Keep it simple, all the time

I like to be prepared. By that I mean fit and mentally in that zone to go into ‘battle’. It’s a cliche, but that is the way you have to consider it. No matter at what level or where you are playing. That’s my G.A.A. world anyway.

The tournament in Vienna was only my third since our win there in October 2012. A year in England and a succession of injuries being the primary reasons. Personal choice was a factor on a number of occasions too, reflecting a somewhat diminished hunger, or tiredness of it all.

Pulling out of Vienna was in my mind in the week leading up to it. I hadn’t been able to train in a number of weeks and I wasn’t mentally up for it. Travelling had a sense of duty about it – interpret that as you wish.

I struggled to get my head right in the lead up. I was comfortable with how Olof was planning to use me; as and when required (a nice way of saying as a sub!).

A couple of years ago, when I helped the hurlers a bit with training, I used to speak a lot about figuring out how you could contribute to the team and then executing that contribution as many times as you could. You could be the man who strikes the score or the man who breaks up play but never strikes the ball. It didn’t matter, find a role, a contribution, and understand how that can fit in the bigger picture.

Make complex simple is something you’ve heard here before. I knew I wasn’t fit and I knew I wouldn’t be sharp. That was a given so I’d need to be efficient. I knew if I got the blood up that I could make a contribution but I needed to think a bit more deeply about what that looked like. I broke it down into three straight forward actions.

  1. Let the ball into the full forward line
  2. Take on my man
  3. Seek to switch the play

There is nothing revolutionary there but there were two underpinning points.

I’d make my decision prior to receiving the ball and based on a number of factors; my body position, where my man was in proximity to me, what I could see before and as I received the ball, what I could hear and how the ball was delivered to me.

Once I had the ball I would execute immediately. No hop, no solo, no hesitation. This may be the most critical point. When you are rusty, getting caught in possession is a no no.

I survived and contributed on Saturday for those simple reasons. Pete’s winner against Amsterdam demonstrated #1. Kev’s first goal against Paris in the group and the penalty in the final can be attributed to #2. Jonny O’s opening point in the final was a result of #3.

At this point, allow me two additional comments. An ‘*’ should be inserted to note that when in a scoring position, go for the score with the emphasise on being ruthless if there was a sniff of a goal.

The second point is don’t misinterpret above as anything other than describing how simplicity can bring clarity to your contribution. It doesn’t mean I played without error. I remember at least one shot when my body position was not right. I went to give Kev a return pass when he was clearly going to be gone passed me by the time I’d release it and I still don’t know what I was doing with a square pass to Jody in the middle of the pitch that led to a turnover.

However, by and large, my contribution was based on those three actions. The critical point is the timing of the decision. It was made before I received the ball and reflected in the speed of execution.

I’m writing this as a take home thought heading into the winter. My biggest frustration last weekend was fellas taking a hop and a solo. I think its linked to a number of factors; wanting to be on the ball, waiting to see how they can make a pass other than the simple one (sexier) or maybe simply not knowing what they are going to do when they get the ball and require time to make the decision.

Whichever it is, it leads to a potential lost opportunity. Whilst one dilly dallys on the ball, gaps are closing, opportunities are being lost. I saw it before my eyes on Saturday.

I wrote this in the context of our group but we are not unique in needing time to reflect on this point. So many players and teams at so many levels can make a simple game so complex.

Oh Vienna

It’s a city that will be forever referenced as the place we had one of our defining days. We made the breakthrough there in 2012. Ten points down against Guernsey in the group, we fought back to draw. We’d meet them again in the final and deliver our finest ever performance, steam rolling a serious serious team. Everything clicked under the lights that night. We’d go on to claim the Championship.

Fast forward three years (imagine that). Belgium G.A.A. is a different place. The football team has been battered with departures. Training has fluctuated massively, with decent numbers in the immediate build up to tournaments but nearly falling off the cliff the rest of the time.

