SAGs 2019 – The One We Won!

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Never again we said in 2014. Again they said in 2019. And so again it was. But this time was different. Well, not the heat, but the outcome.

Once the dates were set there was no getting away from it, it had to happen. Saturday May 18 in My Dinh, Hanoi. As you can see from the chart below, in the days leading up to the competition the temperature steadily, incessantly increased, the heat inescapable even at night when it was still in the high twenties and humid as the back of a dry-cleaner’s. Of course as soon as everyone left the temperature eased off again for the rest of the month!

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So this was Gaelic football as an endurance sport, a wild experiment in trying to keep 300 odd (very odd) ‘bong da Ai Len’ aficionados hydrated and chilled while at the same time encouraging them to go out and sweat it all out running jagged, jaunty angles around the gloriously grassy fields of My Dinh of an elongated Saturday under the unforgiving, unrelenting, uncompromising Hanoi sun.

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To spend time out in the sun was to be slowly cooked, to feel yourself melting and all your energy evaporating, Deep into the second half of a game and after a couple of quick shuttles people would be keeling over, gasping for air that was not there. It really was like a collective endurance event, the only goal to get all the games played and try to still appreciate all the little moments that make up these events.

The reunions with old friends, old team-mates, the likes of Thanh and Justin and others Viet Celts back in town, Connla still a Saigon Gael. Sightings of lads and lassies who have been opponents for years, chats with a few and a few new connections, new stories, new achievements and memories, while those who are part of the old memories but could not make it also sent their salutations.

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New friendships made on and off the pitch, togging out with people you’d never met before and going up against people who were the mirror image of you, all in it together against this maniacal heat. Nothing to be done but smile and shrug and do one’s best, push one’s body as far as possible in the heat until it told you to stop or just shut down of its own accord. Out to represent the Viet Celts of past, present and future.

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The groups and games were set up as laid out in the photos below, with a mix of teams from Hanoi, Saigon, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan.

The Cambodian team are still in their early stages but brought great spirit and enthusiasm to proceedings. We were also delighted to have the Hanoi Swans put out a team too (and were also delighted when our A team got to play them first, as we knew they’d improve across the day, natural athletes all just a little slow on the uptake at times…!)

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Our men’s first team was Irish with one most honourable Australian exception, our ladies team equally freckle-faced but with a healthy smattering of Vietnamese players across the team. The other two men’s teams also had a few of the local lads playing, most notably Quan and Hieu who have graduated from Blue Dragon GFC to full Viet Celt status, as well as our Mr Consistent, Tin.

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A massive thank you must be given to the people who supported and made the day possible, from the Asian County Board and the Irish Embassy in Vietnam, to Friends of Ireland and Republic, as well as the people at My Dinh stadium and the individuals who put in hours of effort in the run up to the tournament – Thu and Luke Kenny and Gareth O Hara in particular – as well as the team who made it happen on the day, with David Cunningham on scores and Shane and Finbar on the microphones, keeping everyone entertained with an array of insightful comments and entertaining guests, their sales pitch for a Honda Win that had been driven up from Saigon, Bamboo water bottles and Nutter’s Butter all keeping people in stitches throughout the day. In the afternoon they even took over from the increasingly absent Cunningham and started organising the fixtures and pitches too, with the no-nonsense assistance of the amazing Ciara from Australia.

After a gruelling morning of sport with some high scores and great team performances, intermingled with individual efforts that generated gasps of admiration from the gathered crowds, we arrived at the knock out stages.

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The ladies qualified out of their group into the Cup after some hard fought wins in the morning. They were unfortunate to lose to Saigon 1, who went on to beat Malaysia in the Cup final.

