Wednesday, September 19, 2007

All Ireland Hurling Final September 2007 Limerick v Kilkenny

“Limerick by two goals”,“But you won’t get the ball” replied the Kilkenny man as the Dublin bound train left Maynooth station.

And so it was.

Kilkenny got the ball, Limerick didn’t and after 8 minutes or so they led by 9 points (2-3 to 0-0)

The underdogs,Limerick,had too much to do & the ‘Cats’ would win their 30th title.

The Guinness All Ireland Hurling Final is a very traditional Irish sporting spectacle. It was played on 2nd September at the Gaelic Athletic Association headquarters in Croke Park, Dublin before a sell-out crowd of over 82,000. Such is the interest that tickets can be sold for in excess of 500 euros on Ebay though on the streets, on the day, they were going for significantly less.

Hurling is an ancient, fast & furious Hockey-like game played 15-a-side on a large pitch of around 135 metres long x 90 metres wide with Rugby-style posts through which the ‘ball’ is sent in order to score. The Hurling stick is known as a Hurley.

And on this day in central Dublin there is a lot of hurley burley.

The city becomes crowded with green shirted & black/amber clad Hurling fans from the west(Limerick) and central (Kilkenny) counties of the Republic of Ireland. Mixed in with the throng are curious tourists getting an extra, unexpected example of Irish culture.

A fairly short walk from the main thoroughfare, O’Connell Street, is Croke Park - named after an Archbishop. The stadium itself is steeped in history – not least the evocative open end,Hill 16, reputedly commemorating the 1916 Easter Uprising.

Inside the massive ground the two sets of fans, refreshingly mixed together & split approx. 60:40 in favour of Limerick, present a colourful image under a generally cloudy sky.

The event itself is infused with tradition & an amateur ethos that makes one smile with appreciation :-

the players marching around the pitch with the band in gladiatorial fashion before the start.

the close connection of the participants with their local area.

giving three cheers for the losers.

even the celebratory pitch invasion at the end was good hearted.

But most of the all the gracious & eloquent speech by the winning captain brought to mind a bygone age. It was in complete contrast to the stumbling & often incoherent efforts of the millionaire stars from Soccer’s Premier League.

Despite Limericks’ undoubted effort & commitment they couldn’t overcome the more skilled Kilkenny team in this final but whatever the result both sets of fans would enjoy their day out in Dublin’s fair city.

So if you do find yourself in Ireland go along to a Gaelic football or Hurling match as you’ll enjoy a fast moving game in a friendly, uniquely Irish environment.

The Asian Cup Final 2007 Iraq vs Saudi Arabia

The cause of some briefly united celebrations in war-torn Iraq.
Their victory in this final in Jakarta was due to a combination of good organisation & team effort
amongst the mixed faiths of the Lions of Mesopotamia.

As has been the case in recent times (eg the 2006 World Cup & the 2004 European Championships) the best defence had come out on top.

But before a very supportive & sympathetic crowd of around 45,000 (rather than the announced 60,000) Iraq did more than just defend well as they often took the game to the more favoured Saudis.
In a better-than-average final their efforts were finally rewarded in the 70th minute when captain & driving force Younis Mahmoud headed the winner.

No kalashnikovs were fired into the air at the end but there were joyous scenes for Iraq's first Asian Cup success.

Whilst not always riveting (in my last seven games I saw only 4 goals) the tournament did offer up some striking experiences , not least in this final game.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Asian Cup July 2007

You don't often get to meet an elephant whilst eating at your local restaurant , a surreal experience this writer had near his Bangkok hotel. Though I declined to feed the said beast some children did (for a small charge) .That was during my first night in Thailand - a country that can definitely offer a wide variety of 'experiences'.

Thailand, Vietnam , Malaysia & Indonesia jointly hosted the latest addition of the Asian Cup.
Most games were played in the capital cities - Bangkok, Hanoi, Jakarta & Kuala Lumpur and each city had its own attractions.
All places were hot, often humid & sometimes very wet. But that was to be expected in July in South East Asia.

The conditions did serve to enhance the chances of the four home countries & probably detracted from the performance of the favourites, Australia, playing in their first Asian Cup.
Certainly the torrential rain that accompanied the Bangkok opening ceremony diminished that spectacle & reduced the attendance for Thailand's game versus eventual winners Iraq. The result of that match was a rather surprising draw with the home team benefiting from a rather dubious penalty decision. Thailand would not progress beyond the group stages but their play exceeded prior expectations.

Wandering around central Bangkok at this time of year means you will inevitably be wet (through sweating) whether it rains or not. So your correspondent had to modify his tourist strategy on this trip - using more taxis or tuk tuks or even on one disconcerting occasion, a motor bike, to see the sights.
And there are certainly sights to be seen, not least the mind-boggling architecture of the Grand Palace, the excellent National Museum & the golden buddha.

One thing that is impossible to miss are the all pervading Royal images and the numerous yellow shirts. Especially on Mondays (King's Day) when most of the population wear that colour to show support for their long-serving monarch.

In contrast Thai support for the football was fairly moderate & that could be said of the profile of the tournament generally.

However in Hanoi , encouraged by a winning start , the Vietnamese proved keen & enthusiastic supporters. They generated some serious noise at the My Dinh stadium to drive on their players towards a previously unachieved level (the quarter final)

The city itself is probably the most interesting of the four capitals.

Uncle Ho's mausoleum, the Revolution museum, the crazy roads full of bikes & most of all the old quarter, with its ancient system of streets divided into specific trades ,are some of the highlights.
But drinking a beer in a bar overlooking Hoan Kiem lake whilst watching the locals loudly celebrate a Vietnam win, circling the lake in their motor bikes with flags flying , was perhaps the best moment.
Having a hotel nearby was useful although returning after midnight was not to be recommended as I found one night. Fortunately (for me) banging on the shutters awoke the caretaker & I was allowed in.

My introduction to Malaysia was also not very auspicious. Arriving late at night on an Air Asia flight from Hanoi I expected to arrive at the main airport (the only one mentioned in my year-old guide book) in Kuala Lumpur & be collected by the hotel bus service. After a while I realised that the low cost airline base had been hived off to an airport 'annexe' & I needed a taxi to get home, belatedly, for the night.
Somehow KL continued to frustrate with its rather un-integrated transport system , over-officious hotel staff & minor regulations.

But being a much newer city than the others it tends to lack the character & obviously the history of the more established places, though Chinatown does give it some atmosphere. Otherwise you can admire the tall towers & visit a very impressive (and large) bird park.

The Malaysian football team was not so impressive - they were poor & suffered some comprehensive defeats watched by small crowds in the over-large Bukit Jalil stadium.
Though that stadium did host one of the better games ; China 2 Iran 2 , played before an enthusiastic mixture of students & ex-pats workers.

It was especially in Jakarta that you seemed to be in the presence of 'real' football fans. Over 80,000 would pack into the Senayan stadium, generating a vibrant atmosphere, to see their country.
Although Indonesia ultimately failed to reach the last eight they did produce some very spirited performances.

As with the other capital cities Jakarta was often very crowded & hectic though you did sense it had less tourists.
Certainly in Palembang on Sumatra island, the location for the 3rd place play-off, it felt like the locals had hardly ever seen a westerner.
Hence a nod & a smile, often in response to 'hello mister' from the curious faces, was the required greeting.

So the Asian Cup in South East Asia offered a variable passion for football with sometimes very small crowds in vast stadiums, better than expected performances from the home teams & a climate that made your correspondent sweat for England.

Nevertheless it was a very interesting & memorable experience amongst friendly people.