|Uist & Barra in Ireland: A player's diary|
Author: Alisdair MacDonald
The Uist and Barra Junior Football Club recently returned home with their heads held high and the admiration of their opponents after a successful trip to participate in the 2012 Galway Cup in Ireland.
The team, consisting of 24 players and 6 adults, set off from the islands on Monday 6th August in high spirits. After a night spent in the Premier Inn in Glasgow the team travelled to Cairnryan where they caught a ferry across to Larne in Northern Ireland. Once stepping off the ferry the team was met by scorching sunshine much to their surprise. Another 5 hour bus journey, this time across the breadth of Ireland, was required before the team finally arrived at their accommodation at Galway University. It was well past 11pm by the time all the boys got into their apartments and with a morning kick off scheduled for the next day, an early night was had by all.
The team kicked off their Galway Cup competition with a tough opener against pre-tournament favourites Mervue United. The Irish team had just recently won the North Regional Cup so the Uist and Barra boys knew they were in for a battle from the start. Mervue United were a quality side with big strong players who had both pace and skill in abundance and they soundly beat the islanders 5-0 with a number of impressive goals. At this point the team feared the worst as, if this was the standard of football here, they were going to struggle to make it to the Cup Final (1st/2nd place) or even the Plate Final (3rd/4th place).
After the crushing opening defeat you might have thought the confidence and morale of the islanders would have dropped. Wrong. A very impressive team performance helped the boys to a stunning 5-0 victory over South Cavan; who had recently drawn 0-0 with Mervue United. First half goals from Neil Sinclair and Ally Downie gave the Uist and Barra boys a 2-0 lead going into the half. The second half started at a fast pace after South Cavan brought on two pacey strikers but the centre back pairing of Alasdair ‘Barvas’ Steele and Carl ‘Dodos’ MacPhee for the islanders held strong. Uist and Barra gradually began to get more going forward and an Ali MacDonald header gave them a 3-0 lead. This gave the boys more confidence and they began to play some very attractive football; getting the ball down, passing it and moving. The flowing movement of the islanders tormented the South Cavan boys and Calum Murray coolly finished off an excellent team move to make it 4-0. Soon after, right winger ‘Deege’ Wilson skinned two men before being brought down in the box. Up stepped the impressive Ally Downie who outfoxed the opposition goalkeeper to slot the penalty into the corner and give the islanders a 5-0 win and a massive confidence boost!
Spirits in the camp were high so the boys spent the afternoon and evening making use of the fantastic facilities on offer at Galway University. The sunshine forced the boys into dipping into the nearby river to cool off. This; along with friendly kick abouts on the astro pitches, a couple of games of tennis, a team meal and a team meeting really helped to motivate and calm the boys ahead of what was to be a busy day 3.
The team started the third day of action with an early morning tie against local club Salthill Devon; who trained and played at the tournament venue. This was effectively their home game as they were used to the pitches and had plenty of support. The islanders started slowly and found themselves a goal down after just 10 minutes. To make matters worse central midfielder Calum Murray, who performed excellently in the game against South Cavan, suffered an injury and had to be replaced by his namesake Calum MacDonald. This was another blow to the team’s central midfield after they lost Fraser MacDonald before the tournament began to injury. Going into the halftime break the Uist and Barra heads seemed down but a few constructive and assertive words from manager Iain ‘Donyards’ MacDonald woke them up to the task at hand. In true Uist and Barra style the team came out in the second half giving everything on the pitch and doing themselves justice. Lone striker Neil Sinclair ran the channels brilliantly, while wingers Joseph MacInnes and ‘Deege’ Wilson supported him at every opportunity. Central midfielder Ally Downie began finding little spaces and pushing forward while brothers Ali and Calum MacDonald sat deep breaking down the play. Centre backs Alasdair ‘Barvas’ Steele and Carl ‘Dodos’ MacPhee fought like bulldogs; not giving their opponents a sniff while pacey full backs Domhnall MacLean and Owen MacInnes stifled out the Salthill Devon wingers. In goal Donald Peteranna pulled off a number of top drawer saves to keep the Islanders in it.
The team showed a lot of maturity and determination in the second half and were duly rewarded just after the hour when, once again, ‘Deege’ Wilson was fouled inside the area and the islanders were handed a golden opportunity to get back into the game. Ally Downie took up the duty of penalty taker and coolly dispatched his shot past the flailing arms of the keeper. 1-1. Game on. The islanders began to win the battle in the middle of the park and they quickly took the lead when a ball over the top was latched onto by Joseph MacInnes who then drilled the ball across the goal mouth where it was tapped in by Neil Sinclair. The goal gave the boys a lift and they began to play the stylish football that was seen the day before. With minutes remaining Salthill Devon began to throw everything at the Uist and Barra defence but the boys stood strong and were able to hit the locals on the counter. Joseph MacInnes, again, got in behind the defence and this time made sure he got a goal of his own by smashing the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper. 3-1. Full Time. One point away from the final.