We arrived in Vienna last Saturday coming off our worst year ever on the pitch. The team did win the Amsterdam tournament but it was surrounded by defeat, including our worst finish in a tournament.

Our keeper Cluxton told me afterwards on Saturday that there was a move that passed the ball through Olof, Keary, Crusher, myself and his own hands, finishing with a score. All five survivors from 2008. The Bull alongside us. Conor Aylward. Johnny P, Jonny O and Mull go back to the class of 2010, maybe even a little before if memory serves me right. Serious mileage on the clock with a fair sprinkling of resolve. Jesus, I’d nearly get teary eyed when I think of what we’ve all been through together!!

Our day started against Spanish opposition – a gamey enough bunch. Aussie Pete nailed them early; 1-3 by my reckoning. A seven point win and plenty of squad rotation.

The big hitters were Paris and Amsterdam. They contested the Round 1 final a month ago and barring a miracle for us, one would win the overall Championship on Saturday. Paris were all about it early on but struggling to work the scoreboard. Then a bit of a fright. Giller went down in a heap with a fairly dramatic roar. Off he went holding his knee. A serious concern.

Step up our player of the tournament Kevin Keary. He was stationed in the far left corner of my eye as I beared down on goal and with the final man drawn, I popped it to where I thought he would be and he cooly finished. I do wonder about the role of familiarity. I’ve played more than a few games with Keary. Did I instinctively know where he’d be? Did he know the type of pass he’d get? Hard to say but it was excecuted perfectly.

I felt Paris had it over us for long parts of the game. They were good in the air and strong on the ground, some big men. They’re vulnerability was at either end of the pitch and that reflected in some of the scores they conceded and some they failed to finish. We were aware the clock was about to strike zero when we worked the ball up the field. We needed to get it into a shooters hands. I gave it to Gill, seemed logical. I then looped around the back of him to create some space for him. He hadn’t read the script and gave the ball back to me.

There’s a spot on the pitch I particularly like. It’s around 30m out, 20m to the right as you square up the posts. Body position orientatied towards the left post. Receive the ball with open hands around shoulder height. Lean over the ball and a little to the left. Drop it onto the outside of the boot and swing slightly across the ball ensuring a reasonable amount of left to right curl. Start to lean back and the ball comes into sight again. You’d keep playing just for that feeling.

Over she went, quickly followed by the whistle. 1-5 to 0-7. Maybe our most significant victory of the season.

Paris had beaten Amsterdam by a point. Amsterdam had hammered the Spaniards. It meant we would need at least a draw to qualify for the final. Amsterdam were going for their first ever Championship.

Bang bang bang. Eight points down. Christ. They goaled right from the throw in. I find it difficult to assess what happened next. There was no sense of panic among the lads. Did that mean we were just so beaten from a tough year that there was a feeling of inevitability or did it mean we were so seasoned that we knew to keep moving the ball and the scores would come a la Vienna 2012? Who knows.

Shane Griffin once asked us, when nine points down in a match; how do you eat an elephant? The answer – one bite at a time. Go back to that idealistic image of striking a ball over the bar. Imagine the exact opposite. Then you can imagine Gillers two points off his left side. Uglier points you would not see. Two bigger bites of the elephant you could not take.

Mull careered through to slap a Bull delivery to the back of the net. Someone slapped him in the process. Bad idea. That man has anger issues.

Aussie Pete is a guy who took some time to settle in Brussels when he moved here to join his girlfriend Ciara Farrell. To say he carried baggage from his time playing in Amsterdam would be fair to say. I’d marked him before so I’d be lying if I didn’t say some of that baggage was in my ming. But starting with the hurling this year, he embedded himself very well in the group. He took football up again as the year went on. In both codes, we have a nearly telepathetic understanding. I found his paw more than anyone from puck-outs in hurling and on the couple of occasions we have played football, everything seemed to work. We can just read each others body language.

With one of the final kicks of the game, their keeper misplaced his kick-out. Their full back line had advanced with the flight of the ball, leaving Pete on his own inside. The ball came straight to me and I simply had to bypass them with my delivery and he did the rest, rounding the keeper to finish.

