Naples, 17th October 2021.
Wow, who would have thought what was to follow as the Ballybrack Seagulls departed Daxing Airport, Beijing, on the 6th of November 2019?
The worldwide “China Crisis”, saw Football suspended, Airlines collapsing, economies in turmoil, worldwide travel suspended and international lockdowns a common conversational piece on all forms of news outlets.
Fast forward to the 14th of October 2021 and the vaccinated Seagulls have their “wings” back and international travel and international Football back on the cards, as we get set to take a flight to Naples, Italy.
Setting foot into the departure lounge of Dublin Airport, meeting up with the gathering travelling party of Ballybrack Seagulls, felt amazing as it was 708 days since we last flew to play an international match.
We had filled the gap with a “staycation” Seagulls vs Seagulls game in Letterkenny, Donegal but this wasn’t what the Seagulls are about.
The Seagulls were always established for International globetrotting, to obscure venues and supporting just causes, so when the invitation arose to travel to Naples to play the Caserta Lions/Rage Sports, who were celebrating their 10th anniversary we jumped at the opportunity, as the Caserta Lions, were established on the values and principles of anti-fascism, anti-racism and equality for all, something that the Ballybrack Seagulls gladly share and support.
Once again and as always, we had a strong travelling party of players, management and supporters.
On the management front, the Gaffer, Uncle Ray Downer and his assistant Noel “Nipper” Finn remained in charge of team affairs.
Unfortunately, on the player front the “Famous Five” of Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen, Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan, Martin “The Cap” Hewitt, George “Skiddely” Downer and Rob “The Professor” Dunne got reduced to the “Fab Four” due to the late omission of Rob “The Professor” Dunne following unforeseen work commitments.
In addition, we also lost Paul “Ozzie” Osborne due to a nasty injury, not alone ruling Paul out from playing but also from travelling.
This was a blow to the travelling party but with a squad of players that included Seagulls veterans, of the calibre of Damien “Chopper” Wallace, Ian “Chendo” Henderson, Rob “Camino” Murphy, Graham “Rusty” Grundy, Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey, Derek “Timmo” Timmons, Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly, Gary “Gazza” McNabb and Justin “Paddy” Jones, our management team were set to have a selection headache. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Naples, Paddy received some personal news from back home, which meant he had no choice but to curtail his trip with the Seagulls.
What keeps the Seagulls flying is the continuous addition of new players to the travelling party.
This saw an impressive group of first-time cappers, including Craig “The Toon” Kavanagh, Anthony “Maradona” Geraghty, Sam “The H-Bomb” Henderson, Adam “Ant” Geraghty, Marc “Macca” McLoughlin, JP “Snickers” O’Beirne (formally known as “The Marathon Man”), George “The Young one” Downer, Conor “Jordan” Lanigan, Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick, Derek “The Chief Chef” Breen and the historic debutante, Freya “Doing it for the Girls” Downer.
Although Derek was a member of the travelling party, his inclusion in the match day squad was prohibited as he had to return home on the 3rd day of the trip due to work commitments.
On paper, we travelled with possibly our most technically gifted group of players which proved vital on match day.
As ever our loyal fan base was on hand to travel and support us on the road.
So once again we saw our loyal band of Shegulls veterans Pauline Byrne, Angela Campbell, Lesley O’Sullivan, and Michelle Hewitt joined by Katie Hewitt, Sharon Armstrong, Deribhle Geraghty, along with supporting stalwarts Paul Byrne, Tyrone McNabb and first-time traveller Roy McLoughlin on our trip to Naples.
But what would a Seagulls trip be without our “Young Gulls”, Bobby O’Sullivan, Abaigeal O’Sullivan, Sam Murray Byrne, Tiarnán O’Kelly, Grace O’Kelly and Alfie O’Kelly, who complete the Seagulls family circle.
We landed at Napoli International Airport around 15:25hrs and following baggage collection we boarded the Ballybrack Seagulls team coach to travel to our home for the weekend, the Grand Hotel Vinvintelli, Caserta.
The club founder of the Caserta Lions, and a man who had extended the invitation to Italy for our 8th game, Maurizio, was hosting his 38th Birthday party in The Rock and Blues venue in the heart of Caserta on arrival night and he had kindly extended an invitation to all the travelling Seagulls to attend, too which we graciously excepted.
Prior to our travelling, the Seagulls had arranged the commissioning of a Ballybrack Seagulls branded Irish Whiskey and an O’Neills Jersey commemorating the 1916 rising as gifts to present to Maurizio to mark the occasion of his birthday.
Maurizio was absolutely delighted with his gifts and taken aback by this kind gesture.
This was the start of a great night, with Georgie “Skiddely” Downer and Anto “Maradona” Geraghty, showing our local Italian hosts a thing or two when it comes to the value of a missed spent youth around the Pool Halls of Dublin, as they delivered a stunning night of 8 ball pool playing to the amazement of our Italian hosts.
Day two, saw the cultural side of the Seagulls come to the fore, as we board the team coach at 08:00hrs, and visit and tour the city of Pompeii and mount Vesuvius.
