Feile na nOg 2015 Sideline review.

The dust has finally settled after the feile weekend and I thought I would put all my memories together before life moves on.

One of the most frequently asked questions this past few weeks and definitely when we came home last night was, what exactly is the feile?
I have to admit myself up until 2 yrs ago I didn’t really know. But when I became involved in the U14s, I soon found out what it was and how the young players dream of going to it.  The penny really dropped for me when we played Lisnaskea Emmett’s in the semi-final and I sensed the nervousness of the young lads and indeed mentors as the prize on offer was qualification for the national Feile na nOg if we could win this match, as the 2 county finalists gained qualification. Win it we did and the preparations began for the team, plus parents and supporters to go to Wicklow.

In a nutshell the Feile is as follows, every U14 team in Ireland competes in their county feile championship to qualify, with 2 or 3 from each county going depending on the size of the county. Then all clubs from the host counties of Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow send a team. Add in a few more teams from USA and the UK and you have 160 teams competing for 20 winning spots over 3 days.
10 divisions of 4 groups of 4.
Tempo were in Div 7 Group A.
3 league games and if you finish in the top 2 your team goes in to the Cup knockout competition.
If you finish in the bottom 2, your team goes into the shield competition.
The knockout consists of a QF on Saturday, then a SF and a final on the Sunday.
Each game is 30mins duration, and the rules states that 4 compulsory substitutions must be made during the match, 2 after 10mins and 2 after 20mins, and these subs can’t be taken off.

This ensures playing time for all the squad and also makes team selection a balancing act. In terms of developing players and creating a squad just not a team this is an excellent idea which ultimately served us well (more on that later). Do you start with the strongest team and finish weak, or vice versa or somewhere in between? Then players who you perceive to be weak play well, and how can they be subbed!! Players who are older and perceived to be better don’t perform and then are annoyed and frustrated at not starting or being subbed. Add into the mix players coming off for injuries. It’s a very fast steep learning curve for those on the sideline!

This essentially sums up the football end of it. But another amazing part of it is the hospitality. Host families put up the players and management in their own homes, for 2 nights. We were based at Rathnew GAA club and were brilliantly looked after from the minute the bus parked up and we were met with handshakes from Stephen and Christina and hellos by everyone we bumped into, copious amounts food, tea and coffee, brilliant changing facilties, the expertise of their club physio you name it.

On the field of play in game 1 we eased past Askamore/kilrush from Wexford. In one of those fairly straight forward games we won 0-8 v 0-4 in and were in control through out, kicking points when goals were on.

Next up was Kilpeacon from Limerick. Before throw in, we lost 2 starting players Brendy Cassidy, to heat stroke, and Mattie Kerr to an eye injury, but come half time we were winning 1-6 v 1-0 and we thought we had this Feile thing sussed. But now the drama started! BANG, BANG, BANG 3 goals conceded in a crazy 2 mins and we were 3 pts down, compulsory subs were made and we were all over the place. Our opposition management targeted Oisin Jackson and were clearly screaming take him down! Every time he got the ball, 2 and 3 players were going for him and rugby tackling him. Kilpeacon lost a player to a black card but we were all at sea. The game finished Tempo 2-8 v 6-2 Kilpeacon. A 6pt defeat after being 6 up. What the hell happened!! Welcome to Feile! After winning 3 qtrs of football injury, tiredness, foul play and poor thinking from management cost us in the last quarter and we went from looking at competing for the cup to going into the shield. As the sun scorched us, the temperatures went up and the boys heads went down. But we learned a huge amount in this game.

Roll on Saturday morning.

We played our hosts Rathnew GAA. A very strong breeze blew right down the pitch and Rathnew had it in the first half. Mattie kerr was back in, and we raced into a 3 point lead and nearly went 6 up when a cracking shot from Michael McPhillips was saved by the keeper. Then the home team woke up and took into us and we ended up 7 down at half time. They were physically stronger than us in more areas of the pitch and our smaller players struggled to compete with them. Our keeper Stephen Cassidy hurt his knee in a fall and couldn’t hit kick outs. We couldn’t win enough ball to use the wind in the second half and ended up losing by 11 pts.

So onto the bus and a 1hr 45min drive to Craanford for a QF in the Shield vs St Josephs from Wexford. We had a stern chat with lads pre-match to get their heads right and focused back on the game. Brendy Cassidy had recovered after resting for 2 games, eating drinking and sleeping well. After the turbulence of the last 3 quarters of football we were back on track and eased into a 4-3 v 0-1 half time score. The mood was good!  After the collapse vs Kilpeacon an invaluable football lesson was learned, not to look beyond the match in hand thinking its already won. So they went out in the second half and drove on winning 5-6 v 3-2. With 5 mins left I felt we had the game won and emptied the bench to give all the lads a game, and rested our 2 midfileders, Jackson and Rafferty, by putting them up front and what happens, St Josephs bang in 2 quick goals! Kilpeacon revisted?? No surely not and the lads all upped their game, Jackson and Rafferty dropped back we shored up defence and closed the game out. Our target of qualifying for football on the Sunday had been achieved! Management had finally cracked the team selection plus compulsory subs scenario and things were looking up.

Sunday morning- From Rathnew A 90 min bus journey to Carlow town and we were up against St Marys Maudlinstown of Wexford. The fatigue of tournament football was kicking in now. Jackson already had a semi black eye and both him and Rafferty had stiff sore legs after 4 games in midfield, rubs were required. Mattie Kerr had a blackish eye, Aidy Flanagan had a bang on the wrist and ankle, Michael had blisters, Mark Graham a sore quad, Stevie a bruised knee. But we were now 30 mins away from an All Ireland final, we could feel the lads really focusing in. The played some brilliant football in the first half and ran into a strong lead at half time. Tempo 3-3 v 1-3 St Marys. But we had learned goals can come quickly in this tournament and the lads just kept working and playing hard for the next 15 mins and won 4-5 v 1-5. Bonus territory…FINAL!!

