No Christmas in July – Postcard from the Arctic Circle

With the official home of Santa Claus just a few miles from the venue for the RoPs v Shamrock Rovers match, it was no surprise to hear an old ‘winter football’ Rovers tune being sung by the Hoops fans in Finland.

 

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see Rovers win away!”

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For some of the Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg in Rovaniemi, it seemed that Rovers might get that precious away win in Lapland but ultimately it was an early ‘Finnish’ to the Hoops European adventures for 2016.

 

It was quite an experience for everyone involved at the club – traveling to the edge of the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set during the summer months, trailing 2-0 in the tie with a new boss in charge. The departure of Pat Fenlon from the manager’s role after the disappointing first leg defeat, meant it was Stephen Bradley who was the new man in charge.

 

I was lucky enough to be one of the dozen or so club members who got a place on the club charter for the trip. So membership not only gets you a parking space in the Tallaght Stadium Car Park but also gives you the chance of spot on the club charter! The managerial change also meant one fan essentially got the seat on the flight that was freed up because of Fenlon’s departure from the managerial hotseat!

The Rovers squad and ‘entorage’ checked in early on Wednesday morning beside some Welsh fans who were making their way to France via Dublin and Switzerland for their Euro 2016 semi-final later that evening. The lady at airport security said she would light a candle for a 3-0 Rovers win. All help was required for the Hoops as they looked to do what no League of Ireland club had done before and progress in a European tie after losing the first leg at home.

 

With the Rovaniemi runway close for repairs, it was a three hour flight in our 48 seater plane to Kemi. From there it was a further 90 minute bus ride through the Finnish countryside with a vista of trees, water and a few Moose munching grass at the roadside. The players were well fed themselves en-route, on the flight and coach trip; the benefit of having a caterer amongst the Rovers support who was able to provide his services on the trip – with some spare meals making their way to supporters too!

Rumours that the team was staying in the Hotel Santa Claus were true but rumours of the match venue being snowbound proved a work of fiction! Many of the travelling supporters took the chance to sample the local cuisine on Wednesday evening – I can recommend the Fell Highland Reindeer at Restaurant Nili!  RoPS also hosted their pre-match meal with the Rovers Directors and Finnish FA Officials in the same venue, so you knew the food was going to be good!

 

Afterwards most ‘retired’ to Oliver’s Bar to watch the Euro 2016 semi. That match ended close to midnight with Portugal defeating Wales. Midnight came and went with no sunset. We truly were in the land of the midnight sun being so far north.

For Stephen McPhail the Rovers club captain and now player-coach under Stephen Bradley, he knew what to expect. “I’ve been to Iceland and Norway for preseason at this time of year so I knew what was coming. It is still strange though going to bed and it is still bright as a button outside! It was a bit of work to get those curtains to stretch all the way across in the room but got a goodnight’s sleep.”

The next morning quite a few supporters made the 8km trip further north from Rovaniemi to the Arctic Circle. There were plenty of photos taken standing either side of the line at 66 degrees north, 32’ 33’’. The location is surrounded by plenty of shops, with Santa Claus also available to meet visitors, so it didn’t exactly feel we’d travelled north of the wall Games of Thrones style!

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On match night the Rovers support from the charter flight was boosted by about 20 or so fans who had travelled independently to the game. The away section was at one end of the bottom tier of the very impressive steep two tiered 2,000 seater stand built in recent years. The floodlights were on for the 7pm local kick off time, not that they would be needed here at the Arctic Circle!

 

Gary McCabe had the captain’s armband for the game and his first half goal halved the deficit in the tie. His penalty, the third goal he has scored in Europe, moved him to joint third in the all-time list of Rovers European goalscorers.

 

An unfortunate Hoops error though handed RoPS an equaliser and Rovers couldn’t make any additional breakthroughs themselves in the second half despite the impetus brought about by Bradley’s introduction of youth off the bench. Sean Boyd, Trevor Clarke and Aaron Dobbs came on, with the teenagers gaining some valuable European game time, but a couple of late goals couldn’t be conjured up.

McPhail was an unused substitute on the night so was able to give me his assessment from the vantage point of the bench. “When we played over in Finland, the most pleasing thing if I put my coaches hat on was that the lads responded to what we wanted them to do. They gave it everything.

 

“We went 1-0 up and I was confident we would score more. We conceded a goal off an error but these things happen. We didn’t get the rub of the green. Their ‘keeper made an unbelievable save with about 20 minutes to go. It could have been different. Performance wise the boys were spot on.”

