Category Archives: Pan Euros

The Return of the Wild Geese

On Saturday 8 September 2012, the current batch of Belgium GAA footballers will face their biggest threat yet: a conglomerate of past players, former comrades and old friends. The All-Stars have challenged the Belgian men to a duel on home (astro)turf. In the words of organiser Shane Griffin, the All-Stars “will return to Brussels and take on the current pretenders to their former shirts. It’s a time for anyone who enjoyed playing in the red and grey to show the 2012 team exactly what they are missing”.

The winning Belgium Shield team in Limerick, November 2011 (photo by Caoimhe O'Sullivan)
The winning Belgium Shield team in Limerick, November 2011 (photo by Caoimhe O’Sullivan)

The winning Belgium Shield team in Limerick, November 2011 (photo by Caoimhe Ní Shuilleabháin)
For many, Brussels is a temporary home. People arrive with a set departure date in mind, but this is usually adjusted and postponed by months or even years. While the unofficial capital of the EU has other endearing aspects in the form of its vibrant nightlife, culture and location, the GAA club is a strong welcoming presence for anyone fresh off the boat.
Oliver O’ Callaghan, who relocated to London in 2010, points out that the club acts as so much more than an athletic endeavour: “It is a social hub, a support network, a link to home and Gaelic games, and above all, the source of instant yet long-term friendships”. Other non-Irish Brussels experiences notwithstanding, he says “I never get tired of reminiscing on the adventures I undertook with this club and good times that surrounded it”.
When club members eventually move on, they do so with heavy hearts and numerous leaving parties, rarely passing up the chance to pay a return visit. The Eagles could just as easily have been referring to Brussels when they sang “You can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave”.
GAA in Europe provides an added twist for home-grown players: distances between clubs mean that tournaments across Europe are played on a monthly basis. Brussels-based Mayo man, Olof Gill, notes, “I’ve always been struck by the phrases many players repeat when they come back from European tournaments – ‘a great day for the parish’ after a win, ‘a bad day for the parish’ after a loss. It’s not a coincidence that so many players use this word – it’s a marvellous validation of the community aspect of the club.”
O’ Callaghan was one of the first to sign up to Shane Griffin’s All-Star experiment, the first of its kind in mainland Europe. “I thought Griff had an organisational nightmare on his hands, akin to herding cats. But it is a testament to both his efficiency and the affection retained by former players for the Belgian club that it has come together with a minimum of fuss or hassle.”
This heart-warming spirit of fellowship is overshadowed by a dark and murky policy of Social Media Sparring. Even Muhammad Ali, godfather of sporting trash talk, never anticipated such sharp sartorial wordplay as “The All-Stars are the football equivalent of the Ugg boot – out of ideas, out of luck, and past their sell-by-date” or “You are the human equivalent of sandals with socks: hideous, never in style, woefully uncool, and only ever accepted in parts of mainland Europe”. This is expected to accelerate in the lead-up to Saturday’s match.
In a hushed tone tinged with disapproval, Gill confides: “It saddens me to report that the Belgium GAA “wild geese” are, in fact, nothing more than a hotchpotch motley crew of chancers, bounders and knaves. It is a cause of great disappointment to me how these former greats have let themselves go since they left the parish.” Nevertheless, some may say that the All-Stars are at a competitive advantage: with nothing to prove and an in-depth knowledge of their opposing numbers, they have the power to shake the current team to their very core. Many of those returning on Saturday have a history with the club that goes back to the one and only European Championship won by the Belgian men, in 2008, and there is an element of “We did it then, can you do it now?” in the minds of the club veterans.
The ties that bind past members to Belgium GAA should not be underestimated: although strips will be torn from both sides, they will be torn as a test of the strength of the team that will go on to represent the club in the first Pan-European football tournament in Copenhagen the following weekend. Copenhagen will also play host to the first ladies football equivalent of 2012, where the women of Belgium will battle to maintain their four-year grip on the European Ladies Football Championship.
As for the match between Belgium GAA and the All-Stars, the endlessly quotable O’ Callaghan imagines that “on the day it will be a lot like the scene at the end of The Quiet Man – no quarter will be given, we will have a real ding-dong battle, and leave it all out there on the field: but at the end of the day, we will be singing songs and raising glasses, toasting the continued success of Belgium GAA”.
Kickoff: Saturday 8 September, 15h00, VUB, Brussels, Belgium.  Match to be preceded by ladies football practice game at 13h00.  On Sunday 9 September, Belgium GAA sponsors, De Valeras, will host a barbecue for Belgium GAA and show the All-Ireland Hurling Final between Galway and Kilkenny.

European Hurling and Camogie Finals – Belgium – 23 July 2011

European Hurling and Camogie Finals – Belgium – 23 July 2011

(photo courtesy of Anna Bates)

For a weekend, Belgium was the home of hurling and camogie. In Europe, at least. We even had Joe McDonagh to serenade us with The West’s Awake from the pulpit of De Valera’s.

