett (1-00), Patricia Moyna (c).
Subs used: Karina Grehan, Eimear O’Kane, Leah O’Halloran, Susanne McKerr
Belgium GAA: Irene Kirwin; Nickie Pacheco, Grainne Ni Fhlatharta, Jane Brennan; Michaela Duffy, Aisling Fenton (c), Margaux Mansanarez; Elaine Kennedy (1-02), Caoimhe Ni Shuilleabhain (0-01); Orlaith Downey, Ciara Farrell (0-05, 4f), Sinead Fitzsimmons (0-02); Anay Rios (0-01), Carragh O’Connor (0-01), Barbera Wynne;
Subs used: Ellen Hade; Anna Bates.