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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.