Both Viet Celts 3 and Swans Men’s teams scuppered their own plans to meet in the Bowl final for a glorious contest by inadvertently winning their last group games, thus qualifying themselves for the Plate, where the turds lost to the seconds and the Swans lost to Cambodia. So it lay to Viet Celts 2 to try and win the Plate for Hanoi, but it was not to be against a Cambodian side who are growing stronger with every tournament, having created a good blend of styles incorporating their local players. In the other competitions, Malaysia 2 Men’s and Ladies’ won their respective Bowls  and Singapore won the Ladies’ Plate (so at least they won something…)

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As for the heroes of the day, the lads who could really play, they were a team of players determined to make up for last year’s disappointment in the final and new players looking to show what they could do, unfettered by the trammels of Viet Celts history and other lads who were neither one nor the other but a bit of both and then some. Never has a Viet Celts team put so much time in on the training ground before a competition and in the end this extra energy, allied with the finessed skills up front, was too much for any of the other teams to handle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey started with a win against the Swans, then went on to beat Malaysia 2, Singapore 1 and Saigon 2, with their points difference being the best of all the groups. In the quarter finals they beat Thailand 2 comfortably, then it was Saigon 1 in the semi’s. In this game they opened up what seemed a comfortable lead, but – not content to make things easy for themselves, or perhaps content to make things more interesting for their fans, assembled behind Dan Coloe’s goal and along the sidelines – then Barry got sinbinned and options for kick-outs got limited. Saigon squeezed and we got nervous. They scored a goal and then another and on the sidelines we had no idea what the score was, panic but calm, not letting it transmit to the players. Then finally a clean move up the pitch and a goal. Surely that’ll be enough?! Surely? And then the final whistle and the lads celebrating and we were into the final against the aul’ nemesis, Singapore.

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It was a high scoring day and the final was no different, the early goals a soothing balm for those unsettled stomachs still churning from the nerves at the end of the previous game. But the Celts, our Celts, soon settled into their stride, dictating the pace, stretching the game wide one way then the other then razor sharp incisive sprints towards the goals resulting in billowing nets and another 3 points, another step closer to that cup, to being crowned current champions of this little corner of the cosmos. And Singapore scored too, but not enough, although they came closer as the game neared its end, enough to make us a tad nervous, to frantically ask everyone around us what the score was, with a six-point swing in the suggestions presented! But the lads on the pitch knew, keeping the ball to wind down the clock, darting in towards goal then back out again.

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Cool, calm and collected, a far cry from the frantic efforts of previous eras, a well-oiled machine with all its components in top nick, their collective energy and calmness easing our nervousness and then finally, the final whistle, and finally, champions, winners of the cup, after all these years going one step closer, one step further, from not winning games to winning a few to winning the bowl and the plate, then becoming almost good enough for the cup, the final four, then not quite good enough, then good enough again and belonging there and now this is our time, this is the one we won!

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Then the hugs and high-fives, the gleeful grins and affirmative assurances, the hands shaken and commiserations doled out, the photo shoots with the team, with everyone, with each other. Then just basking in it for a while before collecting one’s bits and pieces and starting the trip home from My Dinh, or straight to Sidewalk for the awards and after party.

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At the end of it all people were almost too tired to celebrate, just hanging in there until the speeches had been made and the trophies and medals awarded to the myriad winner from the day’s competitions. Almost too tired but a quick nap in the tattoo parlour, ‘oh what’s that on my ankle?’ and off into the night they went, our champions, the lads who finally won the South Asian Men’s Cup for the Viet Celts young and old who have been part of this club since 2008.

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Most of the photos were taken by Colm Pierce (or from facebook, but the best images are Colm’s) and you should check out his other work on the various social media, he has some great old images from Dublin for instance, as well as from his travels. Big thanks to him for his efforts and energy on the day.

 

 

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Bangkok AGGs November 17 & 18th