What an experience to visit such a famous part of the world and a legendary piece of history.
Although our trip around Pompeii was expertly conducted by our local tour guides, any language barrier issues were swiftly addressed by the Seagull’s very own Family Guy and fluent Italian speaker Derek “Timmo” Timmons.
We were blessed to have him with us as he mastered the native tongue so gracefully throughout the course of the weekend.
Having returned to our HQ, Grand Hotel Vinvintelli, and after experiencing an amazing day of culture and history, our packed filled criteria continued with a trip to a “lark in the park”, a DJ set hosted by the Caserta Lions, and Rage Sports, to Celebrate their 10th anniversary at the Villa Giaquinto, Caserta.
This was an enjoyable night for the Seagulls as the DJ spun a lot of SKA classics that got the lads busting out their best moves.
Following the lark in the park, the Seagulls adjourned to the Rock and Blues club in Caserta, which was rapidly becoming the Seagull’s official home away from home clubhouse, to continue the celebrations into the wee small hours.
Day 3, was an open day, so the Seagulls spent it in various locations, throughout the day with a group tipping into the City of Naples, some travelling to the outlets for some retail therapy and some heading to the “clubhouse”, The Rock and Blues to watch the Premier League Football, live on the TV over a couple of sociable pints.
Day 4, saw match day arrive.
A fresh-ish Ballybrack Seagulls squad assembled in the Hotel lobby before making the short walk to Bola Restaurant, to enjoy a traditional Italian pre-match lunch of pasta before returning to the Hotel to board the team coach and travel to the match day venue, at the Centro Sportivo Quartiere, Vanvitelli Caserta, for our 17:00hrs kick-off.
Following our bus trip, the Seagulls arrived at the match day venue in a timely manner, so that the team could walk the pitch and settle into their match day surroundings.
The management team of Uncle Ray and Nipper Finn had deliberated over the team selection and the starting eleven, with Derek “Timmo” Timmons starting in nets, with the centre-back pairing of Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen and Craig “The Toon” Kavanagh, flank by Martin “The Cap” Hewitt and Trevor “Bev” Kavanagh.
Damien “Chopper” Wallace set in front of the back four with a middle field pairing of Ian “Chendo” Henderson and Anthony “Maradona” Geraghty, with Robbie “The Camino” Murphy and Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey offering the width, with Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly sphering heading the attack.
George “Skiddely” Downer, as per the norm on Seagulls match day, led us through the pre-match warm-up.
Prior to the kick-off, to mark the passing of a dear friend of the Seagulls, a Ballybrack Seagulls jersey, with “Deano” a-blazed on the back of it, was placed on the centre spot of the pitch and a minutes silence was observed to acknowledge the passing of Deano Archibald. RIP
The pre-match warm-up overseen by George “Skiddely” Downer had put us in good stead when the game kicked off, as the Seagulls started the match at a great pace, with distinctive Football patterns being played by our midfield partners, “Chendo” and “Maradona” with Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly leading a high press, which was causing all sorts of confusion to our Italian opponents at the back, as they were forced into rushing their passes from the back, allowing Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey and Rob “The Camino” Murphy push up high on their full-backs.
This pressure was paying off and allowed Ian “Chendo” Henderson and Anto “Maradona” Geraghty to thread a number of lovely balls inside the Caserta defence to exploit the pace that Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly is gifted with, and test the Caserta goalkeeper, who proved a formidable opponent.
The Seagulls continued to control the game, as it began to age in time with Anto “Maradona” Geraghty grown in stature and he began to dictate the game for the Seagulls, with the Caserta team struggling to get a grip with him.
It wasn’t long after this that Ian “Chendo” Henderson, unleashed a thunderbolt, of a strike, that crashed off the underside of the Caserta crossbar before bouncing back out of the goal having clearly crossed the line but unfortunately, this was not seen by the referee as he waved “play on”!
This setback didn’t hinder the Seagull’s attack as once again Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly tested the Caserta goalkeeper again.
Another wave of attacking play saw Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey slip a perfectly waited pass into the path of the overlapping Captain, Martin “The Cap” Hewitt, but his cross was turned away for a corner.
The Seagulls pushed up for the corner, but the Caserta defence dealt with the cross and from the resulting break, the Caserta number 9, with impressive tidy footwork and completely against the run of play slipped the ball past the on-rushing Derek “Timmo” Timmons to see Caserta take a one nil lead.
Fair from putting their heads down, the Seagulls from the restart, went back into their dominant position again and it wasn’t long before, the midfield pairing of Ian “Chendo” Henderson and “Anto “Maradona” Geraghty, linked up to see Anto, beautifully lob the ball over the head of the onrushing Caserta goalkeeper to watch the ball nestle sweetly in the back of the net.
Back on level terms, and nothing more than the Seagulls deserved.
This saw the introduction to action for Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan for Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly and JP “Snickers” O’Beirne for Rob “The Camino” Murphy and not long after his introduction, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan was stinging the hands of the Caserta goalkeeper after another fine passage of play saw Anto “Maradona” Geraghty cut back a cross from the bye line of the Caserta defence, into the path of the onrushing “Trivago” O’Sullivan.