If you can’t win it, decide it. That goal handed the Championship to Paris. Even if they lost the final, their two second place finishes would be enough to top Amsterdam on total points.

Our team for the final started as follows; Clux-Bull-Crusher-Keary-Louis-Jonny O-Olof-Dave-Jody-Pete-Mull. The starting team is somewhat incidental considering the rolling subs and JP and Aylward’s involvement. But it is significant for the age, pushing an average close to 35.

Paris again hammered us early but they weren’t raising flags. Jonny O settled us with a point. Clux made a point blank save.

Then a penalty for Belgium. Gill seemed to instruct me to take it. Jody was scrambling for the ball. We discussed along the following lines.

DB: You happy enough to take it ya?

JQ: I am ya. I took one before like.

DB: Grand job.

Cork lads don’t row over things this like Premiership footballers. Pure trust! Pure Jody! ‘I took one before’. He buried it.

We led at half-time. Memory may be fading now but I think the killer goal went something like this. JP received the ball out of a ruck in the middle of the field and delivered into Pete. The ball spilled around in the tackle but he smartly squared for Keary to goal. Game over.

Those who do the dirty work rarely get the plaudits. Crusher and Louis. I’d hate to mark them. They just go through walls. Both were outstanding. It was a long day for Scott, Phil, Erik and Niall with gametime limited. They were selfless in their approach and attitude – staying ready to enter the fray and positively vocal towards the team. They also played a big part in one of the Lazio Rome’s day.

The celebrations weren’t wild but the deep rooted satisfaction was visible on lads’ faces. Some of our lads deserve huge credit for keeping the show on the road during the year.

Circle the wagons. Our ladies gave us great support on Saturday. Maybe for the first time in their eight consecutive Championship wins, all the lads stayed to watch their final. They earned this one. Their game against Holland was spicey to say the least. Munich in the final were more than capable but they weren’t able to capitalise on their chances. They are relentless and deserve their success this year more than ever considering the similar challenges they have faced with numbers and committment.

Saturday gives a different look to the winter of 2015/16. New guys have been filtering into training in the last couple of weeks. There is hope again. We’re not gone away.

All-Stars 2015 and beyond..

The All-Stars weekend concept was conceived and brought to a reality by myself and Shane Griffin back in 2012. The purpose was twofold. Firstly, it was a way to add a competitive fixture to our calendar and the second was more socially driven; to connect with former players.

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Overall, it has been a wonderful success. Socially, I love seeing those old faces back in town and the football matches have always had the competitive edge we want. The results so far have been in the current teams favour, three wins and a draw.

Last weekend brought the latest victory and as always, the weekend itself proved enjoyable.

I have some observations about how the idea has evolved.

After the first year, an effort to include Hurling, Ladies Football and Camogie was made but it has never really gained traction and the ‘All-Stars’ aspect has largely remained the footballers.

Even with that, numbers of returning players are decreasing and the gap between the two teams on the score board increased in the last two years, despite the ‘home’ team struggling more than ever with numbers etc. This weekend for example brought the biggest gap.

The All-Stars are backboned by some great stalwarths, which funnily enough reflects the current team also. The classes of 2008/09/10 remain to burn brightest in terms of longevity. Keith Stephens, Ollie O’Callaghan, Andrew Shorten, Ricky Collins to name drop a few.

Honestly speaking, I’m disappointed with some people who haven’t made the effort to come back, despite knowing the importance of the game for the home team. Of course, there are reasons. There can be a sheep element, meaning if one comes, five will come. There are other social commitments. There are current G.A.A. commitments. And there may just be no interest or tie.

If the visitors can’t field enough guys who are still playing, then the game will naturally be less competitive. Maybe this can be ok. For me no, but for others yes.

My big fear is that the All-Stars will fade out. Last weekend, without some current players, the lads couldn’t field a team despite their best efforts.

Next year is the fifth year which can be disguised as some kind of milestone to try something different.

