Last weekend saw the Saigon Gaels embark on their first All Asian Gaelic Games competition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The young squad made the trip late on Friday night, eager to progress from their two excellent performances in this year and last year’s South East Asia games.
In a difficult group, the Gaels played their first game on the Saturday morning against an extremely strong Abu Dhabi team. The game started at break-neck speed and it took the Gaels some time to find their legs. Four points down at half time, the Gaels made a remarkable improvement in the second half with David O’Shea controlling the midfield and kicking two delightful scores to bring the teams close again. Brett Jotta also got in on the action as he caused havoc in the forward line. With the momentum swinging in the Gaels favour, Jotta came close to winning the difficult opening affair when he was sent through on goal by Redmond; unfortunately the Abu Dhabi keeper pulled off an excellent reflex save and the Gaels were denied the points.
The second game saw a change of fortune for the Gaels as they dominated a very entertaining affair against Kuwait. The Gaels played some fantastic free flowing football but special mention must go to Swannie, Kyle Hackenberg, who acted as an extra outfielder whilst he was in nets, setting up wave after wave of attack and Daniel Ryan who ran tirelessly in midfield linking up superbly with O’Shea, Jotta and Farrell. The Gaels ran out winners in this entertaining bout and claimed their first ever points in the Asian Gaelic games; a momentous occasion.
Singapore C awaited the Gaels in the third game; with a raft of county minors and ex-county players making up the Singapore 9, this was surely going to be the Gaels toughest match and it proved to be. With Phil Ghasseb picking up an injury in the previous game the team was forced to rotate and play several players out of position. Billy Crang dropped back into the centre half back role while Redmond and Carr lined up in the full forward berth. The game was physically and mentally draining with both teams hitting hard and playing fast. After some excellent build up play, Singapore landed a heavy blow to Saigon’s championship bid when they blasted the ball into the back of the net. Many teams would have crumbled at this point, but the Gaels rallied round and demonstrated some excellent resolve to pull two vital points back through Carr and Redmond. Redmond could have had a goal minutes later when he latched onto an excellent punt pass from midfield and beat his man down the line, only to see the Singapore full back expertly block the ball on the line. The game continued at frantic pace and Singapore’s quality and experience eventually proved too much for the Gaels as they ran out winners in what had been a very tough test for both teams.
The final game saw the Gaels take on a strong Oman outfit in the midst of a heavy rain storm. The Gaels were naturally unfazed by the weather and played some fantastic football, using their pace and energy to carve open the Oman defence. Despite the excellent performance, the Gaels found themselves trailing at half time by a fortuitous Oman goal. Again, the Gaels rallied and fought hard to claw their way back into the game. Hackenberg and O’Reilly seemed to strike up an excellent understanding in the forward line with the two combining to score a goal and a point in quick succession. Brian Farrell, Ben Lynch and Billy Crang were also having excellent games for the Gaels marshaling the defence and dictating the pace of the game. Conditions worsened in the second half and midfield maestro O’Shea can be forgiven for missing a number of scoring opportunities as the weather conditions made handling and distribution extremely tough. With seconds to go the Gaels were unfortunate to concede a last minute goal allowing Oman to sneak a draw out of the game and ultimately end the Gaels hopes of progressing to the next round.
With the games drawing to a close and the Gaels squad battered, bruised and bloodied the players and management can take great pride and solace in the knowledge that they performed admirably in their first All Asian tournament and represented the great city of Saigon proudly. One player in particular who can take a great deal of satisfaction away from the weekend was John Redmond who picked up an All Star award at the closing ceremony on Sunday for his fantastic performances throughout the tournament. As a young team packed with talented and enthusiastic players, the sky is the limit for this squad, who will no doubt be back bigger and better in the next tournament.