 

Everyone at Shamrock Rovers was made feel very welcome on our visit, with the hospitality extended to the away fans after the game with food and coffee supplied by the RoPS American goalkeeper from their women’s team.

 

Following Rovers’ elimination from Europe, inevitably it was a quiet bus ride from Roveniemi. The small airport in Kemi was kept open for our departure midnight departure and it was still daylight when we boarded our flight to Dublin. The end of European football for Rovers for another season but a short memorable adventure all the same.

 

 

An abridged version of this article was first published in the Shamrock Rovers match programme – Hoops Scene 11 (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians/Leeds United July 2016)IMG_2456

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Euro success built from the League of Ireland

“In Ireland there is no league,” were the words uttered in 2013 by the then Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni but at EURO 2016 the League of Ireland was central to some magnificent Ireland performances in France. The results were very much built on the back of players who began their trade in the League of Ireland, with a certain former Shamrock Rovers manager leading Northern Ireland’s success.

 

When Trapattoni’s two former international teams came up against one another last week in the group stage of the Euros, it was the Republic of Ireland team who emerged on top – in a game that had seven former League of Ireland players contribute to that famous 1-0 win over Italy. Robbie Brady’s winning goal in Lille coming off a Wes Hoolahan cross will be one of the sporting highlights of not just the year but the decade!

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Players who were on the pitch for the famous win over the Italians had previously lined out in our league for Shelbourne (Wes Hoolahan), St. Patrick’s Athletic (Stephen Quinn), Cork City (Shane Long), Waterford United (Daryl Murphy), Bohemians (Stephen Ward), Derry City (James McLean) and Sligo Rovers (Seamus Coleman), with former Cork City player David Meyler also named on the bench.

 

In the days following the win over Sweden, the FAI organised a photoshoot with all eight ex-League of Ireland players in the Euro squad wearing the jerseys of their former Irish clubs. Of course, the Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane also played in the league with Cobh Ramblers.

I was lucky enough to be out in France for the tournament, sitting in the stands supporting the boys in green, and with a press pass for a few other matches as I was doing some work with extratime.ie. The day after that photocall, I went out to the Ireland training camp in Versailles.

With Roy Keane up for media duties, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about the photo and was he tempted to pull on a Cobh Ramblers jersey and join in?

 

He smiled and gave a quick “no” but went on to elaborate with great enthusiasm about the crucial contribution of the league in both his own career and the careers of more than a third of the Ireland squad at the Euros.

 

“Over the years people have been quick to criticise League of Ireland football but it played a huge part in my career,” said Keane. “You saw yesterday with those lads that was brilliant, a really nice photograph.

 

“No Ramblers player there” said Keane and I thought in my own mind a pity that there were no Shamrock Rovers players in it but hopefully in years to come! “With the criticism that the League of Ireland gets, it has played a big part in these lads having a very good career, so it was nice to see.”IMG_2017

 

There were a few League of Ireland flags flown at the games during the tournament. Both the Lynch Family flag ‘Hooping since 1984’ and the ‘London Hoops’ flag were visible at the Belgium and Italy games respectively. During Iceland’s battling draw with Portugal, a Galway United Football Club flag was hung down near the cornerflag visible to everyone watching the game.

 

These flags almost seemed a novelty with their support of League of Ireland clubs rather than the novelty ‘whack a funny Father Ted slogan’ on a flag that seems to have become the norm.

 

I was on press duty in the Parc des Princes for the Germany and Northern Ireland game. Former Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill has done a superb job with his national team. O’Neill took up the role as the boss with the North soon after leaving the Hoops at the conclusion of our remarkable run in the Europa League – the competition we are back in the qualifying rounds of today.

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It is five years since we had that famous 20,000km journey through Europe from Tallinn to Copenhagen, London, Thessaloniki and Kazan. It was Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. That first single step was taken against Estonian team Flora Tallinn and crucial to that was goalkeeper Alan Mannus.

In the first leg against the Estonian champions in Tallaght, Mannus saved a penalty minutes before Chris Turner would score the only goal of the tie and set us on our way. Those early games would be Mannus’ last for the Hoops as he made the move soon after to join St. Johnstone.

Mannus was part of Michael O’Neill’s squad at the Euros, which also qualified for the knock out stages of the competition earned by their 2-0 win over Ukraine. I got the chance to talk to Mannus after his side’s battling 1-0 defeat to World Champions Germany, on a night in Paris when the North were grateful for a brilliant performance by their number one goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

 

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Mannus has been a regular in O’Neill’s ‘Norn Iron’ squads. The former Rovers boss had a tough opening campaign in a failed attempt to get to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. That meant Northern Ireland were fifth seeds in the qualification campaign for France. However, Michael O’Neill led his team to top spot in their qualifying group – the first team ever to do so from Pot 5 of the draw.