If Helen was the face that launched a thousand ships these were the words that launched our latest assault on the Asian Gaelic Games, “The Viet Celts are a small club, we’re underdogs, we don’t have physios, we can’t afford to stay in the official hotel so you have to look out for each other in Bangkok, you’re gonna have to wake each other up and make sure everyone gets to the pitches OK but it’ll be worth it because it’s the only tournament where you’re expected to go drinking on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” So we arrived in dribs and drabs to the familiar surroundings of Bangkok on the 16th November and settled in for some last minute tactical discussions at the Hog Bar on Soi 11. We travelled with 2 mens teams and a ladies team, so close enough to record numbers for the club with Elaine, Maeve, Siobhan, Theresa, Hannah, Faya, Natasha, Stephen, Michael Browne, Tin, Diarmuid, Kyle and Sambo all making their tournament debuts as well as Michael McNorris and Ronan flying in from Roscommon to lend a hand, not to forget Dan and Sam, flying in from Melbourne for their 7th tournament together and bringing their friend Gramps with them to play GAA for his first time ever, James taking a break from backpacking to see old friends again or club legend Thanh making a last minute scramble from Singapore to play with the VC just a couple of weeks after leaving Hanoi to pursue new opportunities.

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Sometimes it’s a lonely game

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Need to work on the defending/dance routine

 

   I think this was my 14th tournament and hopes were high of adding some silverware with big numbers at training over the previous 3 months and every team having a good spread of quality, youth and experience. This feeling was only enhanced when the Mens A team all arrived fresh and on time for our 8am match against Orang Eire on Saturday morning. There is always a mutual respect between ourselves and Orang Eire, possibly because we never seem to come up against them in the knock-out stages and the match was played in a slightly subdued foggy atmosphere which did us no harm as we ran out fairly comfortable winners 0-6 to 0-4 with Sean knocking over frees and points with (frankly) astonishing accuracy. Meanwhile the ladies were battering Singapore E all over the pitch as they racked up a huge 5-4 to 1-1 win in their opening match. As word filtered in of their brilliant start and Ronan scored a cracking goal to put the B team ahead with his first touch it is tempting with hindsight to say this was the high point of the day for the club as a team who were flung together at the last minute struggled to get to grips with a more experienced Taiwan side who put 3-4 past us without further response. Next up in the Intermediate competition was the aul enemy Singapore, who were very professionally dealt with in a fierce but controlled 1-7 to 1-4 victory with Sean again leading by example. At around the same time the ladies were also fighting their benchmark opponents Saigon but coming up short as they lost by 5 points. Rain played havoc with the schedule in the early afternoon at Patana whilst the ladies continued on time at St Andrews completing their day with an 18 point thrashing of Thailand with Aoife and Elaine proving lethal in attack.

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Playing one handed was surprisingly effective

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There’s no catching Tin

 

As the lads got underway again the B team hit their low point drawing a blank against a very strong Cambodia and letting in a handful of goals. The A team were up against Japan who had beaten us in the semi final last year and despite looking for revenge we played as if the opening two games were a mirage, underperforming in front of a full house and deservedly losing 2-4 to 1-3 which would send us through to the plate with the weakest goal difference of the 3 teams on 6 points. The B team fought bravely against Thailand before upsetting the odds in their final game with a rousing victory against Johor restoring smiles to some tired bodies.

The VC lads then tried their hand at hurling with Barry scoring a hat trick before you could blink, Tom chopping down opponents like he was in Braveheart, Eamon proving that he does indeed come from a hurling club and Diarmuid adding another layer of intrigue to his mysterious aura with a swashbuckling display. All of which lead to the lads being crowned Junior Hurling champions! With that we were off to be fed, watered and entertained which mostly involved the girls practicing a dance to frighten their South African opponents the next day and finished with a few hardy bucks watching Ireland clinch a famous victory over the All Blacks.

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The hurlers celebrating winning a game the Junior Hurling Championship

    With the B team not quite able to field a full team for their last group match at 8am on Sunday morning despite Joey’s heroic efforts at rounding up the last saloon chancers, they found themselves in the Junior Plate facing Suzhou who were dispatched 2-3 to 1-4 with confidence and energy restored to (most of) the team. The A team had a similar tonic against Hong Kong hitting four goals past them with talisman Sean miraculously teleporting to the pitch just as Jerome went off injured, leaving both mens teams with a chance of silverware.

