Detroit City, 20th March 2022.
Having capped off our return to play post the Covid Pandemic in 2021, unbeaten, along with our extremely successful “Captains awards Weekend” in Malaga, Spain in early December, it was time for the Ballybrack Seagulls to dust off the passports again and head Stateside to pick up on a trip that, due to the Pandemic was now tipping into two years in the making as we got set to travel to Detroit, Michigan to take on Harpers AFC, at the Keyworth Stadium, in Hamtramck, an enclave of Detroit City.
As the game date for our encounter was due to take place on the 20th of March 2022, and the Seagulls being the Seagulls and more importantly, being Irish, we decided to add an extra leg to our trip states side and travelled to Chicago, Illinois to celebrate St Patrick’s Day with the Irish diaspora of the famed “WINDY” City!
This saw the Seagulls set about on their travel, departing Dublin International Airport, early on the 16th of March 2022.
Now normally the Seagull travelling party would gather and assemble in a nearby watering hole in Dublin Airport, having negotiated the baggage hall and check-in, followed by the security checks, but in a post-Covid travelling world that 2022 became synonymous, we encountered the “hell” of all the airport check-ins, with massive long queues and all the stress that this was to bring to the post-Covid traveller, but thankfully with a minimum delay, the travelling Seagulls group all boarded our Aer Lingus Flight, EI123 to O’Hare International Airport, Chicago.
Booked and all set for another fantastic Seagulls trip was a hard core of Players, Back Room staff and supporting Shegulls and Babygulls, with several of the group taking on their first Seagull trip to the great country of America.
Our ever-present Management Team of the Gaffer, “Uncle” Ray Downer and his assistant Noel “Nipper” Finn, were there to lead the Seagulls into battle and once again and on the playing front, we saw the ever-present “Three Amigos”, Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen, George “Skiddely” Downer and Martin “The Captain” Hewitt, ready to pick up their 10th Caps by representing the Ballybrack Seagulls, since 2016.
Other players falling to veteran status, all on board were Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan, Noel “Twinkle Toe” Lacey, Robert ”The Camino Grifter” Murphy, Damien “Chopper” Wallace, Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly, with several players adding to the Seagulls caps, such as Ray “The Somerset Pirlo” D’Arcy, Dan “Dare” D’Arcy, Trevor “The Bev” Kavanagh, Gary “Gazza” McNabb, George “The Younger one” Downer, Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick, Sam “H-Bomb” Henderson, Freya “Doing it for the Girls” Downer, with Paul “Ozzie” Osborne, returning to the player’s roster, having missed our trip to Naples the previous October, due a nasty injury.
Our ever-present band of loyal supporting Shegulls were on board in form of Pauline Byrne, Angela Campbell, Lesley O’Sullivan, Michelle Hewitt, Claire O’Kelly, Sharon Armstrong, Deribhle Geraghty, Ann McDonnell Jo Robson along with supporting stalwarts Paul Byrne, Tyrone McNabb, Jimmy Moulds and Ed McDonnell, as well as our young “Babygulls” Bobby O’Sullivan, Abaigeal O’Sullivan, Tiarnán O’Kelly, Grace O’Kelly, and Alfie O’Kelly, who completed the Seagulls travelling family.
Having enjoyed a very pleasant flight to Chicago courtesy of Aer Lingus and having collected our bags and baggage from the Baggage Hall of O’Hare International Airport, we travelled onwards to our city centre Hotel, the Best Western, River North Hotel, and having checked in and freshened up, we decided to sample the delights that Chicago had to offer, and we soon settled in an Irish Bar, called “Fado” on Grand Avenue.
We enjoyed our night so much in “Fado”, Irish Bar, it was decided we would return the following night on the 17th of March, to “wet the shamrock” for St Patricks Day.
Before we returned to “Fado”, the group raised early on St Patrick’s day and decked out in our finest Irish Finery, we hit the streets of Chicago to share the love of the Irish.
Chicago is like many American Cities and they host their St Patrick parade over the weekend prior to the 17th of March, so we didn’t have a parade to celebrate but we did still enjoy the “Green” Chicago River, which was still green following its traditional dying green as part of the St Patrick celebrations and we also had a beautiful sunny day to enjoy.
The good weather saw the group take advantage of the river Boat tour of the Chicago River, which commenced, and finished at the historic Navy Pier as well as the Red Bus Tour before some of the more daredevil members of the group took on the Tilt Trill Ride, on the 94th Floor of the John Hancock Centre. Some of the more sensible members of the group enjoyed the spectacular 360-degree views on offer from the observation deck of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan while enjoying a St Patricks Day inspired cocktail.