Some early organisational glitches aside (to be dealt with before the Pan-European Football tournament goes down in September), it was a day for Belgium GAA to be proud of. The hurlers, although well aware of the fact that they had not retained the Championship for a third year running, found the strength deep within them to win the home tournament, and did not allow their competitors, Den Haag, Luxembourg or Zurich to have an easy day. This all counted at the end of the day, when captain Phil Cushen lifted the cup, and Darragh Cotter earned himself a deserved Player of the Tournament trophy.

This fighting spirit was repeated on the next pitch, where the Belgium camogiers strove to continue the great acheivements they have gained in recent tournaments. Let it not be forgotten that prior to last year’s home tournament, Belgium had never even won a tournament, let alone a European Championship. It is a credit to the efforts of Niamh Kennedy and Irene Kirwan, the dedicated and ever-so patient trainers, that there were two camogie teams representing Belgium GAA on Saturday. Both are in need of a gentle puck-around to wind down from the year.

(photo courtesy of Anna Bates)

Thanks as usual go to De Valera’s for hosting the evening celebrations, but special thanks go to Clare Brennan, Eleanor Brennan and Maria O’ Brien, for their hard work on the day. No visitors should have to spend their time running around collecting money, giving out sandwiches and making sure that everything goes according to plan, but we are extremely lucky to have ones that do. It is wonderful that we can do so well as a club on the pitch, but just as important that we should work well together on the sideline too.

Belgium GAA descends on Maastricht

On Saturday 6 November, the European football finals took place in Maastricht, for the third and final time in as many years. It was an epic day for Belgium GAA, the only club to bring 6 teams (plus a number of supporters) to a tournament, which was attended by 420 players in total.

The day started off like any other November morning, dismal and grey, as everyone waited around Schuman for the convoy of cars heading to the Netherlands. Thankfully, by the time the first whistles blew, the rain had eased slightly and by the afternoon, some watery sunshine trickled through the clouds.

The Belgian Men were divided between two competitions: Championship and Shield. Although recording a definitive win over Luxembourg, the A team came up against severe resistance from Den Haag and Paris, and came 3rd overall in the Championship. The B team went confidently into the Shield, recording wins over Lyon and Rennes, before being beaten by a mere 4 points by Amsterdam (the ultimate winners of the Shield tournament) in their last group match.

Meanwhile, the C team, also playing in the Shield, faced some difficulties against Liffre and Prague, but beat St. Malo in the final group match. In the words of Dave Barrett, “To put this in perspective, St. Malo beat out the Bs in Munich and also in a playoff on Saturday. In our home tournament in June, I felt afterwards we were wasting our time as the lads were trampled on. However, the team was much stronger on Saturday and we’d expect some of the lads to step up to the A & B teams next year.”

For more of Dave’s analysis in the coming days and weeks, read his blog here.

Although confirmed as European Ladies Football Champions (since the Munich tournament in September), the Belgian ladies were not about to take the day lightly. For the first time in their short history, the squad boasted 3 teams (A, B and An Bheilg), and each team marked their own victory on the day. The A team won the tournament, beating Paris in the final, the B team overcame Copenhagen in the 5th/6th place play-off, and the C team beat Paris Gold in the 7th/8th place play-off. Many thanks go to our (injured) sideline staff, Laura Whiskerd and Stephanie Dunn, who managed to be in about 6 places at once.

All credit to Maastricht Gaels and to all those involved in making Maastricht yet another memorable tournament on the European GAA calendar.

Photos of the day, with thanks to Stephanie Dunn and Jelena Radakovic, will be available on the website as soon as possible.

Match Reports, Rennes GF Tournament

Better late than never, here are the match reports from the Rennes Gaelic Football tournament held on Saturday, 3 October.

For the usual sharp analysis of the Belgium Men’s A team performance, please see D. Barrett’s blog.

Below are the tournament reports from (1) the Men’s B team, courtesy of our own burshting Breton Matti Bertrand, and (2) from the Ladies team, courtesy of the irrepresible Sylvia McCarthy. Continue reading Match Reports, Rennes GF Tournament

Belgium hopes for new heights as the European Football Championships begin

The long-awaited European Gaelic Football Championships begin in Munich this weekend, and over 50 Belgium GAA players will fly to the Bavarian capital tomorrow to go to battle in the first of the four pan-European tournaments.

26 lads and around the same amount of lassies will travel. These impressive travelling numbers are a great indication of the rapid growth of our club, and a credit to all concerned for their dedication and team spirit. Belgium will be the only mens team to enter a team in both the Shield and the Championship sections whilst only Holland can match our Ladies in entering two teams in the Ladies competition.

The very best of luck to our warriors for the first pan-Euro showdown of 2009. An Chraobh Rua abú! Match reports to follow next week…

(for more analysis of the Munich tournament, see the latest inimitable blog from Mens team coach Dave Barrett)