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Billy rediscovering his scoring touch on Sunday

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Eamon showing no mercy from 6 yards

 

The ladies danced their way onto the pitch for their Junior Cup semi-final but trudged off at half time after being dominated by an extremely strong and athletic South African team. With Thu and Phuong defending against these girls with their combined height of 150cm a rethink was required and Elaine was sent back to midfield to add some steel to our centre. We competed well in the second half but succumbed 3-4 to 1-1 to a team who would finish as undefeated Cup winners.

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Dancing onto the field (without taking our feet off the grass)

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Thu, one half of our pint sized Vietnamese defensive partnership

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and the other half, Phuong

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Smiles all round at the end of the game

Next up was the game of the tournament for the club as the B team faced off against ECUT, a university team made up of Thai students. With Kyle putting in a man of the match performance at the back, Joey galloping like a deer past bewildered defenders, Michael and Ronan somehow on the same ‘one last hurrah’ wavelength, Tin attacking with menace and everyone marshalled by club founder Colm Ross they went blow for blow against a fit and organized team playing as if their lives depended on it. With everyone out on their feet the referee awarded a penalty which Colm sent flying into the top corner to leave it at….well no knew what the score was when the ref blew up a few seconds later but the fact that neither team was celebrating meant it had to be the dreaded extra time and one thing was for sure, these ECUT boys hadn’t been up watching the rugby. They secured the win with two unanswered points in added time. To be fair we couldn’t begrudge them their win and it was a great moment for a young team playing a new sport to celebrate and while hard to take for our players it was still a remarkable turnaround from a tough day at the office on Saturday.

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Kyle playing out of his skin in the final

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Joey running like a deer who’s given his mates a headstart

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PENALTY!!

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Colm Ross reeling in the years and smashing it home

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Joey and Michael relishing extra time

 

Shortly afterwards the Intermediate plate final took place against Singapore again. The usual ‘banter’ erupted as the bigger lads like Tom and Jerome took the ball into ‘tackles’ winning frees which Sean converted as we slowly pulled away and they lost their discipline. We were back to being very smart and controlled in possession with plenty of quality on display from Eamon, Sean and Billy and the defence led by Barry refusing to cough up goal scoring chances. When the ref blew up we had confirmed our best ever AGG finish winning the Intermediate plate by 0-9 to 0-5 and Dan had somehow played a tournament without flattening someone.

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Wait a second, lads, lads, come on now, lads *#@!^#

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Aidan Dockery superbly capturing the sweetest moment of the weekend

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Great squad, worthy winners on the day

 

    The team spirit throughout the weekend was phenomenal with new and old and visiting players fighting for each other from start to finish and doing the club proud. Unfortunately we may not be underdogs anymore! Sean deservedly won an All Star at the function on Sunday night to cap a brilliant weekend for the club. A huge thanks to all the players and fans who made the effort to get to Bangkok and we’re looking forward to some great tournaments this year.

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Colm cementing his legendary status in my favourite photos from the tournament

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Ah here, Leave it out!!!

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8th Vietnam Youth Cup / Viet Celts St Patrick’s Sports Day 2018

Under benignly grey skies we assembled for a family day out, a chance for the kids to run around an open space, an opportunity to mix Irish, Vietnamese and a plethora of international influences in one place. On Saturday 17th March, 2018, the Viet Celts, in association with the Irish Embassy, hosted the inaugural St Patrick’s Sports Day. Over 180 people showed up, almost half of them children, as old friends caught up and tight-knit gangs of Gaelic footballers prepared themselves for another titanic struggle against old foes.

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The day included games between Blue Dragon GFC and SIS Gamuda, with the black and orange clad players of SIS running out the winners in both games. Their superior organisation allied with the noticeable size difference gave them the edge all over the pitch, although the indomitable Blue Dragon players did not run out of fire and gave their all to trying to put a few scores on the board.

