The IAFA International squad finished second at the Podhale Amp Futbol Cup for the second year in a row drawing with Poland (1-1) and Ukraine (0-0) and beating Germany (5-3) over the weekend of the 4th-5th of June. Following an impressive performance last year at the same competition that saw them narrowly lose out to the hosts the Irish squad hoped to go one better this year and lift the coveted trophy. Unfortunately, despite three very impressive performances the Irish side were once again bettered by hosts Poland. Ireland went unbeaten through the tournament for the first time in the associations history and took yet another step towards bridging the gap between themselves and Poland, currently ranked 4th in the World and one of Europe's top Amputee Football teams.
Poland 1-1 Ireland
Ireland kicked off the tournament labelled the 'mini Euros' against hosts Poland. These two sides had met on 4 previous occasions and each time the Poles emerged victorious so this was set to be Ireland's toughest fixture, one that would have a significant bearing on the destination of the cup. But Ireland started brightly. David Saunders broke powerfully down the right but his cross was cut out. Ireland enjoyed some early pressure but failed to really work the Polish keeper. Defensively Ireland remained solid and compact and captain James Conroy in the Irish goal, who would later scoop the prize for Goalkeeper of the Tournament, was rarely called into action. Neither side could break the deadlock before the break. The Polish improved in the second half and pushed further forward. They won a succession of corners but still couldn't find a lead goal. Ireland were then awarded a free-kick on the right hand side of the Polish box with 10 minutes left to play. Alan Wall stepped up confidently and thumped the ball around the Polish wall and into the top left corner of the net. Ireland led and Poland were rattled. A mistake allowed Kevan O'Rourke to break free of the Polish defence on the halfway line and race through on the keeper. His strike went wide of the left hand post unfortunately as Polish defenders got back to apply the necessary pressure. Ireland hung on and tried to grind out the result until in stoppage time the Poles equalised. Moments away from an historic win the Irish side remained proud of their performance and knew that they were still in with every chance of winning the competition.
Ireland 0-0 Ukraine
Ireland and Ukraine have a long history in the sport of Amputee Football. They had met on 4 previous occasions, twice at the World Cup in Mexico in 2014. There is no love lost between the sides and this game proved to be a highly competitive, tough and physical contest. Again Ireland started brightly. Three good chances fell to David Saunders (1) and Kevan O'Rourke (2) but both players failed to direct Alan Wall's fine crosses into the Ukraine goal. Craig Dowlng too almost capitalised on a defensive mix up but his delicate chip was deflected out for a corner. Ukraine who had already secured 3 points against Germany in their first game set up to frustrate Ireland. The sides remained level at halftime and while Ukraine did improve in the second half they created very few opportunities on the Irish goal. Ireland defended well, held their shape and continued in their attempts to break Ukraine down. Ireland threatened from set pieces and had a couple of penalty claims waved away by the referees. Kevan O'Rourke played a ball across the penalty area that was taken out of Craig Dowling's path by a sliding challenge from the Ukrainian captain. The Eastern European's did carve out a chance in the dying moments of the game as Ireland tired but they were denied by the woodwork and the sides ultimately finished level. Another performance the Irish amputees could be proud of. They had only once recorded a win against Ukraine and were unlucky not to break them down on a couple of occasions during this game.
Ireland 5-3 Germany
Ireland's 2 points meant that they had to win their final game against Germany to be in with any chance of winning the competition. Their chance was, however, dependent on the result of the final game of the competition between Poland and Ukraine. Despite creating chances early on Ireland were dealt a blow when Germany opened the scoring with a dubious goal. The German striker, unseen by the referees, touched the ball with his crutch past Justin Guiney in the Irish goal. Ireland reacted positively, however, Alan Wall's strike rattled the German crossbar, the German's failed to clear their lines and Kevin 'Butch' Cahillane tapped into an empty net to score his first ever international goal. The German's would take the lead for a second time, however, a defensive mistake allowed Germany to make it 1-2. Ireland finished the half the stronger side. David Saunders headed home from an Alan Wall corner to draw the sides level again, like Cahillane scoring his first ever goal for Ireland in the process. The second half would prove as frantic as the first but Ireland began the control the game better. Ireland took the lead through Craig Dowling, captaining the side on his final appearance before leaving for Canada in September. The Germans again failed to clear their lines from an Irish corner, Alan Wall slid a ball through to Dowling who finished powerfully. Ireland then made it 4-2. 'Butch' Cahillane whipped a dangerous ball into the German penalty area that deflected off a defender and found its way to the back of the net. The Germans struck back one final time. A defensive error followed by a deflection left Justin Guiney with no chance and Germany were back in it. Saunders stepped up again, however, to put the result beyond doubt. He picked the ball up in space and curled a delightful effort with the outside of his right boot past a flailing German keeper. Poland beat Ukraine 3-0 in the final game claiming the cup for the second year in a row but the Irish team know they ran the hosts close and can be very proud of a valiant effort in Poland over the weekend.
IAFA Squad, Podhale Amp Futbol Cup 2016:
James Conroy (C), Justin Guiney, Garry Hoey, Kevin Cahillane, David Saunders, Kevan O'Rourke, Alan Wall, Craig Dowling, Neil Hoey
Christy McElligott (Manager), Ross Ó Cionaoith (Coach), Alan Heary (Performance Coach), Daniel Boyle (Kit Man), Mark Barry (Physio)