Preparations well underway for Round One in Malmö
By Denis O’Riordan
In Ireland the month of May was traditionally viewed as the Month of Mary and was a time where the devout prayed to the Blessed Virgin for what they believed to be important to them for the coming summer. These devotions normally concluded with a pilgrimage at the end of the month to a holy shrine where thanks was given and respects paid to the Queen of May. In Scandinavia these traditions may not be held but the common factors for the Gaelic footballing masses in these parts would be the praying for best from the summer and the pilgrimage at the end of the month to the first round of the Scandinavian Championship. This year Malmö will be the hosts and the games take place on the 25th of May at Limhanmsfältet, the field by the sea.
Malmö have never won their own home tournament and Coaches Aidan O’Reilly, Kevin Dunne and Michael Lynch hope to rectify this anomaly. “People have been really pushing themselves hard at training both for fitness and skills. It has been great to see the improvement in individual skills over the recent months,” says O’Reilly. “We have always known that we have had good players and now we have some excellent new recruits so we really need to ensure that team play and tactics build on our strengths.” Malmö have always boasted a healthy contingent of non-Irish players and this year is no exception with Americans, New Zealanders and South Africans amongst the newcomers. There have also been Irish acquisitions and with numbers in registered men’s players increasing to over fifty there is every chance that two men’s teams will take to the pitch later in the month. “This year is going to see a lot of players fighting for positions at the home tournament and hopefully all players will see the good in this regarding the whole picture of Malmö GAA development”, added Aidan. “Myself, Mick and Kev had set out a schedule that we try to stick to as regards training and to also try and bring all players, beginners, veterans and indeed the ladies, into the same line of thinking in regards to what we are training for and how we will achieve this goal. It’s never easy to reach a level of intensity when training so many of varying skill and gender but we seem to have overcome this obstacle while also making each session as interesting as possible”, he notes.
Indeed, it’s not easy to train the men’s and ladies teams together but they seem to have found the right blend. Linda Zozevski, founder of the ladies club in Malmö, says the emphasis at training is on winning the home tournament and driving on from there. “We’ve been getting ten to twelve girls to each training this year which is much the same as last year. We all say that winning is super important in Malmö because we want the others chasing us going into rounds two and three.” The ladies team made it to the final in the debut tournament last year and Linda expects this year to be one better. “You can always come back from an opening day loss but we feel it’s not going to happen on the 25th. If we play to our best we can definitely win our first trophy. The next tournament after Malmö is three weeks later and we want to strike early to bring home the series. I think we’ve replaced last year’s naivety with a little finesse so hopefully that will bode well for us. We were on the learning curve last year so this is our time to shine.” With confidence like that the team will take some stopping. The ladies, much like the men, have seen their numbers swell this year and Linda hopes that they too can field two teams at Limhmansfältet. “We do have a lot of registered members, many of whom are students, so coming up to exam time they feel the pressure on and off the pitch but I hope we can have two really competitive teams playing at home.”
While the girls are dreaming of future glory the men hope to build on last year’s triumph in Europe. A poor run of form in the Scandinavian Championship was put behind them with a blistering European run, culminating in winning the European Shield. When asked if being European champions will boost confidence or put a target on their chests, Aidan wryly answers, “There won’t be too much pressure on us but perhaps last year’s winners Stockholm may feel a drive to up their standards to meet us. Some players might not even know of the European shield so we just want to win in Malmö and kick on from there. The main thing is that we enjoy our football.” With three coaches it’s easy to enjoy the game. In the past Malmö have been in the position where nobody ran the line but O’Reilly feels the burden is spread equally this year which benefits everyone. But, with Father Time creeping up Aidan can’t help but cast one eye toward the sidelines. He jokes, “I believe I still have a few playing days left in me but may soon drift onto the sidelines to run operations from there which is much needed. We have a few areas that we are working on as regards team play. It is always easier to oversee this from the line. If these work then I have no doubt that the Nordic region will be ours. I really enjoyed the atmosphere that we had at the final stages of the 2012 season and I really want players to go out and enjoy their football in 2013.”
To win is to enjoy and vice versa it would appear. With the chance of four home teams taking to the field the excitement is palpable amongst the players. Even Ireland’s Eurovision entry is getting in on the act when he has a meet and greet with the teams next Saturday. So, with the month of May ticking over as time relentlessly does, The Malmö panels seem to have no need to send devotions to Mary, The Queen of Queens. With the assured answers they give to questions and the way they conduct themselves at the training ground they would be a good bet to land both trophies on the 25th of May. Let’s all hope it won’t be St. Anthony who receives their prayers on the 26th.