I’ve many ideas floating around in my head, all of which involve the current team and the All-Stars joining forces. The Paidi O’Se tournament. Dubai 7’s. Bournemouth – we have a former player there. Use my connections in Nottingham. London. Dublin even. What about the social competition at the Asian Games finals? Timing is important also, to maximise attendance.

I’d hate for it to die a death in front of our eyes and have a ragged memory of it.

Crusher is in charge of the annual Christmas gathering this year in Kilkenny. There’s plenty of time between now and then to think the future format over and discuss how best to move forward.

Tabata – Japanese for no excuse?

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I took a three week holiday this summer, the first time I ever took so long. If you haven’t done something similar, do it. Although prepare yourself for the soul searching around why we spend so many hours every week working.

People like to do an assortment of things on holiday; tourism, sun bathing, party etc etc. I like to train. I find it both relaxing and energising which for me, is the purpose of any holiday. During our working lives, there never seems enough time for training and it always feels a bit rushed to me – either to get there in time or to get out of there in time to go to work or wherever else.

Of course, some people think the complete opposite and training is the last thing they would do on holiday.

Of the three weeks, one was in Ireland. No problem there. The G.A.A. and some piggy backing on gym Memberships addresses the need.

Spain was more challenging. Ten days without a gym and no suitable places to run. I should qualify this by stating my dislike for running. I’m not a km guy. I like to run after a ball or person (or ahead of them ideally!). I like short runs, maximum 1km, ideally between 50m and 200m. So I like measurement, both by distance and time. I find it difficult to measure on holidays.

The exercise options narrow. A few years ago, I discovered the concept of tabata training. If you are interested in the history I suggest you google it. Simply said, it is high intensity interval training. A ‘tabata’ lasts 4 minutes and involves a rotation of 20 seconds work, 10 second rest which equates to eight 20 second periods of work.

The work can be nearly anything depending on the equipment at your disposal. In Spain, I brought a skipping rope but there was also a bench (of the sitting variety) in the apartment complex. Exercises like skipping, press-ups, squats, lunges, planks, jumping jacks, step ups and dips using the bench, burpees, up downs could easily be done within those limitations.

Most of the exercises have variations to make them harder such as squat jumps or changing the position of your hands in press-ups.

The opportunities are endless, especially if you are in the gym and have more equipment. Typically, I would do five tabatas (means five 4 minute bursts), with a minute break between each – that’s 25 minutes and if you really do each at high intensity then I guarantee you will be ready for the shower!!

All of that is equally applicable on business trips. There are no excuses anymore.

Champions

A historic three-in-a-row hurling championships. It has a nice ring to it. Two competitive teams. Also sounds good.

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Going against the flow

Recently the footballers had a team meeting. It was rightly said that we need to stop looking at the past and feeling sorry for ourselves for the continuous outflow of players.

It is of course time to move on but it is a worthy reflection point to set the context for what the hurlers achieved (and I do love context).

Somehow, the hurlers are going against the flow. You could feel it right back in February when training started. You will be bored of me talking about the atmosphere and togetherness in the group. It bore fruit in the relentless approach to the last two tournaments, which ultimately decided the season.

It hasn’t been a smooth journey. The team doesn’t have the superstars of the past but it maybe doesn’t contain the holes either. Our strength this year was the balance we had across the panel, despite our opponents often having the more talented individuals.

Rocky start

Defeats and little hope in our performances in The Hague and Copenhagen. What value in a late night sing song in a Copenhagen hostel though? Turning point?

The hurlers have never had the glamorous away trips like the footballers due to the nature of where teams are located. New teams have emerged offering new venues in recent years. There is a huge bonus to an away day like Copenhagen in terms of lads getting to know each other and having the craic.

Rally the troops

Without the enjoyment off the pitch of that trip, Paddy may not have put his hand up to drive himself and 6 others to Dresden. Driving is nothing new to Paddy, he commutes well over an hour to training from Hasselt – never late either!

