The Saigon Gaels set off for the South Asian Games with the largest contingent of players in several years. Two ladies’ teams and a men’s team departed for Bangkok on the Friday hoping for glory, silverware, and a bit of craic too!

The men’s team faced some very tough opposition in their first two games and despite their best efforts came off with losses to Singapore A and Thailand A. They found their feet in their third group game however and after just a narrow lead at half-time against Orang Eire B they clicked in the second half and ran out comfortable winners, with Cormac Hamill, Mark Spalton, and Tiege Cogavin nabbing a goal each in the second half.

The final group game would be a crucial game against Taiwan. Taiwan proved to be tough opposition and both teams had chances to squeeze out a lead, which Saigon did at one stage with an expertly converted sideline ball by James Teague with the outside of his right boot, but the defense on each team proved hard to break down and the Saigon Gaels edged the contest in the end, narrowly winning by just a solitary point.

Two wins saw the men’s team go through to a Junior A final in which they would face Thailand B. This game was fiercely contested by both teams with some great scores, and despite non-stop running by Sonny Le it was clear the heat and previous games played by both teams were playing a big part in the contest as both teams saw kicks drop short or drift wide. The second half in particular was a close, low scoring affair, with great saves by Dan Morrison and a super full back performance by Chris Salmon, and ultimately it ended in a tie game. Four long minutes of extra time was called for to try and separate the teams and despite Saigon going ahead with great performances by Shane McNaughton in full forward and Cevin McCormack in mid, Thailand managed to claw back an equaliser. As the whistle went both teams were exhausted and a further period of extra time in 40C + heat was going to be extremely challenging.

The second period of extra time was to be decided by a golden score, anything would do for either team as weary legs carried men up and down the pitch. There were breaking tackles, hand pass one-twos, and some fine diagonal balls from Jonny McLoughlin with Lucas Walker running hard up front, but the deadlock, seemingly couldn’t be broken. As the seconds and minutes ticked by Saigon mounted another attack, playing the ball towards the left corner, the forward, with his back to goal, feinted right and played a high ball back to the centre of the pitch where Joe McGrath brilliantly fielded the high ball and quickly dispatched to James Teague who swung a leg and managed to slot the ball over for a toughly contested victory. The disappointment was evident on the faces of the Thailand but they did themselves proud and spectators from all teams commented on the quality and tenacity of play that was displayed.

With the Saigon Gaels only having 4 training sessions before the tournament and, due to players’ external commitments, not having a full 12 at any training session the result was even more surprising and pleasing.

The Ladies Saigon Gaels entered two teams in the South Asian Games, showing just how much the team has grown in the 2 1/2 years since it was founded by Siobhan Synnott.

This year the teams split into A and B sides for the tournament to see just how far Saigon could progress in the regional tournament, bearing in mind we are such a young club.

The B team, with several not only non-Irish, but non-Gaelic players, were keen to get stuck in to the round robin group stages and first faced our old rivals the Viet Celts, followed by Thailand B, Singapore B and Singapore D.

The Viet Celts proved tough competition, as always, and with a core of experienced and familiar players ran out comfortable winners. The Gaels bonded together and the new players got more accustomed to the game and started to find their feet. Their performance against Thailand B was much improved and the ladies showed real grit and determination, unfortunately Thailand B proved too strong and finished strongly with a few goals and points, regrettably for the Gaels.

The third match against Singapore B deceived the Gaels as facing an international team we thought there would be some opportunity to build on the improvement shown against Thailand. However, Singapore B have clearly put in some hard graft and developed their skills well and were a level above the B team. The final match however against Singapore D saw the Gaels put in a great performance, cutting through the defense of Singapore D several times and really testing their goal keeper. Sadly the Gaels eagerness meant that things didn’t click with the final pass being just a few inches to far in front or the kick being just too strong.

Some great performances were shown by Jess Daniels and Lynda Deszpoth in midfield and Kirsten Gower up front. Jo Salmon was strong in defense and even had a spell in goal when Claire Mathieson, who was a solid keeper, needed a break to rest an injury. Great experience was gained by Rachel O’Connor in defense, along with Marianna Daniels who definitely stepped up a few levels in her new found defensive position. Mel Glover showed great potential in a number of positions and Kat Rabdau’s experience was evident as she played in in defense, as a forward, and even in goal! Tiffany Trood showed great hand skills and was a superb man-to-man marker and Amanda Doyle’s tireless running into space kept the opposition defense constantly occupied. Hayley Ashley confirmed her toughness, playing on despite a sore shoulder and was a great ball winner and constant hassle to the opposition. Ciara Ellis, showed her enthusiasm coming on in two games for her not only her first appearance at a South Asian Games but also her first appearance for the Gaels.

The A team were looking to see what sort of challenge they could put up to some of the more established clubs from South East Asia. This being only the third SAGs that the ladies Gaels had competed in there was a nervousness about how they would perform and how far they might progress, if at all.

The nervousness was soon replaced with confidence as the team clicked together excellently. The midfield duo of Tors Rosenthal and Laura Gallagher were dominant from the start and their fitness and stamina was testament to the hard graft put in at training in 35C+ heat, week in week out in Saigon. Steph Webb was superb at half back, sweeping up any loose balls and communicating constantly with team mates. Lucy Glynn caught any ball that came near her and Janice Smith swept up anything that came close to goal. Maz directed from the back and her kick-outs were accurate, direct, and swift.

In the half-forward line Heather Turkle was a constant driving force putting the opposition under pressure. Playing inside, Laura Comerford and Julie O’Meara were clinical, dispatching goals and points with precision as well as making excellent runs to create space for the supporting players to nab some scores.

With 9 players on the pitch and only 3 subs, the bench had to dig deep into their reserves, often being played out of position, to enable the whole team to sustain the high standard on show, especially in the intense Bangkok heat. Alyson Hamilton and the club founder Siobhan Synnott were fantastic jack-of-all-trade players, popping up in defense, midfield, and attack, and their experience enabled the team to power through the challenges faced and overcome Thailand B, Orang Eire B, and Singapore C, leaving a challenge against Singapore A to try and claim a clean sweep of the group stages.

Unfortunately, Singapore A (as was to be expected) were strong. Very strong. Saigon were perhaps a bit shell-shocked by the speed of the game but certainly found their feet in the second half. Some neat hand-passing and overlapping runs enabled the Gaels to tag on a few scores and the clinical finishing of the forwards helped them find the net also.

Despite being the toughest contest they had faced thus far, ultimately Singapore ran out as well-deserved winners but the first three victories meant Saigon had qualified second in the group and were to face Orang Eire A in a semi-final.

Unfortunately, the schedule meant the match was to be played at the same time as the men’s Gaels were facing Thailand but the ladies took this in their stride and, coachless, put up a great challenge to the side from KL. Orang Eire A posed a different challenge for Saigon as they turned out to be a hand-passing side, lacking the physicality of some of the other teams, replacing this with speed and precision. In a competitive game the KL side came out winners in the end but it must be noted that this semi was played between 2 teams with many non-Irish players.

All in all, there were a lot of positives to take from the performances of all teams. The men entered a team which is a step forward from last year and with minimal training in a short space of time performed excellently. The ladies’ B team gained valuable, competitive football experience and know what they will be up against next year. The ladies’ A team gained a lot of confidence and know where they stand in the region and what the standard of the opposition is.

Overall there were highs, lows, and a lot of craic! One thing for certain is that the Gaels will continue to grow and go from strength to strength. We hope you can join us, follow us, support us.