The night was then celebrated to the max in the Seagulls Club House in Chicago, “Fado Irish Bar”, with some great live music, where we got introduced to the growing Religion that is “Billie Eilish”.
We’ll leave Ray “The Somerset Pirlo” D’Arcy, to explain that one.
Day 3 in Chicago saw the Seagulls begin to prepare for the trip to Detroit and it was a bit of a Train and Automobile adventure commencing with the O’Kelly and O’Sullivan clans taking to the Highways of America to take in a visit to the “Big House” in Michigan State and a life-threatening visit to Gary, Indiana, while the rest of the group boarded the Amtrak “Wolverine” to Detroit, taking in the scenic views on offer between Chicago, Pontiac, Michigan, and Ann Arbor before arriving at Detroit.
It’s fair to say the Amtrak “Wolverine” train ride was a great highlight to American visit as prior to our arrival at Union Train Station, a trip to Target, a well know grocery department store had seen some of the Shegulls stock up on numerous food items including cheese boards, grapes and other refreshments, at times the train carriage resembled food tasting event with Paul Byrne, playing the role of a Roman Emperor, as Pauline fed him his grapes and cheese!
The long Amtrak, also saw a number of the Seagulls express their long for music, especially Robert ”The Camino Grifter” Murphy and George “Skiddely” Downer, with a song that had a bit of a “Ding, Ding, Dong”, beat about it…….!
The group would once again all assemble again at our second Hotel, the Best Western Greenfield Inn, Detroit.
We couldn’t thank the staff enough at the Best Western Greenfield Inn, Detroit, who had kindly imported bottles of Guinness in advance of our arrival, and this was greatly appreciated as we enjoyed our first night in Detroit city limits.
Our first full day in Detroit saw us attend Detroit FC’s opening home fixture against Charleston Battery at the Keyworth Stadium, the same venue that was to host the Harpers AFC game vs the Ballybrack Seagulls, the day afterwards.
Word of our visit had been greeted with great excitement among the Detroit FC ownership and this was a similar case of their strong independent supporters group the Northern Guard, who invited us to join them before their home match, at the Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck and after several social beers they asked us to join them to march to the stadium, a tradition of the Northern Guard before Detroit FC games. This was a great experience for all the Seagulls with the younger members of the group enjoying the fanfare that American sports supporters bring to the party, with the only dampener to the experience being the weather as it was thundering rainfall.
At half time the Ballybrack Seagulls were guests of honour to Detroit FC and we got brought onto the pitch and introduced to the crowd as we paraded the field of the Keyworth Stadium the Detroit FC Ultras the Northern Guard set off flares and began to sing “Dirty auld Town”, a sight and sound that will live long in the memory of all in attendance from the Seagulls.
After the game, we re-joined the Northern Guard back at the Fowling Warehouse, as they celebrated Detroit’s opening win of the season by a goal to nil before the Seagulls departed to enjoy some food back at our hotel.
Finally, match day had arrived on what had been an epic trip to date.
The big thing of note that morning was a big turn in the weather, where we left the biblical rainfall from the previous day, turning into an extremely hot and sunny day.
The team and management along with the travelling band of supporters gathered in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed a lovely pre-match brunch before setting out for the Keyworth Stadium in Hamtramck to take on our host team, Harpers AFC. As alluded to earlier in the piece, this match was now two years in and it was great to finally be in a position to have the game played.
Like our trip to Southend, the Seagulls travelled without a recognised Goalkeeper, so our management team of “Uncle” Ray Downer and Noel “Nipper” Finn went once again with the man they trusted with this task in Southend, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan.
The trusted formation of the Seagulls under the direction of “Uncle” and “Nipper” is a 4-4-2.
So the back four was Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen and Gary “Gazza” McNabb, flanked by Martin “The Captain” Hewitt and Trevor “The Bev” Kavanagh, with Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick and Paul “Ozzie” Osborne providing the width to the middle four and Damien “Chopper” Wallace, along with George “Skiddely” Downer anchoring the middle third, leaving a top two of Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly and Freya “Doing it for the Girls” Downer, who following her impressive debut in Naples was making her first start for the Seagulls.
Following the pre-match formalities where the referee rang over several items that he wanted both teams to adhere to and the captains exchanged commemorative pennants, the referee produced a commemorative coin that was used for the coin toss and presented to the Seagulls on his behalf and his officials.