The Seagull’s defence was performing extremely well with the back four of “The Cap”, “The Toon”, “The Brack Pearl” and “Bev” defecting the rare Caserta attacks, and Damien “Chopper” Wallace providing a super platform to link up with the Seagulls attack.
Unfortunately, it was in and around the 35th minute that we lost one of our top performers Damien “Chopper” Wallace to a serious ankle injury, which saw him having to leave the field of play to be replaced by George “Skiddely” Downer.
Georgie quickly established himself into the game and not long after this Anto “Maradona” Geraghty having skipped past a number of Caserta defenders on the right before having got into the Caserta 18-yard box to unleash an unstoppable shot not only blew past the formidable Caserta goalkeeper, it flew through the net of the Caserta goal.
Halftime shortly arrived, with the Seagulls leading 2 to 1.
Halftime saw the management team, amend the line-up for the second half with the introduction of Adam “Ant” Geraghty for the “Brack Pearl” in the heart of the defence and Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick stepping into the right-back role for Martin “The Cap” Hewitt and George “The young one” Downer joining Anto “Maradona” Geraghty in the centre of the park for Ian “Chendo” Henderson.
This saw the Seagulls commence the second half with two father/son combos on the Downer and Geraghty front.
The restart of the second half saw the Seagulls pick up from where they left off and once again saw the Seagulls attack terrorising the Caserta defence with Wayne “Travigo” O’Sullivan once again testing the Caserta goalkeeper to the fullest.
At the back young Adam “Ant” Geraghty was calmly dealing with the Caserta attacker alongside Craig “The Toon” Kavanagh, who was proven a steady and solid defender on his first competitive debut for the Seagulls.
In the 55th minute, saw the introduction of the final “Fab Four” starlet, Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan for “Bev” Kavanagh at left-back.
Shortly after this another Seagulls debut was made when Marc “Macca” McLoughlin came into the fray for JP “Snickers” O’Beirne.
The two newly introduced left siders quickly established a good partnership and Marc “Macca” McLoughlin also found his way into the Caserta box to test out the Caserta goalkeeper once again.
This was becoming a worrying aspect for the Seagulls as a one-goal lead isn’t a nice buffer.
In comes the ever-impressive Graham “Rusty” Grundy to give Noel “Twinkle Toes” Lacey a break.
“Rusty” was chomping at the bit to get into the action and this told when he was introduced as he brought the high press back into the Seagull’s game, which once again unsettled the Caserta the defence and eventually saw “Rusty” give the Seagulls that 2 goal buffer with a mazy run before nestling a right foot strike into the far left-hand corner of the Caserta net.
Unfortunately, this buffer gave the Seagulls a false impression of dominance and saw us go a bit cavalier in attack and once again from a corner we got caught on a quick counterattack to see the scoreboard show Caserta 2 Ballybrack Seagulls 3.
Thankfully our very own “Maradona”, did what he was doing best all night long for the Seagulls and he bopped up with his third goal of the night, to restore the Seagull’s two-goal lead, and secure Anto’s hat trick to see the score line Caserta 2 Ballybrack Seagulls 4.
Once again after some impressive lead-up play, Marc “Macca” McLoughlin was slipped through only to see his strike climb above the Caserta crossbar.
The resulting goal kick was intercepted by George “The young one” Downer, who neatly finished into the Caserta net. Seagulls are now in full control leading 5 goals to 2.
Shortly after this, the management team reintroduced Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly for Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan who was very unlucky not to have capped his night with a goal but thankfully for Shane, who had a similar tail to tell for his first half outing, saw his hard work rewarded following a lovely cross from the left, “The Boyband” O’Kelly, superbly finished to the bottom right-hand corner with strike on the outside of the right foot.
Time again for another couple of debut players, with Conor “Jordan” Lanigan stepping into the left-back role for Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan and Sam “The H-Bomb” Henderson coming in for goal scorer Graham “Rusty” Grundy.
This introduction of the fresh players gave new momentum to the Seagull’s attack and saw us strike the Caserta crossbar twice, once again our cavalier attacking saw us concede a sequence of corners to the Caserta attack and despite some stout defending from the Seagull’s defence we, unfortunately, conceded a third goal.
Just before the restart, a historic substitution was made, when Freya “Doing it for the Girls” Downer, entered the fray, and so becoming the first female to represent the Seagulls and join her Father and brother on the pitch.
From the restart, Anto “Maradona” Geraghty had the ball played back to him and Freya was on her bike as Anto slipped her through, one on one with the Caserta goalkeeper but unfortunately, Freya’s strike narrowly skipped past the left-hand upright and from the resulting goal kick the referee blew the final whistle and the result were the Seagulls win, with the Final score line reading Caserta Lions 3 Ballybrack Seagulls 6.
Post-match celebrations saw both sets of supporters and teams enjoying beers and pizza before continuing the celebrations back in Caserta town centre into the wee small hours before raising early on Monday the 18th of October for our flight home to Dublin.
Next up for the Seagulls in game 9 as we have the first ever game in the UK against English opposition, in the form of St Pauli Essex on the 27th of November 2021.