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These games were followed by a performance of Irish music and dancing by artists from UCD TradSoc in Dublin, Ireland. Their performance was much enjoyed by all, with all and sundry enthralled by the melodious songs and nimble dancing. These musicians and dancers were part of the visiting Minister’s entourage, Andrew Doyle, Ireland’s Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture.  The Minister wrote beforehand, in an OpEd for The World and Vietnam Report:

“I am delighted to see that we have a growing and vibrant Irish community in Vietnam. I am proud of the positive contribution that our community is making here. This Saturday I will attend a Sports Day organised by the Viet Celts Gaelic Football Club. The Viet Celts, made up of Irish and Vietnamese and international friends of Ireland, is doing phenomenal work with the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, to give marginalised young people a chance to play sport and through it to develop critical life skills.”

 

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The minister said a few words and presented this year’s Jack Kiernan Award to Farish Suliman, a student from Hanoi International School who played in his school’s first ever Gaelic football game back in 2012 and hasn’t missed one since. He is so committed that he still turns up for every competition even though his school can no longer send a team! Speaking to him before the tournament he told me that he hoped he could keep playing when he goes to university in the USA. He also remarked that he’s probably the only Thai-Malay-Indonesian person playing Gaelic football in Vietnam and I’d doubt he’s wrong!

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The visit of the minister and the Irish Ambassador to Vietnam, Ms Cait Moran, an ardent supporter of Gaelic football and the development of the youth game in Vietnam, lent the occasion a nice sense of ceremony, which was equally matched by the spirit of fair play shown throughout the day (apart from a few of the more rambunctious tackles by some of the recently arrived bucks on the younger intermediate players who took part in the mixed game after the awards!) The mixed game was a great spectacle, with people piling onto the pitch left, right and centre, scores coming in from all angles and the crowd getting stuck in with some friendly banter from the sidelines, probably the biggest game ever seen in Hanoi, 19 a-side it was at one point.

 

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After that it was on to a brief hurling exhibition match, putting the 12 hurls we’d gathered for the occasion to good use. There had been hurling demonstrations ongoing throughout the day so it was good to culminate with a game to introduce onlookers to the speed and skills of the game.

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Wrapping up the days activities were the final two games between the schools before the bamboo posts had to be taken down, the banners folded back up and balls collected and counted. Our main sponsors, The Irish Wolfhound and Puku, both donated drinks which we sold to cover costs for the pitch, while the Irish Embassy supported us with covering the costs for the sound and tents. A massive thanks to all involved, too many names to start listing them here but ye know who you are!

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After the Viet Celts event it was off the Irish Embassy’s event at Hoan Kiem Lake, where the VC had a stall to promote the club and the sport, led by the indefatigable Sean O Connell. After that, watching Ireland beat England at Puku or the Wolfhound and off into the depths of the night to round off an epic St Patrick’s Sports Day 2018!

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7th Hanoi Youth Cup

VAS – 20th March 2017

A little later than usual, but still at a nice pre-Tet moment, the seventh Hanoi Youth Cup, and first post-Jim Kiernan tournament, took place at VAS of a Saturday afternoon.

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Opening Ceremony

Due to the graduation of some of our senior players from Blue Dragon, SIS and VAS, this year’s competition saw more of a focus on the next wave of ducking and weaving, feinting and dinking, shouldering and soldiering Vietnamese Gaelic football stars. The two main competitions were nominally U13 and U16, Junior and Intermediate levels. The Intermediate competition was a triangular affair, VAS, SIS and Blue Dragon playing each other once. These games were interspersed by a double header for the Junior players from SIS and Blue Dragon, although many of these played for both teams so got a solid afternoon of experience under their belts.

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Wheelbarrow Race

In the middle of the games we also took a break to introduce a new aspect to the competition, a series of sports day events in the spirit of those we participated in while at primary school in Ireland. These included a three-legged race, an egg (potato) and spoon race, a wheelbarrow race and the traditional 60m dash, for which teams had to separate themselves to mix with others in each activity. These were all enjoyed by coaches and players alike, with lots of smiles and laughter filling the cooling afternoon air beneath a benign January sun.

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Actual Viet-Celt children!

Then it was back for the last few games. Having eased their way into the competition all teams now stepped up a gear, with passes more precise, kicks more concise and tackles less nice! With an even younger generation starting to wander around the sidelines of these games and a new wave of club members getting involved in the running of the club, training, competitions and promotion there was a contented feeling to the afternoon’s events. While there had to eventually be winners and losers this was a day that was more about ensuring youth football keeps happening in Hanoi then focusing on who was actually winning and losing.

