On Thursday 11 August, the European Ladies Native Gaelic football team saw their Etihad Airways GAA Worlds Games come to a close. Two days before that, the team of 14 ladies, made up of almost just as many nationalities, took the pitch together for the first time with one goal in site: winning the championship in Croke Park.
On the European Ladies Native Football team, was the Vienna Gaels’ very own Katie Riley. While Katie is native to Upstate New York, she qualified to play for Europe due to the fact that she became a resident of Europe during the summer of 2015.
She joined players from Greece, Spain, Wales, Poland, Belgium, France, Austria, Sweden and Canada. Most of whom she has played against in the Pan-European Championships. Despite these European County Board rivalries, the European Ladies Native team was able to come together when it counted. Here is Katie’s account of her week in Dublin.
While the official start of play for the games was not until Tuesday, the opening ceremony took place on Sunday in the famous home of Gaelic games during the Waterford vs Kilkenny hurling semi-final.
At half-time, representatives from each team walked out onto the pitch carrying a banner for their region and it became clear to all the World Games players in the stands that Gaelic football, hurling and camogie had spread far and wide from their native shores of Ireland.
The World Games saw teams from Beijing, Argentina, Oman, Australia, Germany, New York and Canada just to name a few. Many of these teams were made up solely of non-Irish players, native to the region they were representing.
After a friendly against Foxrock-Cabinteely GAA on Sunday evening and one last training session on Monday morning, the team was ready to show the world what European Ladies Gaelic football is all about.
The tournament began Tuesday with group stage matches against France, Middle East and South Africa.
We started out strong by achieving a 4-5 to 1-0 win over France. Next up was the Middle East and while the Europe ladies were slow out of the gate for this match, the team pulled together a strong second half and came out on top, Europe 4-5 Middle East 3-4.
Unfortunately due to injuries on the South African team, we did not play our final match of the day but settled for a walkover victory when South Africa forfeited. The European Ladies Native team ended day 1 top of the group and were headed to the cup the next day where the results would determine who played at Croke Park in the finals.
Learning from our slow start the day before, we threw everything we had from the very beginning against the Middle East team on the morning of Day 2. The Middle East did not know what hit them and Europe came away with another victory with a final score of 3-1 to 0-3.
Inexperience shows against the favourites
This meant only group favourites Eastern Canada and New York stood between us and Croke Park. Eastern Canada came out strong from the start built up a solid advantage. As the game progressed we began to progress towards the Canadians skill level but luck was not in our favour as several goal attempt hit the posts and crossbar. For the first time in our campaign, we lost with Eastern Canada scoring 2-5 to Europe’s 0-3.
With only one match left and their chances of playing in Croke Park dwindling, Europe had to take on New York. Both sides were neck and neck with each other in a nail biting match on the wet Wednesday afternoon. New York put up a great fight but we were able to counter it and stay in the game.
In the last two minutes, Europe scored a goal leaving them up by two, but with 20 seconds left to play New York were awarded a free and this is where the inexperience of the young European team showed.
New York used the free to send a quick kick pass to one of their unmarked players who in turn found the back of the net and just like that, our chance to play in Croke Park was gone as the final score read New York 4-2 Europe 3-4. New York and Eastern Canada went on to play in the finals in Croke Park, with New York becoming the 2016 Etihad Airways GAA World Games Champions.
Fight for the plate
Although the dream of playing in Croke Park was dashed, there was plenty for us to play for in the Plate competition on day 3.
The first match was against Europe B, the other European Ladies Native team. Despite playing on different teams the entire World Games, we all saw each other as teammates. It was a match both teams were looking forward to and the sidelines were covered with fellow European supporters such as the German football team and Europe Ladies Camogie team. In the end however, we came out on top and to show there were no hard feelings, both teams rushed to the centre of the pitch for a team picture after the final whistle.
Waiting in our final game was the Middle East for the third time. With the disappointment of missing out on the big prize fresh in out minds, we went into this match with fire in our bellies, we were not going to be beat.
Leaving everything we had on the pitch, when the final whistle blew there was a clear winner! Europe won 5-4 to 0-2 and the celebrations could begin, including the Middle East men’s team forming a guard of honour for us as we made our way to the stage to collect the hard-won Plate, medals and to do a little victory dance.
I wasn’t the only Vienna Gael to experience the hype of the world games in Dublin. John Baxter played for Europe’s Irish Men’s team and Andreas Magerle, despite being Austrian, played on the German Native team.
Baxter’s team just missed out on taking home the Shield with a loss to Australasia in the final. Andreas and the rest of the German team should also be proud of their performance by finishing 8th over all. I enjoyed watching both my teammates play over the course of the tournament and it was nice to have them on the sidelines cheering me on as well.
Once all play was done for Europe, we all enjoyed Thursday evening celebrating with a few pints in town. This was then repeated the following night in Croke Park at the closing banquet and finally dancing up a storm at Copper Face Jacks, the only place a tournament like the Etihad Airlines GAA World Games could come to a satisfactory conclusion.
As the goodbyes were said, talks of the next GAA World Games came up and plans to meet up in Maastricht at the Pan-European Championships were made but the true sprit of the games was obvious. Friendships where established across the world and the love of Gaelic football, hurling and camogie was shared by all. Eoraip Abú!