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Motivating a team to travel the 7+ hours to Dresden or undertake the overnight train or even the Brussels-Charleroi-Prague-Dresden route isn’t easy after two defeats. The lads are mad about hurling though and we found a way.

Victory in Dresden gave a platform to challenge for the Championship.

Shake the trees

As so often happens, the home tournament brings the dilemma of having two teams or not. Often you have 16/17 players, too many to provide sufficient game time.

The shake down shook out same of the old guard. Emmett Devine being one of them. No better man. Denis O’Sullivan always answers the call. Old reliables. We got there in the end.

Killer B’s

I hate the title ‘B team’. When I was involved with the footballers, we strictly referred to the team as ‘the Shield team’. In the absence of any form of Shield competition in hurling, no alternative on this occasion.

It is easy to come across as patronising when it comes to a B team. However, on this occasion, by qualifying for the semi-final via a gutsy performance and great penalty by Caoimhin against Amsterdam, there could be no sense of patronising.

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The lads got every drop out of themselves, led by Emmett’s play at the back and driven further forward by Johnny Kelly. In some ways the stand-out performer was Dermot Buttle. How he has improved and showed it in Dresden and Belgium.

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The Viking Gaels

Driven by Limerick man Billy Finn, The Viking Gaels are an impressive story. Their players are scattered across the Nordics and come together in their little pockets for puck arounds in the park and for tournaments. Collective training is a luxury they would probably scoff at!

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They’ve travelled and patiently taken some beatings over the last few years as they got going but arrived with a team this year that could deliver a Championship.

Finale

As in Dresden, the final came down to Viking Gaels and Belgium. Honestly speaking, I was surprised they overcame The Hague in the semi-final but three lethal first half goals somewhat against the run of play did the trick. Efficiency of resource is their strength!

The game was nip in tuck until early in the second half when Goodie goaled and we struck a succession of points to take a seven point lead. We were looking comfortable.

Back came Vikings and in the final moments they struck a ground shot to the net to narrow the margin to two points. Ultimately the referee’s watch was not their friend and we hung on for victory.

Jubilant

The lads were delighted at the final whistle and rightly so. The combination of factors required to win a championship make it a very satisfying feeling.

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Departing team manager Derek had the beer on ice in the dressing room and there was a great buzz bouncing off the walls.

Final word

This of course goes to the management team of Derek, Niall and Crusher. You have to want to play for those running the show and we all respect what these three put in. It’s a huge time commitment and even bigger mental burden to carry. They got their reward.

The Real Deal

Tomorrow is the last hurling tournament of the year and an opportunity for our hurlers to claim a third successive hurling Championship.

So much has been so different for the club this year. One of the most positive aspects has been the hurling. I’ve spent more time than I would have liked observing from outside the line so I’m well positioned to give some kind of neutral observation.

One Saturday a few weeks ago sums it up. The Ladies were down playing a football challenge match against a visiting team and there was a clutch of lads down to support. The majority had a hurley in hand and every break in play heralded an opportunity to strike balls around the field. I don’t remember it ever being like that in Brussels.

At the beginning of the year there was an emphasis put on identity. The hurlers needed their own. A whatsapp thread was set-up which engaged a lot of lads who might be less inclined to engage in the free for all that is the main lads’ thread.

Regularly a message will pop up about going for a puck around in the park. Rarely will it be greeted with silence. Anyone fancy getting down early for training? Always someone.

The only way I can describe it is that it feels real. Hurlers. Hurling. Carrying their hurley proudly around the public transport and streets. It’s real.

Matches on the terrace of the Michael Collins. I’ve re-engaged with this aspect of the club and really enjoyed the evening and afternoons watching games. Glamour away days in Copenhagen and Dresden! Firsts for the hurlers and really important to bond the group. Challenge matches. Real.

Huge credit should be given to Derek, who will participate in his last tournament this weekend before moving back to Ireland. Niall and Crusher both drive this whole thing forward with him.

