A weekend that started eleven years ago. A weekend to mark the end of the ten year anniversary of the Viet Celts. A weekend to remember both on and off the pitch. A weekend to bring three teams together and make them into more than just a sports club.
Many of the original VC representatives once again representing, accompanied by most of the faces that have become so familiar over the years, as well as a cast of new characters more recently arrived to that city of beeping demons and screeching queens we all know and love so well.
The summer of 2017 saw something of an exodus take place as the passage of time wreaked havoc with people’s ability to stay forever Hanoian. Jim Kiernan led the exodus, a piebald pied piper without whom our Gaelic football seemed less spectacular, taking Lana and Jack with him back to the lad of his initial emanation. Grant and Alison Keys and their imps also a massive loss, literally as well as in a sports administration and elevation to epicness kind of way. The charismatic Rebecca O Keefe and the spine of the ladies team, Mattie Conlan and another couple of the Wolfhound Brigade, the increasingly bedridden Mark Horkan, our Aussies especially Alex and Rose, all saying their farewells at Noi Bye.
Although we struggled to get more than a handful of people to training towards the end of summer, the start of the school year brought with it a fresh cohort of mavericks and troubadours looking to get some Gaelic football into their lives, whether as a new challenge, a return to youthful passion, a way to get fit, make friends, antagonise the antagonisers, earn one’s bia hois or simply by accidental association – ‘we thought it was soccer’!
At the same time a Viber group had grown out of a Son Tinh or Standing Bar inspired conversation about reuniting the original Viet Celts team to make a Legends team for the Asian Games in Bangkok in November, Dan Dockery at the centre of the mischief-making as usual. The names of all previous participants were listed, people chased down and added to the group, one of them was excommunicated for professing a desire to actually win games, others only gradually convinced that this would be a good idea, some spent their time picking teams, others complaining about their backs knees ankles hearts lungs wallets, the excitement slowly building, plateauing with a strange sense of transient nervousness in the final days before the competition – ‘Dear god, what have we let ourselves in for?!’.
The list of names whittled down to those definitely interested in coming, one or two of them signing up before even landing in Hanoi, others dropping out due to work life travel or recuperation commitments, enough players to at least make full teams for the Men’s and Ladies’ competitions. Then, hold on, how much? Oi gioi oi! In €uro? Jaysus. Are we doing this or not? Yes of course we are. It’s on. Training harder, Shane Sean Luke all taking turns to take sessions, Quest the weekend before Bangkok so mass exodus for waterside woodland wandering wraiths while those left in Hanoi played a Jamboree mixed teams competition against Dragons both Blue and Rugby.
Then finally, all tickets booked, pick which side of the fence your hotel is on, register for the competition but the registration link is not working so click on the link below the link above… Jerseys arrive, the gold is gorgeous, or mustard, if you must – the Vinataba-themed dream rendered real. Bags packed, scouts already departed confirming Bangkok is still there and awaiting us. Qatar, Vietjetstar, Thai Lion Air, airlines appear from nowhere to transport us out of our daily existences and into a different dimension for a few days.
Pockets of players collect magnetically to reflect, reconnect and protect the concept of a club that is as much a community as a sporting entity. The heroes of yesteryear quickly into the beer and celebratory cheers, the men for tomorrow more sombre as they acquaint themselves with themselves and sit on sidewalk shelves rather than delve into the depths of the delights that saunter through that humid night. The ladies linger but keep an eye on the clock, determined to dazzle the next day rather than exploit the night and be unable to play. No such issues for Colm’s VC10 Army who are happy to share a drink and discuss tactics late into the night with any of the many local residents who have gathered for just such a purpose. Then off to sleep, some of them with their own special little dreams about scoring goals that are so good the whole world will stop and applaud, others just happy to be back with a glorious group of friends, others not sure where they are or how they ended up there!
Then morning time and the scramble to get everyone together, fed fuelled hydrated, bags packed and out the door down the road onto the BTS get a team photo and then we’re there, unfortunately scattered around our different pitches so unable to witness each other’s exploits and exuberance but still happy getting on with the games in our own different ways.