The final group game pitted Uist and Barra versus Foyle Harps from Derry (former team of Celtic star Paddy McCourt) with the islanders knowing a point would take them to the final. Having played three games already injuries and suspensions influenced the team selection for the big game. Youngster Taylor Linich started out wide while Calum MacDonald came into the middle of the park after an impressive display against Salthill Devon. The game was played in the evening but the heat was still a factor for the boys, who were more used to playing in pouring rain and howling wind, as was the fact that they’d already played a game earlier on that day. Foyle Harps started at a high tempo, moving the ball around the pitch quickly making the Uist and Barra boys work hard in the heat, but could not break down the solid defence at the back. The two centre backs would not let anything pass them while Owen MacInnes and Domhnall MacLean, the two full backs, showed their strength and pace against bigger opponents. Halftime came with the score at 0-0 which was a fair testament to the hard work of both sides. The Derry side started the second half at the same quick tempo they ended the first creating numerous chances which were easily saved by Donald Peteranna in goals. Fatigue began to set in to the Uist and Barra boys and inevitably Foyle Harps managed to take the lead after a well worked move.
The Islanders continued to fight for every ball but struggled to create any chances due to the talented centre backs Foyle Harps had in their midst. The islanders continued to be put under pressure and were only kept in the game after some marvellous saves by Donald Peteranna and a goal line clearance by Domhnall MacLean. With the game well into injury time it looked as if the islanders would have to contend with the Plate Final rather than the Cup Final. With the referee checking his watch and putting the whistle to his lips it looked as if the game was over. Up stepped captain Ali MacDonald who picked up the ball on the halfway line and beat two men before cleverly playing the ball through to Ally Downie, who with an Aguero-esque drop of the shoulder and shot put Uist and Barra into the Cup Final. The scenes that enfolded were unreal. The entire contingent from Uist and Barra were up in arms, screaming, rejoicing, crying, laughing and celebrating whereas the boys from Foyle Harps all fell to the ground, some inconsolable, trying to comprehend what had just happened. The referee blew the final whistle before the centre was even taken and to the delight of the islanders they were in the Cup Final. It really is difficult to describe how dramatic, emotional and powerful the events of this game where but news quickly spread around the venue of the islanders late triumph and comparisons where made with Manchester City’s late comeback against QPR to win the Premier League trophy last season.
Uist and Barra were rewarded with a Cup Final match against Mervue United who had beaten them 5-0 in the opening game of the tournament. This was a day of destiny for the team. The biggest game of their lives. For those that believe in it…fate.
Saturday 11th August. On the main pitch at the tournament venue. In front of RTE television cameras. In front of 4000 spectators. This was a far cry from the Uist and Barra league that all the boys were used to.
Having been beaten comfortably by Mervue United already the team knew they were up against it. The nerves were there pre match but after many kind words through texts from home, the support of other teams who were backing the islanders and the team spirit generated through the week the boys were able to calm themselves as they walked out onto the pitch.
Mervue United started quickly, passing and moving like a professional club and they were soon a goal ahead after a piece of individual brilliance by their number 7, who went on to receive player of the tournament. The young islanders responded in true Uist and Barra style by throwing in some big tackles and fighting for every ball. The grit and determination was rewarded on the half hour when a Joseph MacInnes free-kick was powered in by the head of Carl ‘Dodos’ MacPhee. This gave the boys a massive lift and they began to pass the more confidently as time went by. Somewhat against the run of play Mervue United grabbed a second goal right on half time and this seemed to knock the life out of the islanders as they walked off the pitch for half time.
Half time gave the boys a chance to re-group and receive feedback from the manager and coaches. More of the same was asked for. That’s all that could be asked for. The boys were giving 110% and doing themselves justice.
The second half started with Mervue United pressing higher up the park trying to limit the space the islander’s midfielders were finding. The fighting spirit of the boys was clear to see as they chased and harried every Mervue player. The class of the Irish became apparent as the second half wore on and they hit two wonderful goals to put the game beyond doubt. Nevertheless the boys did not give up and they kept working, making life as difficult as possible for the Mervue players until the referee blew to end the match.
The disappointment was clear to see but so was the pride. After the opening game of the tournament the boys would never have thought they would have achieved so much in the week. Their heads remained high as they received their runners up medals and they were given an almighty cheer by all those watching for their gallant performances during the week. The team may not have won the cup but they did gain the respect of all their opponents and showed the level of talent that lies within the islands. Next year the team will return to Ireland, this time in the North, to participate in The Foyles Cup in Derry where they will meet up with their newly made friends from Foyle Harps. Until then, the hard work of training and fundraising begins for another year!