“We worked together at Shamrock and he did very well there,” said Mannus discussing his time with the Hoops under Michael O’Neill. “I’m delighted that he has done so well with Northern Ireland as I knew he was capable of that.

“The first campaign we probably played better than the results showed and in this qualifying campaign we played well and got the results we deserved and got through. I’m sure a number of clubs will be looking at him with a view maybe to take him on as manager.

“I’m delighted for him. He is a brilliant manager and understands football and that has been shown in the way we’ve played and the results we’ve got.”

Going into the last group game, the permutations were very clear for the Republic of Ireland. Beat Italy and qualify or else it was time to go home. The stadium in Lille was a sea of green with Ireland fans taking almost three sides of the stadium. With the roof of the venue closed, the atmosphere was incredible and the tension (and heat!) almost unbearable.

 

In the run up to the match, former Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli commented in La Gazzetta dello Sport that Irish players had “trouble handling the game tactically. They don’t get that football is also an intellectual matter, and not just about attacking and going forward.”

 

Seamus Coleman dismissed those comments ahead of the game – “I’m not really bothered what Marco thinks” – and the Irish team dismissed the Italian side with a tactical, hard pressing and physical performance against Italy. Martin O’Neill had made four changes to his starting XI, dropping Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan, Ciaran Clarke and captain John O’Shea. Handed the armband was Donegal man Seamus Coleman.

 

O’Neill brought Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy into the centre of defence and they successfully marshalled the Italian attack. Ireland had left a win behind them against Sweden in Paris and it seemed the same would happen in Lille; Particularly after Hoolahan, on as second half substitute, missed a great chance in the closing minutes.

 

However, he picked up the ball moments later and delivered as good a cross as you will see onto the head of Robbie Brady. 1-0. ‘Who put the ball in the Italian net? Brady, Brady. Who put the ball in the Italian net? Robbie Robbie Brady.’

 

There were emotional scenes after the final whistle on the pitch – have we seen a happier Roy Keane – and in the stands. Speaking after the final whistle, the players were still coming to terms with the win that set up last Sunday’s game in Lyon against France. Coleman spoke about all those hours his father had driven him down to train and play with Sligo Rovers and how they are paying off now.

 

I bumped into the Cork City manager John Caulfield in the hotel I was staying in after the game and the City boss agreed that it was great to see big managerial decisions rewarded with a win! Both Martin and Michael O’Neill had made significant switches to their starting teams, against Ukraine for the North and Italy for our Boys in Green, and these were central to the success of both teams in the group stages of the competition.

 

Article published in Shamrock Rovers match day programme Hoops Scene Issue 10 – Shamrock Rovers v RoPS Rovaniemen  – Thursday 30 June 2016

 

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Does it Spark Joy?

IMG_8820The official League of Ireland sponsor will be glad to know I switched energy providers recently. The nice salesman from SSE Airtricity knocked on my door last month, just after I got back from playing some five-a-side. Always keen for saving a few bob, I invited him in so we could go through the process of transferring to SSE.

 

A few minutes later as I was filling in some of the forms, he remarked “So I take it you’re a Shamrock Rovers fan then?” Now please don’t picture my front room as a shrine to all things Super Hoops but a casual look around my home will give anyone several clues to my club allegiance.

 

Version 2The bookshelves have a comprehensive Shamrock Rovers section. There are a couple of picture frames on the wall containing Rovers match reports. Amongst the footballs on the high shelf to the right of the fireplace is a ball with the Rovers crest on it – although there is also one with BFC on it but more about that later.

 

If that didn’t give it away to the SSE salesman, I was wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey! His question. said with a smile, gave me pause to think about all the many Rovers souvenirs that not quite clutter my home but maybe it is not far off!

 

In amongst my podcast listening this week, between Second Captains, An Irishman Abroad and the Extratime.ie Sportscast, I found myself listening to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times inviting Marie Kondo into her house to help her declutter her home. Kondo is the author of ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. Her method in determining whether to hold onto objects or not is to ask the question “Does it spark joy in you?” In answer to my Shamrock Rovers memorabilia the answer is definitely “yes”.

 

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The first of the two match reports on the wall in my living room is a framed copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport from 6 August 2010. Wandering through Modena train station that day, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the famous pink front cover of Italy’s main sports daily newspaper. There staring back at me wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey was Alessandro Del Piero! I couldn’t get the €1 coin out of my pocket quick enough to buy the newspaper!

