European Senior 'B' Champions

Matrin McClean with Senior 'B' Trophy
In Athlone, in mid-October 2013, Amsterdam GAC drew the curtain on its Tin Anniversary season with the Pan-European finals tournament. For the first time, the finals were played over a single weekend, and, for the Senior Men’s side the weekend was certainly one of two halves.

The old Irish saying Tús maith, leath na hoibre might well have been written about European GAA tournaments, and Amsterdam GAC have proven notoriously inconsistent when it comes to starting well in early exchanges. Arriving on Saturday with high hopes of changing that trend, Amsterdam Seniors were drawn in a group alongside Stockholm Gaels, Gaelic Sports Club Luxembourg and Guernsey Gaels. Unfortunately, the trend of starting slow was to continue for the North Hollanders, and Saturday proved a day to forget.

The Stockholm game itself started reasonably well for Amsterdam; good movement in the forwards and staunch defensive work set the platform for a two point lead approaching half-time. However, a lapse in concentration on the stroke of the twenty-minute half let Stockholm through for a soft goal, and an undeserved half-time lead. This lamentable penchant for conceding soft goals was to haunt Amsterdam throughout the day, and a second half that was dominated by Amsterdam was tarnished by the concession of two unlucky goals. Eyebrows might be raised at the failure to award Amsterdam what looked a stone-wall penalty after Kevin O’ Connor was tripped by the Stockholm keeper in the early exchanges, but the Norsemen were certainly more clinical in front of goal and held out for a hard-earned victory on a scoreline of 3-3 to 9 points.

Things on the Saturday didn’t improve from there for Amsterdam, and any hopes of emerging from the group were dashed with a defeat in the second game vs Luxembourg. Despite an improved performance, Amsterdam were punished while playing against the wind in the first half as they surrendered a plethora of what appeared to be very soft frees. Luxembourg’s free-kicking meant they took a lead into half-time having played with the wind, and they battened down the hatches in the second half to affect a rugged, blanket-defensive performance. Amsterdam played with great heart in trying to fight for their survival in Senior A throughout the second half, but just came up short in a heated encounter that often threatened to boil over.

The third group game against Guernsey was, ultimately, immaterial in the grand scheme of the group. Nevertheless, a good quality game of football was played between the two sides, with a high standard of defensive and offensive skills on show. Once again, Amsterdam were out-gunned in the goal-scoring stakes; Pete Jansen’s goal when reacting first to a ball off the crossbar being the side’s only reply to three Guernsey goals. This proved the team’s undoing, but Amsterdam proved in the last game of the day that the squad was improving with every game under their belts in the tournament.

Sunday, in glorious juxtaposition to Saturday’s disappointments, was a day of vindication in many ways for Amsterdam. Competing now for the Senior B title, Amsterdam had the opportunity to take revenge over two teams that had vanquished the Dam in recent games. First up was Zurich Ineon, the side that caused Amsterdam such heartbreak in Maastricht in the fifteen-a-side semi-final only a couple of weekends earlier. Amsterdam cast off any ghosts of that defeat with a resounding
victory, and goals from the likes of Pete Jansen and Fergal Walsh paved the way to a final rematch against Stocholm Gaels. The audacity of Amsterdam’s play against Zurich in the semi can be summed up by considering that even lumbering corner-back Brian Murphy managed to miraculously scuff the ball between the posts on two occasions. Amsterdam felt that this just might be their day.

The final proved to be a pulsating affair, with both teams playing some excellent, full-hearted football. The first half was a very even affair, with both teams trading scores right up to half-time. Amsterdam were unlucky to be trailing at the break, as Stockholm sneaked in a goal coming up to half-time, but the mood was certainly optimistic in the Amsterdam camp emerging for the second period.

The second half was a fitting end for an enjoyable weekend’s football; the capacity crowd was treated to a gripping contest. Stockholm felt they had taken the upper hand as they goaled almost directly from the throw-in, but Amsterdam fought back valiantly. The Amsterdam forwards tagged on the points, and the defence put in a heroic performance led by the fleet-footed Kevin O’ Connor at full-back. Playing a captain’s role, Martin McClean broke onto a loose ball with ten minutes remaining to awkwardly thrash an ungainly volley into the back of the net, and the game was level.

Amsterdam took the lead for the first time in the game with five minutes to play when a penalty was dispatched to the net following a high-tackle on Colm Ryan. It was a lead that the Dam would not surrender again, and despite a late flurry from the Norsemen, Amsterdam played out the clock to win by a precious, solitary point.

A season full of ups and downs for Amsterdam finished on a high note, and the improving performances throughout the weekend gave a glimpse of the potential that is in this panel of players. One big, collective effort from the squad over the next year in training could see this kind of synergy become the norm from minute-one of tournaments, and make Amsterdam a name to be feared (even more!) in European GAA. A great weekend was had by all, and this topsy-turvy Athlone tournament certainly won’t be the last time this Amsterdam side, under the watchful eye of Pep Ducie, bring Pan-European silverware back to picturesque Leidseplein.

Amsterdam GAC and Holland Ladies