Association Youth League – Tour Update
The Albim Cup -Greg Chipman
So the boys had completed their stay at Bad Bumbrach, blown some cobwebs away in training and at Hof, but still the question that loomed large was
How will a group of boys from 2 different teams at Manly with less than 10 training runs together, having never played in an international football tournament, with largely local association football backgrounds prior to their first Manly AYL representative year who train 2 days a week, going to perform against Bundesliga and Czech footballing powerhouses, with genuine international pedigree, structures and training / playing regimes that typically look like 5 days a week, matches on Sunday and a healthy smattering of international tournaments….day in day out, week after week, year after year??
As with many things in life, often the most obvious conclusion is not always the answer.
Before the football itself, a quick comment on the venue at Sports Areal FC Jiska Modra. Home to international team training camps and about half an hour outside the city centre of Usti, it was simply breathtaking. The most beautiful venue to play football – immaculate pitches, stunning hills with sheep grazing and shimmering Autumn leaves on huge trees surrounding the grounds. It all made sense why we were here – even the Balkan babes were impressed.
The David V Goliath battle began with Hertha Berlin FC – no further introduction needed and of course the home also to Australia’s very own Matthew Leckie. The boys were required to arrive early at the ground and nerves quickly set in observing the pace, intensity and quality of early matches. Impressively, the response of some of the senior boys, was ‘we press they’ll fold – we’re going to smash them’ – gotta love the Aussie footballing mentality.
And so it proved – after a slightly nervous opening the boys executed Chris’ instructions to press high, get our wing backs forward and be compact to a tee. Amazingly after 5 minutes it was nil all, after 10 the same, 15 and so on. Our goalkeeper Merko was outstanding (attracting accolades from opposing coaching staff) and made some fine saves on the odd occasion we were breached, and it was only with 4 minutes to go that we conceded from a set piece free kick that was whipped in to the near post and flicked on. That would prove to be the winner, but reflecting the boys increasing confidence we had two chances to equalise late, which had everybody saying ‘who is this Manly team’?.
The smile on the boys faces was priceless and reflected confidence and belief that they took into the next game against the Czech champions Victoria Plzen. The lads were determined to do even better than against Hertha FC and they flew in – they competed, they used the ball well, they retained possession and were imperious at the back. Chris, Dusan and Martin were firing up the lads, encouraging and delivering tactical instructions . Brody Nicol also had a great game (eventually named keeper of the whole tournament). But there were superb performances from the boys across the park. The Fanatics were besides themselves, the Balkan babes were telling anybody who would listen ‘We are Manly’ and the impossible seemed to be taking place before our eyes. Nil all the final score with only an ounce of luck needed to get a winner and register our first win, but a high quality result nevertheless – extraordinary, with every person on tour and the what’s app crowd at home bursting with pride!!
1nil v Hertha, nil all v Plzen – how good is this from the boys from the beaches….you could see the dismay and frustration in the reaction of our opponents at full time – awesome!
It was at this point though some of our seasoned campaigners started to warn against overexcitement. The crack teams present typically had 18-20 man rotating squads (not to mention 6-8 assistants), our boys were clearly fatigued and had zero tournament experience. There was a sense that we would have to level off performance wise – the question simply was when, and would it be against our next opponent, the highly regarded HK Sigma Olomouc?
Again, the boys answered this question in the most emphatic way.
They were magnificent and by all rights deserved to win given the display across the park – with ‘bold and brave’ continuing to underpin each and every performance. Whilst collectively, we thought we had a winner late which agonisingly went wide after a brilliant passage of play, another clean sheet and draw against this level of quality opposition was incredible. The Fanatics went certifiably mental at this point, the boys all grew a foot and we felt in many ways that right now, at this point, we had achieved already what we had come to do – not to win, but to put in a level of performance that screamed ability, talent, possibility and improvement in a way that in truth was beyond all of our expectations. Just outstanding!
Never a backward step – c’mon Manly