The Ladies’ team wreaking havoc and carnage amongst defences throughout the Junior Competition, scoring something like 512 goals and 14 points on the first day. The Men had a more civilised go of it, winning two and losing just the one to get second place in their competition and the right to continue competing at the sharp end of the Intermediate Cup, heady heights for a club that has rarely reached such a level and particularly for a team that had been so recently assembled and introduced to each other. The Legends lost all 4 games and thoroughly enjoyed doing so, their final two games in particular producing heart-palpitating performances against Taiwan and Suzhou / Phuket, the players’ hearts being at stake rather than those of any assembled audience.
OFFICIAL SATURDAY COMMUNIQUES
Shane Moran: Lads team lost first game to Singapore by about 2 goals and hammered Hong Kong 1-7 to 0-0. Next up is Thailand B at 3.10. Well done to the Girls who are on fire! Any word from the VC10?
Dan Dockery: Yes, VC10 were the fans’ favourites at St Andrews 107
Shane Moran: 3rd game we beat Thailand by 2 points or so… through to the Intermediate Cup semi-final at 10.55am tomorrow!
Saturday night all teams assembled in a Sports Bar with the requisite big screens to watch an inconsistent Arsenal maul a malingering Spurs team, accompanied by Guinness, bar food, pool, table football and some American table shuffle-shules. Confusion regarding the next day’s opponents coupled with whatever was in the water had some of the men’s team pacing the place sniffing the air wanting to learn more about the delights of the night.
Well rested the Sunday morning all teams assembled at Patana School for the knockout stages of the competition. First up were the VC10 contingent, resplendent in their gold and red, although stiff in their bones and slower now than yesterday. Early to exit but chuffed to have huffed and puffed themselves back into some sense of self-belief, supported by the ever chirpy Jonny Symonds, photo wizard Aidan Dockery, a stoic Justin Stevenson, who were later joined by the Irish Ambassador to Vietnam, Cait Moran, and the wandering Minsktrel Mike Clifford. Witnesses to moments of magic from the boots of Richie Rastall and Colin Campbell and the years being rolled back by Colm Ross, while Brain Lalor and Dan Dockery manned the sticks most manfully, defended by the behemoths of before – Gareth O Hara, Shane Culbertson and Frank Quinn – regaining retaining recycling possession for midfield maestros such as the timeless Dan Burns and Mark formerly Beard now Moustache to do their damndest, the charismatic DJ Polo too, this battalion of bikers and ballers spearheaded by the effervescent Mr Vietnam, Connla Stokes, he of the slapped goals, awkwardly angled points and incessant charm, ably assisted by the recently reinvigorated forever roaming VC Ambassador Senor Wild Bill Langslet and that talismanic throwback to times of titans who walked among humans in order to test the mettle of the best among them, a man who would have cheerfully bulldozed his way through a herd of water buffalo for a shot at goal and the right to sit and reflect on the nature of existence and the vicissitudes of being a bureaucrat for a minority sport in Asia, the one and only Jim Kiernan.
Next up was the men’s team, against Japan’s B-side. The first day’s play had somewhat decimated the men’s squad, with Adam Skippy Hayton, Daniel the Dub Burke and Stephen Aaahhh! McGrath all ruled out. Set out in front of Paddy the Armagh Wall Quinn was a rotating defence of John Shoulders, David Staunton, James Griffin and Barry McCullagh, with a midfield variously composed of Daniel Coloe, Luke Kenny, Sean O Connell, Brewster Craven, while Neil Hiney and Shane Moran were tasked with creating and taking the chances up top. A tight semi-final ended up 5 points apiece, meaning 4 minutes of extra time would be required to separate the teams. It turns out running around Nana at night is not adequate training for an Asian Games Intermediate Cup semi-final though, with the Japanese team managing to find just enough space to slot over a couple of decisive points, with our would be champions out on their feet at the final whistle. It was an eye-opening experience for many, pity the football didn’t quite work out!