 

 

 

Alongside the picture of Del Piero wearing the jersey he swapped with Gary Twigg, the match report from that Europa League qualifier also has a picture of Del Piero’s stunning winner on the night. His free kick from all of 40 yards was the best I’ve ever seen at a game. My slightly water damaged match ticket sits inside the frame too. I don’t usually get much joy from a 1-0 defeat but the monsoon in Modena was some memorable match.

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The second frame on my wall also contains a Rovers European match report. This one is from 2011 and covers Rovers’ first away trip of our incredible European campaign that led all the way to the Europa League group stages. The Irish Times match report from the Flora Tallinn v Rovers game in the frame was published that day accompanied by a photo of the joyful Shamrock Rovers fans at the game with many familiar faces on view. Amongst them is former Rovers player John Coady watching his club in Europe and dotted around the shot are plenty of people who are friends. The match report also has my by-line as it was the first report I ever wrote for any newspaper!

 

Amongst my programme collection stored on my bookshelves, adjacent to at least ten Shamrock Rovers books is an historic programme, one which also has a personal resonance. My aunt’s husband was a youth team player with Rovers in the 1950s and amongst his souvenirs was a programme from Rovers’ home game against Manchester United in the European Cup in 1957. That match was played just a few months before the tragic loss in Munich of so many of ‘Busby’s Babes’. When my Uncle died a few years ago, my Aunt gave me the programme and it is one that I keep safely.

 

Part of the football collection in my front room is that one with BFC written in marker across it. Let’s keep the story as to how this ball came into my possession between us Hoops Scene readers, right? Don’t go telling anyone over in Dalymount Park!

 

Match BallPlaying in the First Division in 2006 meant the Hoops didn’t face Bohemians in league action that season. They did of course memorably knock Bohs out of the FAI Cup that year as discussed with Barry Murphy in the last issue of Hoops Scene.
Rovers returned to top flight action the following season having won the First Division and in September 2007 travelled to face a Bohemians side in league action at Dalymount Park looking for the first Rovers win at the venue in two years.

 

An early goal by Dan O’Connor and a strike from Tadhg Purcell handed the Hoops a 2-0 advantage. Barry Murphy kept his clean sheet and as the match went towards 90 minutes Rovers looked to run the clock down. I played my part by hanging onto the match ball when it came into the crowd on the Connacht Street side of the ground! The final whistle sparked joyful scenes amongst the travelling support. The BFC branded ball was brought home wrapped in my Rovers flag as a cheeky souvenir!

 

Not in my front room but elsewhere in my house is a whole rack of Rovers jerseys. Home, away and third kits all hang in my back room along with one framed jersey on the wall. This is a jersey given to me by a friend from a charity match in Balally Park between the Rovers 1997 squad and the Four in a Row team and is signed by the players.

 

Through jersey auctions and player sponsorships, I have a few players jersey; Some famous (Gary Twigg 2011 number 9 away jersey), some noteworthy (David Vickery) and some international player jerseys. I’ve former Ireland international Graham Barrett’s jersey from his short stint at the club and Cameroonian international Joey Ndo’s number 10 Rovers home jersey from the 2008 season.

 

The latest jersey international player jersey I have and the one I was wearing when the man from SSE Airtricity called is from last season. It is the purple kit with number 18 on the back worn by Keith Fahey last year. I took up his sponsorship just a few weeks before Fahey unfortunately had to call time on his career. In jest I mentioned to Rovers’ marketing director was I going to get a refund? Quick as a flash he responded that the jersey was worth more now Fahey had retired!

 

When I got the jersey I tweeted out a photo of it saying “I’m looking forward to wearing this one at Astro next week. I’ll be picking out pin point passes like @Keith_Fahey.” The Ireland international himself replied with an answer that certainly gave me joy “Good man!! Somebody has to keep it going [thumbs up emoji – football emoji]”

 

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Published in Hoops Scene 2016 Issue 4: Shamrock Rovers v Athlone Town (April 19)

Posters, Posters, Posters – everywhere!

February 13, 2016 2 comments

Did you wake up one day earlier this month, open your curtains and be confronted by a general election candidate staring in your window? Okay, not an actual candidate but maybe a poster of them hanging off a lamppost outside your house? The answer for many is yes.

Go outside your door since last week and it is a sea of posters that confronts you. Posters, Posters, Posters. Everywhere. Most people hate them but for this political anorak they are a wonder!

