On the morning of 7th May 2015 a sea of green tops congregated in Dublin Airport in the early hours. This would mark the start of the Clovers third annual trip to Strasbourg to compete in the Gryphon hosted Recreational Tournament. As we dragged our gear and filtered through the sleepy heads for our flight at 5:50 I couldn’t help but reflect on what this group of people meant to me and where it all had started.
To truly understand us you have to start, of course, at the start! Before the Clovers, in 2012 there was a bunch of misfits running around like headless chickens in the back of a cold, forgotten warehouse in Castleknock. The rink was dark, the ice itself was only a third the size of an official rink, had to be scraped by hand and watered by sliding 5 gallon drums of water around and let set. While Castleknock on Ice was far from the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, it was OUR home and week after week our numbers grew and our game improved.
Castleknock on ice remained open throughout 2012 and provided us with a home to build from. At the time the Celtic Clovers were established we had over 50 players coming twice a week and we had to split the training sessions in half (A’s & B’s) to accommodate them all!
At the same time Castleknock was also supporting 10 other Ice hockey teams, Juvenile Ice Hockey, Figure skating, public sessions and was used as a base for the National Irish Ice Hockey Teams to prepare for the 2013 Internationals.
With all the activity in the sport we decided to make it official! We set up a committee, joined the IIHA (national governing body), designed and ordered our jerseys and the Celtic Clovers were born.
In 2013 disaster struck and for reasons beyond our control we lost Castleknock to memory. Our ice hockey team moved to rollerblades while the committee did everything in their power organizing games and training in Belfast the switch took its toll and Interest in the sport dropped dramatically across Ireland. Our core players had been reduced to just over 20 with one training a week yielding a max 15 players. This was expected as we were an Ice hockey team and regardless of the arguments to a player, Ice and Rollerblades are NOT the same! As we started to build from the foundations again Ger and the Committee were always looking for the opportunity to define our club from the rubble of Ice hockey teams without Ice!
Our Jerseys proved very popular with other teams and countries and in early 2013 we were contacted by Stephane of the Strasbourg Gryphons to see if we would send one over. Speaking to Ger Duffy (our Coach) Stephane was amazed to hear we were without ice and offered us a spot in the Gryphon hosted Reci Tournament in Strasbourg in May. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity to build the club activities and support, we nearly took his hand off and prepared ourselves for the unknown.
Without going into too much detail, the first trip to France was a roaring success. At the rink at 9am we found ourselves pitted against famous towns and cities including Geneve, Dammarie in Paris, Orleans & Mont Blanc, some of who were made up of ex pro players and young flash prospects. Taking to the ice with Geneve we were told by Stephane of the Gryphons if we scored on their keeper to keep the puck, something Peter McGovern took to heart & after putting one past him was presented with the puck after the game. Technically speaking we lost every match, some by numbers I can’t count on all my fingers, but it gave us a glimpse into the real world of Ice hockey and gave us something to aspire to as a team. While we did loose every game, we established ourselves as fun, fair and hard working with the French teams and were offered the same spot for the coming year which meant we had a lot of work to do!!
By the time Christmas came around the small ice opened in the Point village and we had a mission! Our numbers started to grow again and with it our skills flourished. The Ice only lasted 3 months but this time we had a reason for players to train and a goal for the team. Our club President Ben Mareil and the board had spent the run up to Christmas promoting & building the team, ensuring we survived the dreaded transfer to wheels, and when the ice came to the Point in December Coach’s Ger Duffy and Paul Maher wasted no time getting down to business. The result was now to be put to the test 6 months later!
May 2014 came around quickly and in the clovers camp the feeling was electric. While we were here to have fun and be happy we were back on the ice, this year brought with it a sense of expectation we had not experienced the year before. We were faster, stronger, and we were gonna prove it.
That year the Clovers won 3 of our eight games and secured 5th place in the Tournament standings, including beating the host team in a nail biting penalty shoot-out! We had proven, even with no ice, the Clovers could rise to any challenge, and have a blast doing it. We had made even more friends, formed stronger bonds and solidified ourselves as a Team.
FINALLY we make it back to the present, boarding the plane once again to Frankfurt but this year boasting 27 players and 2 teams!!!
On the Thursday we arrived we made our way to the rink for a friendly game against the Gryphons as is tradition. This game provided us with a look at our players on the ice, straight from rollerblades, and a look at the Gryphons team before the tournament match’s. Two things were made very clear…….
- Our players (A & B mixed) found themselves overwhelmed by the size and speed of the ice and needed the game to find their feet.
- The Gryphons had been working hard and were a far better team than we had played the previous year!!
Needless to say the game did not go well for us and the Gryphons ended the full 3 x 20 min period game 13 goals to the Clovers 3. Putting the game behind us as a write-off, the A team prepared themselves for their first game of the tournament to be held at 10am on Friday morning.
9 teams were registered this year, Clovers A & B, Strasbourg A & B, Geneva, Dammarie from Paris, Viry, La Clusaz and Dijon.
With the Sun blazing and the clovers making their way to the rink the excitement was building. Out of the blocks on Friday morning the Clovers A team played a great game against the Strasbourg Gryphons B team and took a 4:0 win to start the tournament.
