Saturday, June 11th 2022, will be remembered as an important day in the history of the Cologne Celtics GAA Club, as our hurlers and camógs returned from the Darmstadt Tournament with both trophies. Our camogie players (supported by Amy from Zürich and Alina from Hamburg) faced off against Darmstadt. At the same time, our men’s team came up against the Vienna Gaels, Darmstadt, Setanta Berlin and Hamburg. Our players again demonstrated the hurling/camogie talent levels emerging from the Rhineland.
With the sun beating down, the cold, refreshing water starts to do wonders for exhausted bodies. Sore, heavy legs become weightless. Arms that have struck every sliotar in the punishing heat can relax and cool down. The battles have concluded for the moment, and to the victors go the spoils. In an ideal world, every hurling tournament should end with a dip in a swimming pool next to the pitch and your team winning. Life cannot always be this good – so it is best to enjoy the experience when it is.
We are on the grounds of the University Sports Centre in the Technical University of Darmstadt. It has been a fantastic day, and enormous respect has to go to our friends from Darmstadt GAA for hosting a brilliant tournament. As the trophies are handed out, it is clear that this will be a day to remember as Cologne complete the clean sweep. First, Lea collects the Camogie tournament trophy, followed by Finbar with the Hurling tournament trophy. Amy (from Zürich but playing for the Celts) wins the Camogie Player of the Tournament, and Ciarán wins the Hurling Player of the Tournament.
We gather all our players, who are now changed from the jerseys they’ve worn with distinction for the duration of the day, for our team photo. We place our trophies to the fore. This is the moment that makes every score, block, hook, covering run, and everything in between worth it. It’s time to enjoy it. The Cologne Celtics are the champions.
Compared to 2020 and 2021, this year has had many more events and tournaments. Whereas we specifically aimed and built up for the German Cup in March, for this tournament, we didn’t focus all our attention on it in advance. However, with our players attending Benelux Football tournaments with our neighbours at Düsseldorf GAA and recently playing in the Den Haag Tournament, we were ready for this one. The better training facilities at SUS Nippes 1912 have also helped our preparations enormously.
This tournament was another example of the depth of hurling and camogie talent in the Rhineland. Our men’s hurling squad featured only five players who played for us in the German Cup (Finbar, Ciarán, Damo, Otso and Oisín), with Santiago, Paul, Fred, Florian, Vangelis, Hendrik, Anto and Aindrias coming in to join them. Our camogie team were missing some regulars, such as Laura, Katharina and Clara. However, with Sarah (who has recently joined us and will be in Bonn for at least another year) and the rest of our Erasmus contingent there for this trip, we were in no way weakened.
Most of our team travelled by train on Saturday morning, and despite getting a bit lost in Darmstadt, we made it to the pitch in time for our first match against the Vienna Gaels. Our Düsseldorf-based contingent (Fred, Paul and Damo), Anto and Hendrik travelled there by car.
A huge thank you has to be given to Laura Kennedy, our club treasurer, for organising the trains for our players, even though she could not attend the tournament in person.
The Hurling Matches
Our first match had us up against the Vienna Gaels. We faced off against the Gaels at the Munich Tournament in September 2021 and won a very tight game, so there was no chance we would underestimate them here.
The Celts got off to a good start, with our midfield pairing of Aindrias and Ciarán proving very effective. Ciarán sliced through the centre of the Vienna defence on several occasions scoring decisive goals, while Aindrias and Finbar provided further points from the middle of the pitch. Our forwards (Vangelis, Paul, Florian and Santi) harried and hassled throughout and created the space that Ciarán and Aindrias were able to exploit. Vienna stayed in touch throughout the game, but it never seemed like they would beat us. This first match finished with the scoreline: Cologne Celtics 5:04 Vienna Gaels 3:05.
There was a long wait until our second match of the day, and this time we faced off against the hosts, Darmstadt. Our lads were warmed up and ready to go by this stage. Our star forward, Anto, was in majestic form as our team focused on scoring goals. Ciarán, Anto, Paul and Hendrik all raised green flags. The positional switching between Ciarán and Anto proved very effective in getting behind the Darmstadt defence. Santiago used his power and pace throughout to stretch the pitch. Every player gave what they could as we overcame Darmstadt: 9:03 to 3:02.
Throughout the early matches, we could blend our experienced core of players (Otso, Finbar, Fred, Andrias, Ciarán and Anto) with our less experienced hurlers (Santi and Florian). Sometimes, there were moments in games that called for the veterans, whereas others involved giving players a breather to stay fresh for the long day of games. No player complained about coming off, no player shirked responsibility, and every player fought for their teammates and club throughout the day. It was hugely promising to see the progress of players like Vangelis, Florian, Santiago and Hendrik, and long may that continue!
The Setanta Berlin game was an example of using our more seasoned players to good effect. Setanta aimed to use a more conservative approach with a deep defence and attacking in numbers from there. They started well and caused us a bit of trouble with this approach, as it was challenging for some of our less experienced players to know who to mark.