Even in these tougher times for the club, the hurlers never fail to field. This is a statistic to be proud off. Even better is that we will field two teams tomorrow. All of the players will be ‘legal’.

This is a point which becomes more and more bitter for me. We will hold players back tomorrow and have done earlier in the year when others haven’t. I’m becoming angry about this but that is for another day.

I haven’t seen enough of Amsterdam, The Hague and Viking Gaels this year to judge them. Nor have I seen Luxembourg. I’m not as well versed as I would have been in the past. Tomorrow we have a well balanced team that has prepared reasonably well.

A win would be a great reward for the efforts to not just keep the show on the road this year but to keep it moving forward at the same time.

Intensity

Intensity. I love the word and what it signifies. If you are going to do something, do it right. Do it with all your energy and intensity.

In the build up to last weekends game against Clare, Cork manager JBM and his former trainer Kieran Kingston talked about the players bringing the intensity. From what I can see, some guys will bring it every single day, it will thrive in others if the environment is right and for some it will just never be there.

Making intensity tangible. It’s work-rate, aggression, bravery. It’s fighting to win every ball and every game. It’s the look on the guys face when he’s bursting a gut at the end of the match merely to creep into the shooters eye sight to put off his shot and encourage the ball wide.

The chemistry that creates intensity is a complicated formula.

I remember last year I ran the same hurling session, maybe three weeks apart. The first night was brilliant, helter skelter stuff. A few weeks later, the same session was one of the worst I ran all year. What changed? The players.

Last night we had ten at training. That included me who was not togged out, Derek who was injured as well as Paddy and Muiris who had to pull out due to injuries they were carrying. That basically left six guys.

There’s a big mental barrier to motivating guys when there are so few. An even bigger barrier to get the intensity into it.

However, the combination of guys made it an excellent session. Bull is Bull. When I’m togged out I just want to stay away from him. It just hurts otherwise. Pete brings what Aussies bring, I’ll say no more than that!! He could be our Setanta. Caoimhin is pure hurler and Jody is just a live wire. When fully engaged the latter is a nucance. Danny is new to the game but if he zones in on his strengths he will make himself an asset. An amount of high ball broke straight in front of him off his stick, ready for a gatherer to pounce.

I can tell nearly from when a guy walks in the gate what kind of contribution he is going to make to the group. Last night Brendan walked in for the first time. Physique, skill and attitude. I hope he hangs around.

Those lads brought the intensity last night. It was their call. They had a buzz about them leaving the session and it was great to see.

Let me return to an earlier comment. I suggested the players are what made the second session break down. That’s not fair. Reference the comment about some players thriving if the environment is right. That is the coach’s job – the environment. I learned from last year’s experience and hopefully can better adjust and adapt sessions to get the intensity level right regardless of the players in front of me.

Mutual responsibility. A key pillar in Toyota’s corporate culture, documented in ‘The Toyota Way’. I happened to find myself in a philosophical discussion about it yesterday afternoon. In this context, it means the coach and the player have a responsibility. This directly applies every time we walk onto the pitch. We both need to bring our game – our own form of intensity.

Dreams reignite in Dresden

Dresden. Hurling. What? Really? It is indeed in some of the most unimaginable outposts of Europe that hurling continues to grow. Last weekend, 12 of us travelled by road, plane and train to the six team tournament.

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The first comment that comes to mind is well done Dresden. It was a superbly and simply organised tournament. The facilities were top class – dressing rooms and in particular the pitch. Each team was delegated someone from the home club to ensure paperwork, money and match readiness was in check.

Between games and after the PA announced scores and timings until the next game, music filled the ground, keeping players spirits up despite some rain and the occasional unfavourable result. The G.A.A. at home could maybe take note of the match day entertainment.

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The post tournament evening was held in their sponsors pub, The Red Rooster, run by a Ballydesmond man – from the Kerry side of Ballydesmond as he was quick to inform. The closing comments from Derek, the man behind Dresden hurling, were some of the best I’ve heard. No cliches, just a man talking with great pride about the development of hurling in his club over the last few years. From the heart and very refreshing to hear.