 

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Being part of a political family means I’ve been involved in a fair few election campaigns and poster battles. As Enda stood up in the Dáil to tell us the other week he was off to meet Michael D in the Park, I got a text from my Mum saying “Election called, your country needs you”! Since I was on holidays I wasn’t able to answer this initial Ireland’s call and for the first time since 2002, I wasn’t up a lamppost on the day the election was called.

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Arriving back into Dublin later in the week, I was like a kid venturing out into freshly fallen snow, looking in wonder at the election posters on the lampposts as I came from the airport in Dublin Bay North, into Dublin Central and into Dublin South Central. I tried to take in the picture perfect poster blitz on the journey!

 

From cardboard to corriboard

I’m old enough to remember the old school election poster which was printed on stiff cardboard, generally with just the names of the candidates for that party. A heavy spell of rain and these would soon be on the ground.

 

Nowadays the posters are printed on corriboard and cost around €6 a pop. In a previous election one party had the corrugations vertical and with a heavy gust of wind they would concertina dropping to the ground. Stability is the key for the election poster and horizontal is more stable! The name and address of both the printer and publisher of the poster must be visible – usually in the smallest of fonts!

 

They are printed with holes pre-punched top, bottom and middle on large posters to allow cable ties to be strung through to fix to lampposts. I favour a back-to-back poster arrangement but some candidates have posters with writing on the back with their party name or candidate name.

 

Candidates typically will put up maybe up to 1,000 large posters and maybe a couple of hundred smaller posters later in the campaign – often diamond shaped posters – hence the larger number up on the lampposts at present and the race to get them in good positions once the election is called as space is limited.

 

The rules

The relevant local authority polices the posters during the election. They shouldn’t go up before the election is called, although a number of candidates jump the gun at every election including #ge16. Rules stipulate that they cannot be erected on traffic lights, bridge parapets, and on poles with traffic signs. They should be placed more than 2.5m above ground. There is also no canvassing within 50m of any polling station on polling day so having a poster up directly outside can often break this rule. If you go for a quick walk around your area, you will probably see each of these rules broken multiple times!

 

If posters were to be done away with the advertisers would likely welcome it, as candidates would likely end up taking out expensive billboard and newspaper adverts. Maybe people would go with some USA style small posters on their lawn rather than on lampposts.

 

 

Do posters work?

On the canvass there is a marked difference in reaction from the voter when an ordinary canvasser calls to the door and when the candidate does. The voter will often snap to attention as a candidate seemingly descends off the lamppost, to stride up and stand on their doorstep asking for a vote on election day.

 

If the election goes well, candidates can get elected on the first count but the majority under our single transferrable vote system of proportional representation get elected from transfers. Those number 2s, 3s, 4,s etc are vitally important.

 

Since 1999, the Irish ballot paper has photographs of each candidate with party logos added following the publication of the Electoral Amendment Act (2000).

 

The changing constituency boundaries also mean that posters give voters a good idea of who is running in their area. So basically each candidate is essentially marking their territory on lampposts!

 

Having branded your constituency with posters for weeks, candidates are hoping that it will help the voter to pick them out of a very busy ballot paper and help get them over the quota in the later counts.

 

 

 

 

Post-election poster removal

When election day is over the posters need to come down within seven days. There was one campaign I was involved in where some of our posters were removed by persons unknown ahead of polling day, only to magically re-appear more than a week after the election with some €150 fines to follow :(.

 

Losing candidates can’t take their posters down quick enough while some victorious candidates will affix a “Thanks” sign on their posters!

 

Certainly the winning candidates are more likely to leave their posters up as long as possible basking in the glory of a successful election campaign!

 

2015 in review

December 30, 2015 Leave a comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,200 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 53 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Lost City – Trekking La Ciudad Perdida in Colombia

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

They call it La Ciudad Perdida – the Lost City. Nestled in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria mountains, it is the ancient capital of the Tairona people – a city laid abandoned since the decimation of the indigenous population following the arrival of the Spanish in the early 1500s.

 

To find the Lost City is no easy task. Starting from the Caribbean coast just east of Santa Marta, South America’s oldest surviving city, it requires five days trekking to cover the mountainous near 50km round trip. As if that is not enough, there are 1,260 steps to climb on the penultimate day to reach Ciudad Perdida. Throw in trekking in high humidity with temperatures in the mid 30s, it is quite a challenge and one that our group of 14 others took on in the first week of December.

 

Our trekking group came together from Ireland, Finland, Belgium, Canada, the UK and USA, along with our three Colombian guides and our local husband and wife team who would provide the meals and the badly needed calories for the trek.

 

We were told to pack light and since we would be carrying all our own stuff that made sense. Which would be harder I thought – carrying our own gear or going off-grid for five days? There may be gold up there in them there hills but there wasn’t going to be any wifi!