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Blue Dragon Squad

Although, for the record, here’s one of the coaches’ summary of what happened:

Results were that SIS tied VAS in first match. Blue Dragon narrowly won the first leg of the U13s but SIS won the second and aggregate. Both VAS and SIS beat Blue Dragon in the U15s. It was a pretty good team effort from SIS so there wasn’t a true standout for us. Perhaps our goalkeeper Viet Huy would be the most deserving for solid kicks out all day and saving a penalty against VAS. 

Big thanks to all at VAS for their help, the attendance of their principal on the day, as well as all the coaches at SIS and Blue Dragon. Much appreciation for everyone who refereed, umpired, mentored, helped with the sports day activities, took photos and did all the other little bits and pieces that make days like this a possibility and constant reality for the kids involved and the growth of the club. Now the next step is St Patrick’s Day and our Vietnam Youth Cup Sports Day Special – check out our Facebook page for more info!

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All Asian Gaelic Games 2017 – The Viet Celts and VC10 go to Bangkok

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.

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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.

Legends at nana sat morning

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.

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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’!

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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.

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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.

jim arrives

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.

viet-celts-bangkok-2017-aidan-dockery-photography-122

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.

connla strikes

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!

ladies satruday score sheet

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.

ladies team saturday

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.

jim solo

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!

hiney rolls

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.

ceilidh and ladies (2)

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.

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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.

victorious ladies

phuong champion

 

full squad photo

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.

ceilidh hall of fame

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.

jim hall of fame vc

And finally…

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

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Asian Youth Championship 2016

SIS Gamuda U12 with the Joe McDonagh trophy and their coach John Shoulders. Also in the photo are the Irish Ambassador, Cáit Moran and ACB Chairman Joe Trolan with Jim Kiernan of the Viet Celts

T’was a balmy Saturday, November 19 in the dusty suburb of My Dinh, a few kilometres south-west of Hanoi, Vietnam. Teams had arrived in from Seoul, Gimhae and Shanghai the previous evening. Coaches and officials had met to catch up on old debates and sow the seeds of future memories. A plethora, some might say an excess, of emails were circulating between the various volunteers who had stepped forward to make this dream a reality. The first ball was thrown up at 9am and the Asian Youth Championships (AYC) were under way!

Under-12s

Shanghai U12 v Gimhae U12

Teams were split into three age categories. The best represented was the youngest age group, the Under-12s. As well as the two regular Hanoi teams – Blue Dragon and SIS Gamuda – the tournament also saw the debut of the Vietnam Swans youth Gaelic football team. Joining these teams in the U12 competition were the four visiting teams: Korea International School, Seoul Gaels, Gimhae GFC and Shanghai GFC.

Vietnam Swans U12 v Blue Dragon U12

 

The Swans, Gimhae and Korea all had mixed teams, while overall there was an incredible mix of nationalities all taking part in a sport that was both new to them and new to the countries in which they reside. Amazingly, there were only two players with an Irish parent and no fully Irish children playing! Instead it was mainly Asians, with the speed and energy of the predominantly Vietnamese teams against the strength and determination of the Korean teams providing some particularly captivating encounters.

Vietnam Swans U12 v Seoul U12

The Under-12 competition was a marathon of Gaelic Football for all involved and a wonderful opportunity for the young stars and heroes of the future to get some serious competitive experience by playing against a whole range of teams. Despite their youthful age, the players showed a discipline and courteousness both on and off the field that would have done any Irish mother proud and shamed many a senior player! Notwithstanding the fact that none of them were even half Irish!

Korea International School U12 v Gimhae U12

From the first games – involving the four visiting teams as the local teams scrambled to get their players together, prepare the pitches and set up tents for spectators – through to the finals when SIS Gamuda proved the superiority they had displayed all day by beating a strong Seoul team after a close first half. SIS Gamuda won the Joe McDonagh trophy named for Galway legend Joe McDonagh who was a great supporter of Asian GAA.