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On the field, we landed a tricky draw, in the same group as Munich and Viking Gaels, winners in Copenhagen.

It was particularly nice to line-up against Sean Simpson, playing for Munich but a one time nemesis from his Hague days in what feels like a lifetime ago now.

We navigated our way through the group with scorelines that suggested an easier ride than we got, particularly against the Vikings.

The other group’s teams were predominantly filled with German players from Berlin, Cologne, Dresden and Darmstadt. We lined up against the latter in the semi in what was a bit of a mismatch to be fair. For now, such games are unavoidable due to the lack of teams and two tier competition but the energy our opponents have for the game was clearly visible through their efforts.

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The final paired us with Vikings again. Due to injury they had to recruit two players from Munich. This drives me nuts as in the past we have suffered from teams having players ‘injured’ for a final and then recruiting a top player from a team already knocked out. There was no question mark over the injury in this case but they were still strengthened by the additions.

The early afternoon downpour left the pitch greasy and the balls heavy. We were very wary of the Vikings going into the final, knowing the attacking threat they posed. The highlight of the final was our game awareness, or tactics if you prefer that word.

We combined man marking with sweeping to reasonably good effect. We didn’t panic when the inevitable spare man appeared around midfield. We got the match-ups spot on, neutralising their threats and capitalising on their weaknesses.

Dan O’Brien, our young Cork midfield tyro led the way with some fine striking. Caoimhin, who kindly stepped out of goal to open a spot up for me, delivered a virtuoso performance from wing-back – 5 points. Paddy was a gluten for work in the middle of the field. A nod must also go to Padraic, who took a train through the night and arrived directly to the pitch. I was really impressed with his work rate and showing for the ball.

Again, scorelines can sometimes give the wrong impression. 2-14 to 1-8 suggests it was easy but it was far from that. Vikings peppered our goal with shots, even requiring the head of Bull to block some of them. I wonder will they reflect on whether tapping a few of those efforts over for points would have served them better. Hindsight is always a great thing.

For us it marked a really significant win, our first of the season. It keeps us in with a shout to retain the Championship during the last round at the end of July. However, it also highlighted our improvement points; shot selection, striking, delivery into the forwards and individual concentration.

One final point to mention, Dermot Buttle’s seven goals. The Wexford man had his finest day in a Belgium jersey and I’m delighted for him. 11 out of 12 of our players scored but his tally but him at the high end.

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The very last word again to Dresden. For three years or so they have driven to every tournament, taken some beatings but kept coming back and now they begin to get some results. They deserved their tournament this year. If I’m honest I was dreading the trip because of the difficulty to get there. However, it was clear the respect everyone who travelled has for their efforts and that combined with such a well run tournament, would at least make me happy to make the journey again next year.

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G.A.A. International Transfer Rules. Really??

I can remember checking the G.A.A. transfers list sometime around November 2011, at the time of the Pan-Euro football finals in Limerick. My attention was drawn to a glut of names from one of our rival clubs, guys who I had been playing against for years in Europe but were only transferring that week. By the letter of the law, at some point in those preceding years, these lads, their club secretary and the chairperson should have been found out and suspended from the G.A.A. for 48 weeks.

Fast forward to 2014 and such punishment was handed out (and subsequently overturned) to three Members of our club. No need to recount that tale.

Only when our guys were going through their case, did I think more deeply about the rule and its implications. The more I thought about it, the more absurd the rule became.

The G.A.A., an amateur sports organisation, governing international transfers. Really?? Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t imagine any such organisation in the world applying such a practice. Think about it.

The rule means you can only play for one G.A.A. club in the world.

For the player, who may land into Brussels for example, it can only serve to slow down his/her integration into a new city. The last thing he or she needs on top of the bureaucracy of registering in Belgium with communes, electricity/gas/internet/telephone/tv companies, is to have to chase a transfer form through his old and new club as well as county secretaries.