 

An hours fourwheel drive away from Tayrona National Park, took us to the village of Machete Pelao. From there we began our trek and a half an hour in I’m already struggling in the heat. Thankfully, the trek will take us along the River Buritaca giving us the chance to swim in pools along the way and so it isn’t long before we cool off in the river.

 

There doesn’t seem much point in drying off after, especially as after yet another steep climb through the jungle, I’m already dripping with sweat again. I’m questioning whether it is really possible to sweat out this amount of liquid and am slightly reassured when I look at some of my travelling companions and like me, their clothes are stuck to them – so much for trekking tops that will wick away moisture!

 

“Better than work” is what I usually think when I’m on holidays but I’m daydreaming of a cool December day back in Dublin as the incline increases again. A couple of unofficial water stops and there is what I think is a life-saving official stop for watermelon with a great view across the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains below.

 

We go down into the valley to come back up and we’ve finally reached our camp for the night and it is a room with a view. The setting is on a ridge with some cloud touching the high mountains above and hanging in the adjacent valley below us. It is as picturesque a place as you can hang a hammock.

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During our candlelit dinner, the stars emerge to light up the night sky as does an electrical storm beyond the far valley. The mosquito net covered hammock provides a surprisingly good night’s sleep and the days exertions mean that even the snoring doesn’t keep me awake!

 

At 11 degrees north of the equator the sun rises quickly around 5.30am (having set sharply at 5.30pm the previous evening) and we stir from our slumber soon after for breakfast. By 7am we have left camp to try and beat the main heat of the day. The morning’s journey is broken by another rock pool swim and we cross the river by bouncy suspension bridge.

 

By now our group has split into a number of cohorts who are walking at different speeds. Conversion is plentiful during the downhill and the seldom seen flatter sections. The uphill pieces are played out to the sound of breathing and the tap-tap of the trekking poles.

 

By lunchtime we are in Camp 2 adjacent to a Wiwa village and are done for the day. The afternoon affords time to swim again in the Rio Buritaca or for the braver to go diving from the 5m high rocks into the deeper sections of the river. We get a chance to play football with some of the local kids. They, like all the members of the local Wiwa tribe, are wearing their traditional clothes woven from the fibre found in the finca leafs. Alberto, one of our guides, takes us up above the village as the sun is setting to show us how the fibre is broken out of the leaves

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There amongst the coffee plants, cocoa leaves are growing and we are shown how traditionally the locals chew the leaves mixed with seashells to give a natural high. Something that would make trekking in the heat more bearable but I think I will stick with water. After dinner at 7pm, most of our group are in bed very soon after as a 5am walk up call awaits us next morning.

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The third day will take us to the foot of the climb to the Lost City. It is a pretty vicious climb out of camp first thing in the morning and we cross several streams en-route, before we must ford the river close to the busy Teyruna camp. It is the end of the rainy season but it hasn’t been a very harsh season which means that rather than waste deep, the water is mid-shin so thankfully it is not too difficult to cross. The camp has a number of other groups staying there including a group of 15 year old schoolkids – a tough school trip!

 

The kids are still stirring from their slumber by the time we leave the camp at 6am the next morning. We cross the river further up the valley, using a rope stretched across to prevent us falling into the knee high water. There had been much talk up to this point about the 1,200 steps (or 1,260 depending on which guide book you read) to take us up to la Ciudad Perdida. I don’t bother counting and am glad of having left our backpacks at Camp 3 for this ascent.

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Maybe that is why I am pleasantly surprised when after around 20 minutes or so I step up and turn to the right and see the jungle open up and flatten out. We have made it to the Lost City.

 

Our early start means we get to explore the city with only a handful of other people. We (mostly) stick to the paths as the city is sacred to the indigenous Wiwa and Kogi people. We ascend some of the uncovered terraces past the ancient jail, some fertility stones and the carved boulder that replicates the Sierra Nevada mountain range with the water courses cut into the rock.

 

The city was build between the 11th and 14th century, but has origins back in the 7th century. It fell foul of the arrival of the Spanish in 1499. Smallpox, syphilis and the violent search for El Dorado saw the city abandoned within a century of the arrival of the colonizers, before looters re-discovered the site back in the 1970s.

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The army secured the location and still maintain a presence on the site – guerillas previously controlled the territory where we are trekking. The soldiers have the best view of the city, just above where we stand to look out over the two main terraces that are perched on the central ridge below us. Only about 30% of the city is uncovered with the rest blanketed by moss, trees and foliage.

