In the year 2017 an oddly historical thing happened. 2 teams from Russia took part in proper GAA competition. They came, they saw, they played, they ate, they drank, they were the life and soul of the Stockholm party! It was the Swedes who “settled” Russia and named it “Rus”, or red. The Moscow Shamrocks returned the favour and painted the Swedish capital Green!
For the 1st training of 2016 there were 3 adults. For the 2nd, 2. From January to mid-March we averaged 3 adult players per training session. For the same period in 2017 we averaged 11. A midweek session introduced in March has now reached an average of 9 people. From setting up a full committee last September, to attending the Gaelic Games Europe AGM in November, to 2 club Blitzes, the club took the next and historical step - competing in actual GAA competition. That’s the dry start, so what happened next?
We came from all over - Blarney, Budapest, Stockholm and Moscow to Stockholm. A gathered mob of Russian, Irish, Aussie, Cypriot, Swede, English, Welsh, Limerick and Sligo Gaelic Footballers who had trained and dedicated their free time to playing in the First Round of the Nordic Championship. It was a step into the unknown, a challenge akin to dealing with a bunch of overtired toddlers who’ve just raided a sweet shop.
While missing a number of players, the Shamrocks gathered at the Hotel Gardet, an actual stones throw - unless you throw like an Ulsterman - from the tournament venue. For the Bainisteoir (Coach) it was instructive to see the players demeanour at the team meeting on Friday evening. Tight faces, forced laughs and other signs of nerves. Though explaining that this is entirely normal and healthy, I told our Cathaoirleach (Chairperson) as we left for dinner that it would only disappear after a couple of matches.
A relatively sleepless night was had by all, with bodies meandering around the Hotel from 5am. At breakfast nervous energy flowed through the serried ranks of Shamrocks and only increased when we left to get changed. Hard as it was to observe, I knew that once the action got under way focus would fully return for the majority. Our sole aim was to go and NOT finish dead last - to win ONE game. It was not pessimism, but absolute realism.
We’d taken all the knocks for months - we weren’t ready; we didn’t have a team; we didn’t know what we were doing. Well, May 13th, 2017, was either going to be the day when those sugarbuzzed toddlers raided a hardware store and went to town on a china shop with hammers, or the Moscow Shamrocks came of age as a club.
The Ladies Team were led into action by their Bainisteoir Aisling Kinsella and were joined by 2 Oulu Elks players and, eventually, a player from Copenhagen. With Copenhagen’s Megan pulling on the Shamrock black, we had 2 Irish players - of the remaining 5, 2 were Russian, and we had 1 each from Cumbria, Hungary and France. A true picture of Gaelic Games in Europe.
Through the day the Shamrock Ladies would be joined by another Irish player and 2 Swedes (loaned from Stockholm) and excel. Leigh’s double save in the 4th match, Eva’s explosive pace to dispossess one of the best players on show, Julia clattering an opponent while blocking a shot, Netti timing a support run to perfection to win a free, Axelle laying her body on the line to block a goalbound shot and Aisling being from Carlow.
Right now we need a special mention for the Ladies Bainisteoir. Aisling was the best player in the Ladies tournament by a mile. From start to finish of the weekend she led by example, embracing the experience and enthusing those around her. When sent, with Eva, to play with Helsinki, they did so and gave 100% for their new team also. Before the trip to Stockholm, Aisling gave our club a massive media and status boost by organising her former club (Arabian Celts GFC) to greet Russian football legend Alexey Smertin in Bahrain. The Moscow Shamrocks are very fortunate to have this person in our midst, even if she is from Carlow.
Although the Lady Shamrocks were close to getting a W, they came home empty handed. However with new players joining the club, the Ladies Team is looking very healthy and will never again fail to win a match at a tournament - FACT!
The Men’s team were given a true baptism of fire, drawn in a group with Jyvaskyla and Stockholm A. One of the club’s co-Founders, Tom English, wrote himself into Malmo legend and guaranteed that he’d never have to buy a drink in the Swedish town when he registered the Shamrock’s 1st score in Men’s competition. His point forced a playoff between Jyvaskyla and Malmo, which the Swedes duly won. Eventual Champions Stockholm A didn’t let up and the situation made a little more difficult to the back injury picked up by John Boy in goals, though not, as some in the media have alleged, from picking the ball out of the net so often.
However the 2 losses didn’t dampen the day. We could sense there was something to be gained from the tournament and players were pulled butt naked from showers to prove that sense correct. After a shot of energy and bite of lunch, we took on a tough Oslo team. It was as if a switch was flicked and the fear and hesitation of the group stage was forgotten. Going behind early our players threw the shackles off their feet and began to dance. Suddenly we took the lead and the Norwegians were on the ropes. With 90 seconds to go they leveled the match with a long range point. Nerves, inexperience and fear froze the Shamrocks when the referee announced it would go to extra time if scores remained the same.
Losing in such a manner would kill many teams, though not the Moscow Shamrocks. In our 4th match of the day we ran out against the Oulu Elks and in a display befitting our growth as a club in the past year, passes found the correct hands, runs were not made in vain and not a shoulder was hunched. We achieved our aim - to win 1 match. It was a win for both teams and those who traveled with us to support the cause. A gift for those who began the club and who contributed to keeping it alive through the harsh Russian Winters and boiling Summers.
Reg’s fisted pass from a kick out, Kieran playing for Gothenburg, Tom’s point, Sean’s goal, Karl constantly finding space for passes, Artem’s massive mark, John Boy’s saves in the 1st match, Ninos’ blatant penalty claim, Evgeni’s pointed free, Kenny battering a Finnish player, Dan leading the line in the 3rd and 4th matches and Kalle looking like a grizzled veteran from his first match. Every player did something outstanding and left nothing to be regretted on the field.
We got our first win and while only one Shamrock cheered, externally, internally we were all relieved. One win, against a good team from Finland, made all those Sunday morning’s in ISM through the Winter feel worth it.
I’ve written a lot about the players and pair of supporters who took part, though those players who trained through the Winter and helped us prepare are as important to our success as anyone who took the field in the Swedish capital. The patience and understanding of the families, partners and loved ones in the build up was remarkable, or maybe they were just happy to have us absent for a few hours each week.
I was immensely proud of our teams in Stockholm. On and off the pitch we did Moscow and the GAA justice. It was a tough journey just to get there, an even tougher introduction to competitive football, however this was the reason the club was founded. We came of age as a club. The final words I will leave to a man whose partner came to Stockholm and is now a Malmo hero.
The original idea behind the Shamrocks was never to just kick ball at the weekends, as wonderful as that is. The idea was to try to develop that feeling of belonging to something - a club, a family - in spite of the fact that we are so few in a city of so many. We will never replace that feeling of being kids, taking the bus to wherever, pulling on the jersey, and representing where you were from. Where you belong. But the Shamrocks made me feel that way again every time I went to train. Every time I treated Tom English to the Eoin Mulligan dummy. I don't know most of the people in Stockholm tonight, but you're still my people. My team. Giving up so much time & money to represent something that means something to you. To stand up and put yourselves out there as representatives of a community & a team that will go to war together. As the first man at the first training session for the Shamrocks a long time ago, I'm so proud & excited about how you've all brought this thing to the next level. That's what the few of us that started this thing dreamed of. I'm gutted I can't be there. Good luck tomorrow... but win, lose or draw, try to remember how far we've come! But, you know, don't lose. That'd suck :) - Mark Barton