For the new club, it means it has a player lying in wait, potentially one who could get led into other activities in the crucial first few weeks if they are not eligible to play games. Of course the process is not lengthy but you are making the life of the volunteer more unnecessarily complicated.

Maybe a more interesting point is what about the impact to the club at home by making the player transfer? During the economic collapse at home, we heard loads of stories about the player drain in small rural clubs. Teams amalgamating or disappearing. Why not let that player, who may have moved to England or beyond, travel home to represent his/her home club whilst still being able to build his/her life in their new home by playing G.A.A. Who loses? No-one. Who wins? The player and the clubs.

The only challenge point I could come up with was the potential that the two clubs end up playing in the same competition against each other. For example, our European 15-a-side winners play in the Leinster Junior Club Championship. A player could potentially meet his/her home club.

This situation already exists though. If UCC for example, were to win the Cork County Championship, which they have many times, they could be drawn against a Kerry club of one of its players. As far as I know, the player must play for their home club. So the provision is already there.

So again, what is the point?

At the first Luxembourg football tournament of the year, I talked to people from a couple of the clubs there. They had left players at home, as had we, because the paper work didn’t come through in time. Again at the first hurling tournament, we left players at home. One of those lives outside of Brussels, on his own and not knowing anyone – he missed an opportunity to become further embedded in group. All of this in reaction to what happened last October. What are we trying to achieve through this rule?

Since the two tournaments, a couple of stories emerged about some teams apparently playing players who had not transferred. I’m not sure if they are true or not but it seems the board are aware. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in seeing how they will handle it after their handling of our case. It would be an opportunity to contradict my argument that our case was about Abu Dhabi.

If the rumours are true and they apply the same ruling as to us, again I’d ask who wins? The clubs involved will lose players and administrators to suspension. The competitions will be weaker for their absence. Is that what people want? Of course not.

If what I mention above is true, the European County Board have a problem due to the precedent they have set with regards to our sanctions. In my opinion they should be pragmatic. Overlook the rule and make no sanction – argue that participation outweighs the paperwork requirement. At the same time put up its hands and admit it made a colossal balls in the case against Belgium G.A.A. and acknowledge them as 2014 European Champions. And then bring a really meaningful motion to Congress next year by proposing to abolish this ridiculous ruling.

Outside looking in

A sunny spring evening in Brussels. 18 hurlers going through their paces under the guiding hand of Derek Dignam. The same number of footballers taking the field afterwards. All we were missing was the smell of freshly cut grass. One of the few occasions you might be inclined to curse the 3G pitch we call home.

Again I found myself standing on the outside looking in. In the build up to Abu Dhabi I ignored the signs and at the tournament itself I took every measure to play. The result is six weeks of inactivity and probably another six weeks before I’m back playing football fully. I’d do exactly the same again to have had that experience though.

Since suffering a quad injury in June 2013, I’ve played very little football and no hurling. I’m in familiar territory.

I used to get very frustrated about it. It’s not that I don’t care any more but now I just want to be able to run and keep fit. Hopefully that will lead into playing hurling and football consistently again or at least allow me target certain key tournaments and be right for those.

Keeping the hand in when you are out injured is both easy and difficult. A helping hand at training is always welcomed. That’s the easy bit. The difficult bit is measuring that involvement. If Abu Dhabi delivered one cautionary note, it was that I have no desire to get back involved in management. As Darragh was not travelling, he gave me some of the lead on a number of aspects within the team during that three week period. It took over my life, I couldn’t sleep or concentrate. My mood was tetchy. Jesus, the addiction wasn’t buried too deep.

On Monday night, I took training. I swore to myself on the way to the VUB that I’d keep distanced from the session. Set up the exercises, let them run themselves, don’t get into it, make sure you can sleep when you get home. 1am. Wide awake. I couldn’t help myself. The lads energy was channelling its way into me against my will.

In the past I’d rush back, but the body’s healing powers diminish with age. Summer evenings are for running around a pitch, not sitting on the couch. Copenhagen at the end of May and Frankfurt in June become the target now.