And so to the Ladies. Having played at separate venues the previous day many of us had not seen this team composed of both legends and Hanoi newcomers in action. In their semi-final we started to understand why there had been such a buzz about them the previous morning. Early Sunday morning nerves were soon dispelled with a couple of well-taken points, some clinical shooting extended the lead and it was on to the final.
The final was a tightly contested game, with the Hong Kong Ladies Legends team – celebrating 13 years of playing together – putting up a fight that belied their age. Tournament debutante Phuong O Hara was a constant presence in defence, working alongside Sinead Ni Cathasaigh in front of Mel Doyle in nets, allowing Le Thu and Thanh Nguyen the space for an occasional foray forward, bursting through tackles to shift the ball into midfield, where Georgia Davis, Amy McCowan and Julianne Goyena, worked to free up space for the free scoring Ceilidh Dalton, up front Aoife Downes was constantly on the move looking for the best angles, working in tandem with Niamh Marshall and Elaine Coleman.
Through teamwork, perseverance and that extra bit of skill the Viet Celts were able to stretch the game as it progressed, allowing their star players to exploit the spaces left behind between midfield and defence. The clinching goal was a moment of pure joy for the Viet Celts supporters as Ceilidh shrugged off her marker, strode from midfield to attack, sidestepped a couple of defenders and launched a bullet of a shout into the top corner, thudding off the stanchion and into the back of the net. The Celts maintained their control of the game from thereon as their fans grew more vocal in their renditions of the classic tunes ‘We’re the Viet Celts (nanananana)’ and ‘We all live in a Communist regime’. The final whistle saw the ladies team forming a big circle and continuing the chants, soon joined by the whole Hong Kong squad in a fitting final moment of union between the two teams.
Elsewhere Seoul won the Senior competition and Hong Kong took the Ladies competition. With the games done and the trophies awarded it was time to head back to town and get down to the final function. The theme was ‘the beach’ so the banquet hall hosting our festivities was a riot of colour, our own fruity femmes putting most of us to shame. It was a massive bonus to see Ceilidh Dalton nominated to the All Stars Team for the Junior / Intermediate competitions, her father Davey no doubt a chuffed man when he heard the news. In the midst of the celebrations there was also time for one more very special award.
While I could, and have, written many words about this fine fecker of a fellow I think everyone is now aware of what an absolute legend of a man he is. Seeing him out there running through treacle and treating us to one of his trademark catch-drop-pass-smash your knees thuddingly into the ground for the team was an absolute pleasure for everyone who knows him. Chatting to him after games and seeing his bashful smile as he reinterpreted the tiniest of details to give each moment a newly discovered charm was itself one of those little details that made the weekend so special. The work the man has put into maintaining both the numbers and the integrity of the club are unparalleled, his inspiration to both reluctant and non-Irish club members is unique, his unshaken insistence that ‘tournaments are the lifeblood of any club’ and willingness to chase lost causes despite the crazy bureaucracy and administration often involved are only some of the reasons we all love this man so much. No worthier entrant into the Asian County Board Hall of Fame, congrats Jim and best of luck back home.
A note from the irrepressible Ceilidh Dalton:
Ladies & Gents! Thank you so much for an unforgettable weekend! You’s are all one in a million and I’m so proud to be a ‘Viet Celt’!! After missing two flights I now sit here in BKK airport in hope that I will somehow manage to get myself on this airplane! When I arrive back to Hanoi I promise to get my head examined or find myself a full time babysitter! Thanks again, Love you all
And one from the incorrigible Shane Moran:
Massive shout out to the girls for bringing home the cup! My God did ye do us proud. 😁
But we also had another huge victory at the AGG this year. Congratulations to Jim Kiernan on being this year’s inductee into the Asia GAA Hall of Fame! We’ve never had a club man like him, a trojan promoter of the game, a serious man under a breaking ball and the sole reason there is an Asian Youth championships and a thriving Hanoi schools cup. Never more deserved: Jim Kiernan, “Never Bitter, Rarely Wrong”
Photos by Aidan Dockery (especially the best action shots – check out his website) and other Viet Celts members