However, when we figured out their game plan, we rejigged our team to have Damo – with his speed and energy – on the wings, Aindrias and Ciarán in midfield, and Finbar looking after the defence; we got on top of the match. Once we had established dominance with scores from Aindrias, Anto, Damo and Ciarán, we could use our bench to more significant impact. Such rotation of our team allowed us to go into the day’s final match in good shape. The game against Setanta Berlin finished Cologne 5:14 Setanta Berlin 1:01.
By this stage in the day, the sun was really beating down, and players were starting to feel it. Initially, there would be four group games and then a final, but with Hamburg also winning their three matches, it was agreed that the last game would be the final.
This match was of much higher intensity and quality than what we had experienced up to now. Hamburg came to play, and with their star player, Fergal Barry, having a starring role throughout, this was going to be a challenge. They scored some spectacular points, but goals often win games, and with Ciarán in flying form, we cut through for two goals as it approached halftime. Finbar’s battle with Fergal was one for the ages, and we went in at halftime ahead.
Throughout the day, one of our concerns was Finbar’s calf muscle, as he had warned us that he was carrying a bit of a knock from Wednesday’s training. It held up until the second half of the final. Oisín came on to replace him and to hold the centre of defence. The last minutes of the match were real „backs to the wall“ rearguard action as we faced a very determined team. Our players were on their last legs but gave everything they had.
With a few minutes remaining, Fergal attacked our centre and got away to score. We feared this would be the decisive goal as he struck an unstoppable shot into the corner of our net. However, as was so often the case, Ciarán delivered the goal that put us 4 points ahead. The final whistle was soon blown (although it felt like we had been waiting an eternity for it), and Cologne were champions!
Cologne 4:06 Hamburg 3:05.
The Camogie Tournament
The camogie tournament wasn’t as dramatic as our ladies carried their form with them from their German Camogie Cup victory. Although the Den Haag tournament was less successful for us, it still proved to be a valuable learning curve for our team. Often, there are more essential lessons to be found in defeat compared to victory.
Our team in Darmstadt featured Kea in goal, Lea, Alina and Fiona in defence, Caitlin and Sarah in midfield, Amy (from Zürich) and Aoibhín in our forward line. Our ladies showed their strength and genuine quality throughout the day as they racked up huge scores. Caitlin, Aoibhín and Amy, in particular, proved lethal in front of goal. Our defence was resolute, with nothing getting past Lea, Fiona and Sarah, and Kea could deliver enormous puck-outs that directly led to scores on more than one occasion!
The first match finished Cologne 16:08 to Darmstadt 0:01 while the second game finished Cologne 16:11 to Darmstadt 1:01. The third match featured a mixture of the two teams, as Darmstadt had lost a couple of players due to injury at this point. Caitlin and Aoibhín continued their impressive scoring rate in this match!
Of course, we are fortunate to have high-quality and experienced camogie players with us this year due to Erasmus; however, the development of players like Kea and Lea was also clearly on view. This tournament is likely to be the last significant one for most of our Erasmus contingent for the time being (although they are always welcome back in the Rheinland!); our camógs will learn a lot from having shared a pitch with such fantastic players.
The Celebrations and Return Journey
Following the matches, our players could enjoy some beverages from a local Biergarten and the swimming pool next to the pitch (although, thankfully, not at the same time). We enjoyed the trophy ceremony before slowly making our way to the designated Brauhaus – Braustübl – for some deserved beers and food. The food and drinks were delicious and very much needed! We had the opportunity to socialise with players from other teams, including some (slightly mad) Berlin players who were planning on making the long (7/8 hour) journey back to the capital that night – by bus!
However, not everything went swimmingly; as somewhere between Darmstadt and Frankfurt Airport, the realisation dawned that the bag with our men’s team jerseys wasn’t with us. Thankfully, a friend of the club and Darmstadt stalwart, Daniel Thiem, was able to rescue the situation and send them back to us.
Our train journey back was also memorable, as we were not the only Cologne team travelling that weekend. We were joined in our carriage by Rugby Sport Verein Köln, who were on their way back from what seemed like an eventful weekend in Munich. Their lads were in good form, and many of their members were interested in talking about our sports and clubs. They are always welcome to come and join in a training session!
Cologne will host the German Hurling and Camogie Cups 2022 on September 24th. Having experienced this tournament, the Den Haag Tournament and the German Cup, as well as the Benelux Football Tournaments, our club is learning how to successfully host events. We are looking forward to the event, and to teams and players from all over Germany coming to Cologne. We will have more news regarding that tournament soon.
On the playing side, our squad goes from strength to strength as more players have now experienced the heat of battle in the Cologne jersey. To see the improvement of players who were beginners a couple of months ago is inspiring. It is what keeps us coming back each week, and it’s what makes all the training worth it.
However, we are always looking to increase our playing numbers and to continue to grow our hurling and camogie squads, so if you would like to join us, please contact our club directly. We welcome players of all experience levels and nationalities. By joining the Celts, we cannot guarantee that there will always be trophies, but there will always be fun, a community feeling and positive encouragement. Kölle abú!