John Pakks turned to me and said 4 finals in one season, not bad going!

News then filtered through that Kilpeacon had qualified for the Cup final in their section, all our lads figured we had them and should have beaten them, and so the belief came into them that they were a match for anyone in their section. We also learned they gave away 2 penalties in their SF for dragging players down so they obviously stuck to their game plan! They took one route to a final we took the footballing one.

On a side note I watched our now final opponents Ilen Rovers in their match on Saturday as it was straight after ours. They were physically a lot bigger. They had 4 lads touching 6 foot in goals, full back, midfield and full forward who were decent footballers, and I thought if we run into them into the final I don’t fancy it! But I never told the players what they don’t know wont hurt them.
But that’s what transpired, and they won after extra time so maybe that took it out of them, plus their management seemed to run them around for 10 mins solid in the warm up under a blazing hot sun, which I thought was crazy!

I took the Tempo lads on a more gentle approach hoping it didn’t backfire!

As the teams were lead out onto the pitch by a lone piper it was a very emotional moment seeing the young lads from the club walking out in an All Ireland Final, 3 hrs away from home with a merry band of parents and mentors cheering them on. I just wished I could magically transport a couple of hundred people from Tempo at that moment to witness the occasion. National anthem finished away we went.

It was an extremely tight match with scores at a premium. Defences we on top. Tempo hit the post twice in the first half. Ilen rovers big number 14 got an early goal and I honestly got a bad feeling. I looked out onto the pitch and Oisin and Peter in midfield plus Ilen rovers 2 midfielders were standing bent with their hands on their knees, they were all wrecked! But our lads just seemed to find some speed and energy from somewhere and conor magee hit a purple patch and kicked 3 lovely points. HT was Tempo 0-4 V Ilen 1-1.
The start of the second half seen us get a goal we were 3 up!!! But they kicked 4 points in a row to go one up. We then kicked a further four points and were 3 up with 2mins left on the clock. We then lost one forward in niall fee who was essentially kicked out of the game twice in 2 minutes. The tension started to mount. After some heroic defending on a few occasions the dam burst and Stevie Cassidy and Mark Graham collided in the goalmouth and almost knocked each other out, the ball spilled to their full forward and he drilled it at goal, Aidy Flanagan dived across the line and we thought he had saved it but it hit the post and went it! (insert expletive!) Game level! 3 players lying prone in the goalmouth. All in pain. Mark and Stevie got up but Aidan was gone as he badly hurt his wrist. The sideline was like a warzone, as both Aidan and Niall were in a bad way. Edel Jackson and Vonnie Fee was administering First Aid, subs were being fired on and a further point each from both team seen it level with seconds on the clock.

Then massive drama! With players almost at walking pace due to tiredness, Oisin Jackson kicked for a point and as it floated through the air it look to be tailing wide and the so the ref blew the final whistle. However most players and supporters didn’t hear it and the ball dropped on the end line, caught by Conor Magee and quickly popped to Podge Mccaffrey who banged it over the bar and we all thought we had won. But the ref was standing shaking his head. Anarchy reigned for 30 seconds and I couldn’t believe what had happened. I had heard the whistle go but had never seen a final whistle blown as a ball was in mid-flight to goal. Unfortunately Michael McPhilips couldn’t contain his disappointment to the ref and got sent off.
FT Tempo 1-8 v 2-5 Ilen Rovers
So in the space of a minute we went from thinking we had won it to facing extra time with 14 men and 2 of our main forwards (Niall and Mike) plus regular defender (Aidy) off the pitch. The ref informed us we could bring on a 15th player but not Mike so this eased the blow. The players heads and legs were gone, management were frantically trying to rearrange the forward line. So we put in regular half back Conor Leonard at full forward and regular corner back sean corry at corner forward. I clearly remember Mattie Kerr saying why does this always happen to us?

As we had 2 other bad experiences in finals this year. The Gaels obviously beating us in the feile final and in the Brian og 7s where we won all games apart from the final v Drumgoon. Contoversey there when it was felt the ref played excess time and missed one of our points leading to a draw at full time only for us to lose in extra time. I assured the lads that today was the day this would change and no more close misses in finals.
2 halves of extra time now with 5 mins per half.
This is where our squad was really being tested, and why you can’t base things on a set team of 15 players. Since January our policy has been to give as many lads as much game time as possible. In fact with Dylan Flynn on holiday we were now in the last 10 mins of an All Ireland final with 4 of our regular starters not available.
We restricted Ilen to zero scores during first five minutes and we got 2 points in front. But we knew a goal could come out of the blue in the last 5 minutes and so anything could happen. The last 4 mins and 45 seconds passed with a few near misses but no scores from both teams. A high ball in dropped to corner back sean corry, now operating at corner forward, on the angle of the small rectangle, right hand side, perfect for a left footer. He took a step inside and drilled the ball into the net!! GOOOAAAAALLLLLLL!!!!  DELERIUM!!
The Ilen keeper kicked it out and the final whistle went. PANDEMONIUM !!!!

Players and management jumping, roaring, hugging, crying. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles running onto the pitch. A sea of maroon and white, a little piece of Tempo will forever remain in that pitch middle of Carlow, as blood sweat and tears were left spilled on that ground. Moments never to be forgotten.

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