Blue Dragon – U12 Plate winners with their coaches, Rebecca  O’Keeffe and Thanh Nguyen. Also in the photo is the Irish Ambassador, Cáit Moran.

In U12 Plate Final, Blue Dragon beat Shanghai and  showed their ability to improve throughout the day, recovering from losing their first two games to finish with a flourish. Among the highlights of the day were the debuts of the Aussie Cygnets who took to the game like shrimp to a barbie under the direction of Head Coach, Grant Keys and his talented coaching panel.

VAS Hanoi U15s with the Joe Maleady trophy and one of their coaches, Jim Kiernan

Under-15s

At Under-15 level there were three teams competing for the right to call themselves champions of Asia. All three teams – Blue Dragon, SIS Gamuda and VAS Hanoi – are based in Vietnam and have been competing against each other for a few years now. Although the players had dreamed of playing against teams from other countries, unfortunately the likes of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong had been unable to send teams, despite their generalised commitment to the idea of the competition.

Coach Neil Hiney leads the VAS Hanoi warm-up

As can be seen from the results in the results section below, VAS Hanoi, led by elite coaches, Jim Kiernan and Neil Hiney, were almost unplayable on the day. John Shoulders was a busy man all day taking care of both SIS Gamuda teams, and indeed some of the younger cohort made a strong showing even though playing against players three years older than them. The Blue Dragon team was not able to replicate the exploits of their club-mates but became more competitive throughout the day, poor finishing and a tendency to go for goals rather than points eventually denying them victory.

VAS Hanoi U15 with coaches, Neil Hiney and Jim Kiernan, the Irish Ambassador, Cáit Moran and ACB Chairman Joe Trolan

In a fitting finale to the U15 competition it was a straight shoot-out between the age group’s two big guns, VAS Hanoi and SIS Gamuda. Both teams and managers gave their all in a tight, technical, tactical battle. The free-flowing football of the earlier games was replaced with more astute point-taking, man-marking and pressure on kickers. VAS Hanoi were worthy winners and as the only team to have competed in every youth Gaelic football competition in Vietnam since the dawn of time it was a fitting reward for their players and erstwhile leaders. VAS Hanoi won the Joe Maleady trophy named for St Lomans’ coaching legend Joe Maleady who has helped out the Viet Celts Schools Gaelic Football Program over the years.

 

Under-18s

Blue Dragon U18 with the AYC U18 trophy and their coaches, Sean O’Connell, David Cunningham and Thanh Nguyen. Also in the photo is the Irish Ambassador, Cáit Moran.

At Under-18 level it was to a straight shoot-out involving two teams with a solid rivalry in Vietnamese Gaelic football – Blue Dragon and Hanoi International School. Players who had stood toe-to-toe in a number of All-Vietnam Schools’ Cups were now ready to battle it out for the right to call themselves ‘Champions of Asia’.

Hanoi International School had put together a very formidable unit over the years under the watchful eyes of coaches Leo’ Wiley Fox’ Dyar and Mr Michael Clifford. One player for Blue Dragon missed the team bus but managed to take two buses across the city, ninety minutes of travelling, in order to make it to the game, such was his commitment to the team. This clash of the titans would be the day’s showpiece

Blue Dragon U18 v Hanoi International School U18

And a titanic clash it certainly was. Both teams gave full commitment to their teams and the game. The speed at which the game was played was breath-taking, the two teams showing how they have mastered this new game over the years of playing it here in Hanoi, adapting skills from other sports. Passers-by stopped their motorbikes to watch and small children watched in awe as these lightning quick young men ran full tilt at each other, taking and giving thumping shoulders and triumphant high fives.

Along the side-lines stood a group of proud coaches, beaming smiles from ear-to-ear that it had all come together into such a great game. Blue Dragon took the gold-coloured medals but the whole day was a victory for the Viet Celts and Gaelic football in Vietnam, as well as the culmination of a long journey which started on a dusty Xuan La stadium back in May 2010 for the first All Vietnam Schools Cup and September 2008 for the start of the Viet Celts Schools Gaelic Football Program. Blue Dragon, VAS Hanoi  and SIS Gamuda, champions of Asia!