Next up the Clovers B found themselves in their first game against the strong La Clusaz team and were beaten by a very respectable 0:3. This was the first Tournament for most of the B team players, some of which had been on a full size ice rink only a handful of times before.
After 2 other matchups the Clovers B pitted themselves against the Strasbourg B team. After 25 minutes of exciting and hard play the whistle was blown for a 0:0 draw and the Clovers progressed to the first penalty shoot-out of the Tournament, and for most of them the first of their hockey careers! Finally the Strasbourg B team took the win 1 goal to 0.
Following the excitement of the B team Shoot-out and winning our first game the A team went toe to toe with the Infamous Geneva team. Haven beaten us outright for the last 2 years they found the A team to be a different sort of animal altogether. Goals on each side were hard fought for with the game becoming physical and fast. There was no quarter given on either side and with 30 seconds to go the Clovers were down 1:2 and pushing for the Geneva goal. Our keeper, Adam Pepper, was pulled and the Clovers pushed forward with 6 outfield players. Time and time again the Covers fired shots on goal with the Geneva keeper doing all he could to keep us out. With 10 seconds to go the Geneva defence managed to control the puck and shoot down ice to our open goal. The match ended 4:2 to Geneva but they were more than aware the Clovers had come to play.
The Clovers A team went on to face La Clusaz 5:1 and Viry 3:2 in the afternoon. With Geneva, La Clusaz and Viry favorited for the tournament the Clovers A found all of our tough matchups in the afternoon and finished with 1 of 4 wins for the day. The Clovers B team had a great game against Geneva, holding them to a 5:2 win following the match with Dammarie resulting in very respectable 3:0. With four matches played for the day it was time to get the skates off and enjoy the evening with the other teams.
Saturday required and early start for the A team with their match scheduled for 8am with the Host team, Strasbourg A. We were feeling the day (and night) before as we pulled ourselves from the bed and down to breakfast at 6:45. After a short tram journey we arrived in the rink at 7:15 to prepare for what was no doubt a tough game. Two nights previous Strasbourg A had thought us a lesson and we were determined not to relive the result. After a quick pep talk from Coach Ger Duffy we took to the ice with conviction. Yesterday may not have been our day, but today we wanted it.
The result was incredible. From the first buzzer the clovers drove towards the Strasbourg defence and hammered the keeper repeatedly. The game became fast and physical and by 15 minutes in the Clovers were rewarded, pushing the score to 1:0. The final 10 mins of the game was cracking as Strasbourg relentlessly pressured to even the score. With 2 minutes to go and a Clover in the penalty box Strasbourg pulled their keeper to provide 6 outfield players to the Clovers 4. Again and again the Clovers resisted and as they finally cleared the puck from their zone the buzzer went and the Clovers had won the game!
With a great win under our belt the Clovers A’s went on to win 4 of 4 games that day, winning a penalty shoot-out with Dammarie, beating Dijon 3:2 and having a very fun game with the Clovers B team finishing at 6:2. With these results the Clovers A had finished top 4 and qualified for the playoffs with Geneva, La-Clusaz and Viry.
As 4th place qualifiers we were pitted against 1st place Geneva for the Semi Final’s. Geneva had not lost a game over the last 2 days and had proven they deserved the top spot. Both teams came out hitting hard and fast. While the Clovers had the skating ability, Geneva could teleport the puck from player to player and opened up the ice making use of their defensive shooters. The Clovers were unable to topple Geneva from their well-earned position and the game ended 3:1, allowing Geneva to advance to the finals.
Meanwhile the Clovers B team played hard to advance themselves in the Pool Finals. While we were unable to secure a win we were awarded the Fair Play trophy for sportsmanship along with Dammarie and had allot of fun doing it.
Our A teams final game was against Viry, who had beaten us 2 days previous 3:2. As we took to the Ice Ger had only four words, “Have Fun and Win!”. Each Clover left it all on the ice and when the final whistle was blown the score was tied and we went into a penalty shoot-out.
With a smashing goal from #77 Tibor Soltesz and a shut out from Clovers and Ireland Keeper Adam Pepper the Clovers had taken 3rd place in the tournament!
Returning home we were greeted by our friends and family in Dublin Airport and surprised by our teammate #14 Joey Lavelle, who injured his back in a Clovers game last year and has been on a slow recovery, making an effort to welcome us back home.
A special thanks goes out to all who were involved in the tournament, all the teams, all the volunteers, the Gryphons for hosting, the IIHA & all who support us. We could not have done this without you.
This year’s trip to Strasbourg has surpassed all expectations in both enjoyment and result and we will be eagerly looking forward to our next expedition, whatever it may be!!
#6 Aaron Collins
The Celtic Clovers are a Dublin bases adult Ice Hockey Team with over 50 members. We cater for beginner to advanced levels of all nationalities and gender over two teams (A & B), hold regular games with both ROI and NI teams and make annual trips to International Tournaments. New members are always welcome!!
Currently Training at: Mountview Community Centre, Blanchardstown.
Training Times: Tuesdays @ 20:15
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 085 2334127 (Ger Duffy – Coach)