Winning isn’t the only goal for Malmö
By Denis O’Riordan
The smell of cut grass, the stretch in the evenings and exam time for students. These are the things that coincide with the oncoming championship and are just as relevant in Sweden as in Ireland. In recent weeks the on field preparations have been stepped up a gear for Malmö GAA Club but what with the off field preparations? There are pitches to book, lunches to make and an awards ceremony to organize, as well as getting a final number of attendees in place. Paperwork, packed lunches and problems o’ plenty but in the end, progress is made.
While Malmö is no stranger to hosting Scandinavian football events having staged three in the past, the same problems arise time and again for this little club. Noel Grehan, Chairman of Malmö GAA, says each year brings with it old and new hurdles alike. Being a minority sport is never easy but Noel says the kommun (Swedish local council) are quite helpful in many respects. “We book the pitch through the kommun and they line them out exactly as we need and supply the goals for us as well but the paperwork following it can be a bit of a headache,” he points out. “They want to make sure everything is above board but generally leave us run the tournament as we see fit. The fact that many in the kommun have never heard of Gaelic football is always a bit of a stumbling block. I guess the hardest part of all is they need the exact number of players but often we are unsure of this right up to the day of the tournament as some clubs pick up players the night beforehand.” Secretary to the club, Joe Whelan, admits that numbers this year are down on the record breaking 2012 event staged last August but is hopeful for a similar undertaking this year. “When we held the third and final round last summer it was the largest of its kind in the region as we had teams from all the clubs involved in Scandinavia. This year the visiting clubs are finding it hard to get players to commit to the trip down South but all in all there should be a good turnout.”
True enough, in 2012 two teams represented Malmö, Gothenburg, Tallinn and Stockholm while Copenhagen sent a solitary team across the Öresund, as well as the Oslo men’s team travelling, resulting in around 120 players being registered to play on the day. For this year’s tournament, the men of Malmö hope to field two teams with one each from Stockholm, Oslo, Gothenburg and Copenhagen to give two groups of three to play their respective round robins. The Malmö ladies also hope to send two teams into action and should have competition in the guise of Stockholm and Copenhagen. The format for the ladies’ competition has each team playing each other once with the top two teams battling it out in the decider while the men, with two groups of three, will play the two teams in their group once with the top two from each group going forward to the semi-finals. “We have booked three pitches with the kommun,” says Noel, “which should ease the burden on players, referees and caterers alike. In the past the tournament that is set to begin at 10.00 might not start until 10.30 or 11.00 and then you’re playing catch up all day. Sometimes the day’s action might not end until 18.00 or 19.00. With an extra playing surface we hope to have a proper break for everyone at mid-day and finish a little earlier so that there is time to relax in the southern sunshine. We’re quite lucky to have a beach right beside our pitch so it’s always nice to see the other teams go for a dip before heading to Fagan’s for the after party.”
The sponsorship of Fagan’s Irish pub and restaurant is pivotal to proceedings on the day. As well as giving the club financial backing, the pub also provides the evening meal to all tournament players. “It will be a busy evening in the pub,” Noel says excitedly. “As well as having our awards ceremony the Champions League final is on T.V. so maybe we can pick up a few curious Swedes who come in for the soccer but stay for the football. Marina and Johan who run the pub have always been good to us down through the years. In the end, Fagan’s want to put on some good grub and we want to put on a good show like we have done before, so it really makes for an enjoyable evening.” Both Noel and Joe point out, catering to the tastes of up to 120 participants can be quite tricky but because of the scale of the operation people understand if there are any shortcomings. “We have never had a bad word said of our tournaments,” Joe says with a certain sense of pride. “We always try to add something new each year; a barbeque, a poc fada, kid’s entertainment, that kind of thing. If something doesn’t work out quite right then we learn and adapt for the following year. We should have a few surprises up our sleeve this year as well.”
While Joe and Noel both hope to don the green and gold of Malmö on the 25th of May it’s up to Seán Carter as head of the tournament committee to have everything in order on the big day. “The girls usually make the sandwiches for the packed lunches the night before the tournament while the lads go to the pitch to set up the goal posts and fill in any holes that might be on the playing surface,” says Seán. “It builds on camaraderie to have the teams together 24 hours before the event and all working towards a common goal.” It will be Seán’s job on the day to get the teams registered on arrival as well as keep track of the scores and give any information needed to the day’s visitors. “I’ve worked on many building sites over the years so it’s no different to being a foreman but without the noise,” jokes Seán. “It’ll be hectic enough at pitchside but it’s nothing I won’t be able to manage. Once we get the games ran on time and everyone into Fagan’s later I’ll be quite happy.”
So, with everything picking up pace in the run up to the Scandinavian Championship 2013 the objective is clear with players and officials in the club; win the tournament and make it as enjoyable as possible for the visiting teams. And with the smell of cut grass wafting through the Southern Summer breeze one can only dream of championship glory and hope that all sails smoothly on the 25th of May.