David Cunningham

Awards ceremony with Irish Ambassador -Cáit Moran, ACB Chairman – Joe Trolan and Tournament MC-Eric Kerrison

Special mentions to the Irish Embassy, the Asian County Board, DFAT, the GAA, the Global Games Development Fund and O’Neills for their vital support of the Viet Celts Schools Gaelic Football Program. Thanks to the Irish Ambassador,  Cáit Moran who presented the medals and trophies and to the AYC Organising Committee who put nine hard months of logistics into the event.

The awards table

AYC Organising Committee

Le Ngoc Anh (Lana) , Thanh Nguyen, Jim Kiernan, David Cunningham, John Shoulders, Neil Hiney, Sean O’Connell, Rebecca O’Keefe, Ewan Anderson, Joe Trolan, Jonathan Cleary, Conor Melvin, John Hennigan, Adrian Donoghue.

Nearly all of these people double jobbed or triple jobbed as coaches and referees. Thanks also to Paddy A Quinn and Mark Horkan who made a big effort to get down and help out with the refereeing on the day and Eric’ Kerro’ Kerrison  who did a fine job as Tournament MC. Behind the scenes on tournament day and before, Pham Lan, Brenda Meiklejohn, Jarrod Reames, Rowena Barnett and Rod Barnett lent a hand.

Massive respect to the players, coaches and mentors of Korea International School, Seoul Gaels, Gimhae GFC and Shanghai GFC who all made such a tremendous effort to get to Hanoi for the AYC. Congratulations to Gimhae who won the Ambassador’s Fair Play Award.

Below is the full list of scores for those readers with an interest in the minutiae! 30 games were played in total across the three competitions with 23 of those games coming in the U12 competition.

The Viet Celts

 

Some media links on the event and youth Gaelic Football in Vietnam

 Journal.ieChildren in Vietnam are mad about GAA thanks to our inspiring expats

VN Express InternationalHanoi disadvantaged kids dream big with Gaelic football

Vietnam News / Saigon NewsHa Noi to host Asia’s first AYC Gaelic football tournament

Hogan Stand Inaugural Asian Youth Championships to take place next month

RTE NewsroundInterview with David Cunningham as part of report about President Michael D. Higgins’ visit to Vietnam in late 2016

Connaught TelegraphYoung GAA players shine in Hanoi

Connacht Telegraph

Jonathan and Callum Cleary

A message below from Asian County Board Treasurer, Jonathan Cleary who travelled from Malaysia with his son Callum for the AYC. Callum put in an excellent stint on the SIS Gamuda U15 team and Jonathan refereed a good number of the U12 games.

“Fantastic weekend at the inaugural GAA Asian Youth Championship in Hanoi. Many thanks to the Viet Celts for hosting a marvellous tournament. Enjoyed refereeing as I got a chance to see the all the action first hand. Over 150 participants in the U12, U15 and U18 competitions and by my reckoning not one of them born in Ireland”

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VAS Gaelic Cup 2016

Tran Nguyen Nhu Toan kicks a point

 

Rest of VAS 6.7 (25pts)

Year 9           4.5 (17pts)

In the 8th edition of the VAS Gaelic Cup, Year 9 narrowly went down to a Rest of VAS selection on 15 November, 2016. As has been tradition over the last eight years, an Australian has always participated in the VAS Gaelic Cup and this year was no exception. The elegant and enigmatic Warren Wells lined out for the Rest of VAS selection and showed off some of his aerial skills from his days playing Australian Rules in Queensland.

Jim Kiernan on the ball

Year 9 were in front for most of the game thanks to some great scores from Tran Nguyen Nhu Toan and Vu Duc Dat but the Rest of VAS selection launched a comeback in the dying minutes of the game inspired by Nguyen Manh Huy and Neil Hiney ably supported by Nguyen Phu Quang from Year 6.

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