 

Our reward for getting up before dawn is for the sun to rise above the waterfall and the mountain range behind us to light up the terraces below. It is a truly stunning setting and is as good a place to take a group selfie as I can think!

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IMG_5404We are also rewarded with a couple of chocolate bars before we begin the trek out. We are going to need that energy boost as we have an hours hike back to Camp 3 before a four hour trek back to the Wiwa village. We are a pretty broken bunch by the time we arrive there after 4 days of trekking. Dodgy tummies, blisters, bites and sprained ankles are shared out in the group, as our the tablets, plasters, antiseptic cream/alcohol and bandages to help overcome them.

 

With no wifi, the evening conversation revolves around travellers tales. Stories are swapped of journeys made and journeys planned with email addresses scrawled into the back of notebooks for when we get back online. By the end of day 4 and with phones dying, thankfully someone has a battery powered mobile charger with them. For a decent price of just one beer, you can get the phone back up to 100% for those last few photographs on the final day!

 

We get a lie in on the last day till 6am! It is a tough slog up and down, up and down, up-down and out on day five. Two hours in and we are back where we stayed the first night and a combination of watermelon and chocolate cake is our fuel for the final few hours. From here the odd motorbike scrambles by us and there is a temptation to grab a lift – especially as they stop to offer. But we have sweated too much and toiled too long to take the easy way home when we are so close.

 

It is a quiet last couple of kilometres as we descend towards the river, dipping into it seems whatever reserves of energy we have, concentrating on just putting one foot in front of the other. Rounding one final bend, Machete Pelao – our staring point but more importantly our finishing point – becomes visible.

 

We have made it. Day five done and dusted and it is high fives and fist pumps all round. We have found something in ourselves to make it to the Lost City and back. Time for us to return to our own civilisation and plug back into the matrix. So whose got the wifi code?

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Leading the Way – Stephen McPhail

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

 Interview with Stephen McPhail in Hoops Scene 17 (Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk – 9 October 2015)

 

With 10 minutes remaining in Shamrock Rovers’ last home outing and the Hoops 2-0 up against Galway United, Pat Fenlon decided to bring on some fresh legs. You had to feel sorry for the United defenders though when they saw who was coming on, as lining up on the half-way line to enter the pitch were Stephen McPhail and Damien Duff. Rovers left back Luke Byrne, sitting in the stand due to injury, tweeted out a picture of the substitutes saying “Two young lads coming on here!!”

 

Stephen McPhail appreciated the tweet when Hoops Scene mentioned it when we spoke this week. “Myself and Damo are moving on so we aren’t exactly young lads but it is great to have Damien at Rovers! I grew up with him playing schoolboy football and international football. He is a great lad and it is great to have him around with the experience he has from his career. All the lads have taken to him and he is looking to help the young lads along the way.”

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McPhail is also helping the younger lads at the club and not just in the first team squad. The former Cardiff City captain is also part of the coaching staff with Rovers’ under 17 team which is managed by Aidan Price. Currently taking his UEFA A coaching licence, McPhail has been putting some of what he is learning on the course to use with the team playing in the new underage national league.

 

“I’m really enjoying it and they are a great bunch of lads. It is obviously a new league and it is going to be great in a year or two as we develop the players and then hopefully bring some through into our first team.”

 

The focus is obviously on player development at that age but six wins and a draw from their first seven games is extremely positive as the under 17 team face a trip to Sligo next weekend.

 

“They have started well. We are trying to help them with their performances. That is the most important thing so that they understand their role in the team and formations and at that age you are just trying to give them as much information as possible.

 

“Results wise, we don’t look too much into it but it is great to build confidence when they see themselves at the top of the table. But they are at a big club so they should expect to be up around there all the time. We have had to dig in a few times in places like Galway and Longford so it is an eye-opener for them.

 

“They are playing in those stadiums which is great for them. Coming from schoolboy football, they are now playing in Tallaght Stadium and they will get to play in Inchicore in a few weeks time. You can see the buzz in their eyes before they go out for the warm up, so you have to kind of calm them down and get them to concentrate on their performance.”

 

Last Friday night, McPhail and Damien Duff lined out with three members of Rovers’ under 19 squad when the Hoops took on Bohemians in the Leinster Senior Cup semi-final. Jamie Whelan, Trevor Clark and James Doona all started the game and helped the Hoops to a place in the final. The 4-2 penalty shoot-out win in Dalymount Park, after a scoreless 0-0 draw over 120 minutes, means the Hoops will take on Dundalk one more time in this season’s Leinster Senior Cup Final.

