The IAFA international squad finished runners-up to hosts Poland at last weekend's Amp Futbol Cup in Podhale, Poland. To the surprise of all involved, except the Irish themselves, the IAFA pulled off the shock of the tournament beating Ukraine in their second game to put them in with an outside change of winning the competition. Three professional and disciplined performances saw Ireland amass 6 points out of a possible 9 and secure second place. This was the IAFA's best ever performance at an International tournament and was very much deserved for a squad who have worked tirelessly since last January to mount a serious challenge on the International stage. Labelled the "dark horses" and later the "sensations" of the tournament, Ireland can feel very satisfied with their weekend in the south of Poland.
Poland 1-0 Ireland
Ireland opened the tournament against hosts Poland. McElligott's side set up defensively in an attempt to frustrate the poles who had finished 4th at last year's Amputee World Cup in Mexico. The midfield trio of Alan Wall, Kevan O'Rourke and Garry Hoey patrolled the central area and nullified the threat of Bartosz Lastowski "the Polish Messi" and limited the Poles to long range efforts. Simon Baker and Kevin "Butch" Cahillane remained solid at the back and made sure that Irish keeper James "Jack" Conroy had little to do in the first w5 minutes. Ireland managed to keep Poland out for the first half and for a period after half-time. The pressure from the Eastern Europeans was mounting, however, and a lapse in concentration at a dead-ball, allowed Thomasz Mis ghost into the box and finish from close range. Undetered Ireland remained composed, stuck to their game-plan and tired to catch Poland on the break. While "Messi" had two opportunities, one that went just wide of the post and a second, a header, that was saved expertly on the line by Conroy, Ireland too carved out two guilt-edge chances at the other end. Craig Dowling had two strikes, one that whistled over the crossbar an another that forced a top save from the Polish keeper. Poland held on for the victory but breathed a huge sigh of relief at the final whistle following Ireland's gutsy an determined performance.
Ireland 2-0 Ukraine
A Craig Dowling brace saw Ireland beat Ukraine convincingly in what was the upset of the tournament. Ireland had never beaten Ukraine prior to Saturday's meeting. Twice at the Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico Ireland lost to the Eastern Europeans. Twice this Irish side felt that had breaks fallen their way they would have beaten Ukraine. Confident, Ireland attacked hot favourites Ukraine from the off. A combination of passes put Dowling through on goal in the opening minute. He capitalise on a slip from a Ukrainian defender and tucked the ball low past the keeper. An end to end game of football ensued. Ukraine pressed for an equaliser while Ireland looked to extend their lead. Dowling, Alan Wall and Kevan O'Rourke all forced the Ukrainian keeper into a string of fine saves. At the other end Ireland continued to defend resolutely as they had against Poland and limited Ukraine to long range efforts. In truth Conroy wasn't often troubled in the Irish goal. The killer blow came in the closing stages of the game. Both sides began to tire as the effects of the 30 degree heat took its toll. Captain Simon Baker launched a ball forward to Dowling who beat a defender and squeezed the ball past the keeper and in off the post. It was a victory to savour for an Irish side who were left disappointed against these same opponents in Mexico last year.
The Netherlands 0-4 Ireland
Both Poland and Ukraine had registered 5-0 victories over The Netherlands on Saturday. Were Ireland to put themselves into a position to win the competition they had to secure a similar result against the Dutch themselves. The Oranje set up defensively and frustrated Ireland in the opening stages. An early tactical change by McElligott, pushing Alan Wall into a more advanced position, resulted in Ireland creating a string of half-chances. Wall and Kevan O'Rourke forced saves from the keeper and then Craig Dowling had a goal wrongly ruled out. The Irish frontman quickly made up for it, however, striking low past the keeper when he was played through by Garry Hoey. Ireland took control of the game in the second half. Wall scored his first International goal striking powerfully past the Dutch keeper when Dowling played a square ball across the box. Dowling was again the architect for Ireland's third, crossing from the left for O'Rourke to volley the ball into the back of the net. The Carlow man, Striker of the tournament with 4 goals, then wrapped up the scoring with another low strike following a cross-field pass from returning International Donal Bligh. Owen Cockery made his first International appearance replacing Conroy in goal in the closing stages of the game. Not long after being introduced he was forced into a cracking finger-tip save touching the ball over the crossbar to ensure that Ireland kept the Dutch scoreless.
Sitting on top of the tournament table with 6 points Ireland watched the final fixture of the weekend with great interest. Ukraine led Poland 1-0 at the break, however, the hosts notched up three unanswered goals in the second half to take the 3 points and shatter all Irish hopes of victory. Ireland forced the hosts to be at their very best in a tournament Poland expected to win comfortably. This Irish side can be very proud of their efforts over the last 18 months as the incredibly hard work put in by the staff and players alike is finally starting to pay off. Ireland play Great Britain on Friday and will return to Poland in September for the Amp Futbol Cup in Warsaw. The IAFA will push forward and continue in their attempts to improve as they aim to climb the World Rankings and become a real force on the International stage.