Aoife Ferguson give us a look into what it’s like to represent Ireland at her first major championship.
My European Championships journey began 6 weeks before the tournament after an email out of the blue from John Cavanagh, which was short notice to say the least. After my final year of college I found myself questioning whether I should accept the roster spot as my fitness and stick-skills were rusty at best and I had not anticipated the tournament financially. However, accepting the roster spot was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Anyone who is part of the small lacrosse community in Ireland will tell you about the unique atmosphere associated with the sport. Something about lacrosse just attracts some of the funniest, weirdest, most chilled-out personalities! On the field however, I have never met a more encouraging, hard-working team. I was the most inexperienced player after only properly taking up lacrosse in 2011. In my opinion this was very blatant as everyone else played at such a high standard and I barely caught the ball at the training camp, but the support and positive attitude of every team member was really uplifting and inspiring. I learned so much from the coaches and players such as Katelyn, Caroline and Walshy, even from just watching how they handled taking on the opposition.
The Irish Women’s team had such a great connection from the beginning; you would swear we had all played together for years. The countless renditions of ‘Ireland’s Call’ and constant cheering for each other were so uplifting and really pumped us up for every game. Lining up so officially to sing ‘Amhrann na bhFiann’ was so surreal every day, it really hit home that we were actually playing for Ireland. Each day the captains- Robyn, Katelyn and Rebecca- decided on a ‘word of the day’ which we all wrote on our wrists- ‘heart’, ‘pride’, ‘no fear’, ‘no regrets’ and ‘fight’. I felt these were the little bit of cheesiness which helped us go that extra mile! Every match it was as if we were going into combat!
The matches themselves were such a great experience and really pushed our fitness to the limit as we had one every day for 8 days. Unfortunately we lost our first match verses England 4-26 which was quite brutal, but the team held their heads high and beat Austria 16-3 the following day (victory pizza was in order!). The Germany game was very close, although the 7-14 score did not really reflect this, and our first game against the Netherlands was the most exciting match as it was close the entire time (7-7 in the end). I was screaming so much for Maria and Ashling when they got their first international goals! My best friend Méabh and I scored our first goals for Ireland against the Swiss which was such a highlight of the whole tournament (Clearly the 19th and 20th goals of our 20-5 win were the game winners, right?)! Also, I started against the Swiss which was very exciting!
Our quarter final match was against Wales which was quite daunting as they were a very strong team. The girls put up such a fight, but it wasn’t our day as we lost 3-20. Two red cards on our team also added to the damage, guess we really are the fightin’ Irish!
That day we watched the guy’s development team play two matches- one win, one loss- and the men’s team took on Germany. The Germany game was amazing as they won 15-12 in the Quarter-finals. Earlier Germany won in sudden death during the group stage.
Our match against Sweden was gripping. Both teams were leap-frogging each other on the scoreboard, but somehow we came out on bottom in sudden death overtime (12-13). Losing that match was devastating. Everyone was so dejected and worried about injuries sustained by Robyn and Walshy. Thankfully, all of our energy just seemed to be channelled into supporting the men’s team who were also playing Sweden in the semi-finals that day. It was the first game they had in the central stadium and the atmosphere during that game was just incredible. With the help of some avid football fans and a compulsory bodhrán, we belted out Molly Malone, The Fields of Athenry, Ireland’s Call, Come on You Boy’s in Green, the “Poznan” and various other Irish chants. The lads themselves played an epic match and won 13-8. Judging by their ecstatic expressions when they came over to the fans and comments afterwards, we really helped them keep fighting during that whole match.
Twitter and facebook went ballistic that night (as if Flopsy, Orla and I hadn’t been nagging our friends and radio shows enough before the semis). Ireland lacrosse was trending at one point in Dublin and Ireland which was cool. “There is still plenty of room on the bandwagon” was probably one of my favourite tweets of the tournament! Everyone was so thrilled they were in the finals against undefeated England and the lads were featured on various radio shows and online articles including broadsheet.ie, Andrew Stanley, the Vincent Brown show, Hector and tv3 which was awesome!
The next day the girls had the 7th place play-offs against Holland. Everyone fought so hard during that match which featured some very determined goals from the likes of Caroline, Katelyn and Vanessa! Sadly the match didn’t go our way again- the Dutch won 12-13. We had such great support the entire trip- family, friends, the development team, and the men’s team who helped us keep our heads held high. Honestly, I think the team deserved to get higher than 8th place overall as there were some seriously skilled athletes on our team, but we had to take the loss graciously. We had no regrets and remained a solid, supportive unit throughout the entire tournament which was something to be proud of. Some amazing lacrosse was played; everyone made friends for life and had a memorable two weeks in Amsterdam. Again I was so glad I got to be a part of the team and had the experience of a lifetime!
After our match there was only one thing left to do- make sure the Irish men’s team had the best supporters going! This was actually something we definitely succeeded in as you could hear the Irish over twice or three-times the amount of English in the crowd! We even got voted best supporters by the tournament. Sacrificing my voice to lead about 60 people in the ‘Everywhere We Go’ song was another highlight for me! Unfortunately the guys lost the game 5-15, but I swear you wouldn’t have known it as we were still singing various chants as well as the obligatory ‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘I Am Alive’! The atmosphere was second-to-none and the rest of the night was spent celebrating in a completely civilised manner….. ye right! Seriously, everyone was so proud of the boy’s achievement in particular. The passion for the game and sheer devotion to lacrosse was evident that night and I hope it continues to develop over the next few years.
During our debriefing at the end of the girls last game the coaches encouraged us to start preparing now for trials for the World Cup in Canada next year. I am going to need to start with the basics and seriously improve my stick skills, but after those two weeks at the European Championships I am inspired to do my best, put what I have learned into practise, and take a good stab at these trials in October. I would encourage anyone who is remotely sporty, (especially hurlers or camogie players) to definitely take up lacrosse if you want to make a hundred instant friends and be part of a fun, challenging, minority sport which is definitely on the rise in Ireland (*cue inspirational music*)! All that is left to say is YE LACROSSE, COYBIG and COYGIG!