 

As part of the FAI Licensing requirements, all youth coaches must have a UEFA B badge for teams with players of 16 years and above, with an A licence required to be an assistant manager of a first team squad or to be a First Division manager – a pro-licence is required to be first team manager.

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McPhail is part of a current A licence course being run by the FAI which also includes another former Irish international Mark Kinsella (in charge of Drogheda United until the end of the season), Carlo Cudicini (coaching with the Ireland under 21 team) and Rovers first team coach Gareth Cronin.

 

“I’m grateful to Pat (Fenlon) who encouraged me to go on the course when I spoke to him last year. It is set up by the FAI so that you can fit it in around playing. They want you to do so many hours a week coaching at an elite level so the under 17s all ties in with what I’m doing.

 

“There is a lot of work involved. I haven’t found myself before being in front of the computer for days like I have over the last few months! It is not easy. It takes its toll at times as you have long nights.

 

“The three day seminars are really interesting but they are long gruelling days so I’m glad when I’m coming home after. You have to do it as you are trying to learn. Hopefully at the end of it, I will get the badge and push on with my coaching.”

 

He isn’t about to hang up his boots just yet and prior to injury curtailing his season, McPhail had been involved in 15 of Rovers’ first 21 games of the year. His midfield play was central to much that the Hoops had to offer and so it was so disappointing for the player to pick up a hamstring injury in the final league game before Rovers’ European matches.

 

“I’m concentrating on playing as long as I can. I’m only 35 years of age. I feel quite fit and that I can give something to the team. Last year there was a bit of settling in back home with my family. My football wasn’t as good then as I wanted it to be. Until I got injured this year, I felt I was comfortable where I was in terms of my performance and fitness.

 

“It was a massive disappointment,” said McPhail about the injury picked up in the 2-1 win over Galway at the end of June. “I felt I was doing well and in great form coming into Europe. That was a big blow for me and I knew then I was going to be out for a while. It was very frustrating having to watch the games and not being involved.

 

“Fitness wise I’m okay now but match fitness is a bit different but I’m slowly getting there, even though there are only a few games left to go in the season. It has been a bit of a catch up.”

 

With European football secured for next season, thanks to the teams above Rovers qualifying for the FAI Cup final where Dundalk will play Cork City, the Hoops are looking to finish as high up as they can in the table. A runners up spot is well in the reach of Rovers but tonight the aim is to prevent Dundalk from winning the title in Tallaght.

 

“It is in our mind already that we don’t want that to happen!” said McPhail when he was asked about the prospect of Dundalk celebrating winning the league on the Hoops’ home turf. “Hats off to them though, they have had a great season again. They’ve been relentless and have ground out results when they have had to. They are coming to Tallaght and I’m sure they know it will be tough but we want to get one over on them.

 

“Cork are in our sights. There are only a couple of points between us. I’m sure it will go down to the wire but we need to concentrate on ourselves and can’t take our eyes off that. Second spot is definitely up for grabs.”

 

No doubt in Tallaght tonight there will be a few German football fans who will have stayed on in Dublin after last night’s game in the Aviva. It is a big task that awaits Ireland in Poland on Sunday no matter what last night’s result. McPhail doesn’t expect Ireland to have gained anything out of last night’s match but thinks that the game in Warsaw is our best chance of picking up points to at least earn a play-off.

 

“It will tough as they are two massive games this week. I’ve been to the last couple of games in the Aviva. We haven’t really played particularly well through the campaign. I’m sure that most would agree with that. Performance-wise we haven’t really been at the level where we need to be in the qualifiers.

 

“To say we are in with a shout is great but I can’t see us getting too much from Germany. You are just hoping that it will come down to the Poland game and looking at them I don’t think there is too much to fear really. It will be a tough place to go in terms of atmosphere and they have good players. But as a squad we shouldn’t really fear them and should get something from the game.”

 

The current Ireland squad contains a good handful who have played in the League of Ireland and it is that player development that is McPhail’s focus when he saw the recent review of the league from Declan Conroy.

 

“The structure of the league should be better and so should the facilities. We can all see that. We are going about it the right way, looking at the youth and schoolboy system. Making the under 17s and 19s league is all good for me as I can see that producing players and making the league stronger.

 

“We need to produce more players so that they can go on into the international team. That is the aim. Our standard in the FIFA ranking isn’t great. We need to get back to where we were, rather than being between 50 to 60. Teams can do it. Look at Wales who are a similar size to ourselves or countries like Iceland and even Belgium who have worked hard on their set up. They have formidable schoolboy teams at underage and then develop them into the first team.”