The Seagulls won the toss and elected to tip-off, and not long after the tip the Seagulls were forced into an early substitution with a lingering injury that came back to haunt George “Skiddely” Downer, so in came George “The Younger one” Downer as his replacement.
The pattern of the early exchanges in the game could see that Harpers were willing to allow the Seagulls a lot of possession and try to hit on a quick counter-attack so the longer the half progressed the more frustrating it was getting for the Seagulls that all our possession and dominance if the game was not being reflected on the scoreboard, so it was a great relief when the Seagulls finally secured the breakthrough when a lovely move down the right saw a sublime cross met with a perfectly timed run by Paul “Ozzie” Osborne, who headed home a built into the far corner of the Harper goal leaving their keeper flapping at the air.
This was nothing more than what the Seagulls deserved and not long after this, we struck again this time through the early substitute, George “The Younger one” Downer.
So as the half-time whistle blew, the Seagulls held the advantage on the scoreboard by 2 goals.
This didn’t stop the frustrations of the first-half dominance from boiling over during the half-time team talk, with some frank debate taking place but with these frank exchanges, also came changes to playing personally.
Damien “Chopper” Wallace feeling the effects of the Astro surface, stepped aside and Dan “Dare” D’Arcy came in for his second Seagulls cap, along with Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan coming in for cap number 9 to replace Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen.
This freshening up of the team soon paid dividends and following some intricate interplay between Dan “Dare” D’Arcy and George “The Younger one” Downer, George scored his second goal of the game and the third for the team.
The Harpers team kept battling away but it was evident that the seagulls had all the football and by midway through the second half, they had full control of the game and it was now a matter of how many could they score.
A further change was made with Trevor “The Bev” Kavanagh, making way as the Ray “The Somerset Pirlo” D’Arcy game in, with Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick dropping into the left back position and Dan “Dare” D’Arcy going out onto the right wing with “The Somerset Pirlo” taking up the number 10 position, with Robert “The Camino Grifter” Murphy also coming for cap number 8 of his Seagulls career.
This proved to be a masterstroke of substitution, as Ray “The Somerset Pirlo” D’Arcy netted the 4th goal of the day not long after his introduction.
This afternoon was proven to be a great day for the Downer family, as they dominated the scoring charts and it wasn’t long after this following a through ball from the right back position that Freya “Doing it for the Girls” Downer, using her lightening pace got herself into a one on one with the Harpers goalkeeper to calmly slot home goal number 5 on the day to open her Seagulls goal account.
This really left the result in no doubt but credit to the Harpers team, they weren’t going down without a fight and not long after the restart in a rare foray into the Seagull’s 18-yard box, Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick was deemed to have clipped the centre from Detroit as he attempted to release a strike on the Seagulls goal and the referee had no hesitation in pointing at the penalty spot.
Some say it was a dubious decision but what could be done but to accept the referee’s on-field decision and see if our goalkeeper Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan, who had really played a spectator’s role in the proceedings up to this point would get on.
The big Harper centre forward placed the ball on the penalty spot and despite his best efforts and diving the right way, Wayne “Trivago” O’Sullivan couldn’t prevent the Harpers from blotting the clean sheet copybook to get them on the scoreboard Harpers AFC 1, Ballybrack Seagulls 5.
This scored penalty saw members of the Detroit FC supporters’ group Northern Guard, who were in attendance go wide and saw the pitch soon covered in smoke from the flares they had set off to celebrate the Harpers goal!
As both teams made their way through the smoke from the flares back to the halfway line the Seagulls management team rang in a couple of final changes with Noel “Twinkle Toe” Lacey coming in for cap number 8 to replace Kevin “The Gardener” Fitzpatrick and Gary “Gazza” McNabb making way for the inclusion of the Seagulls assistant coach Noel “Nipper” Finn, as the skipper Martin Hewitt made way for Sam “H-Bomb” Henderson and the big surprise substitution of the day, Tiarnán “The Tiger” O’Kelly, coming on to make his Seagull debut in place of Paul “Ozzie” Osborne, and becoming the youngest ever Seagull and joining his Father Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly.
To mark this momentous occasion in Seagull history, Martin “The Captain” Hewitt handed over the Captaincy of the Seagulls to Tiarnán for the remaining 15 minutes.
There was still plenty of time for the Seagulls to add to the score line and this was to be the case with good play involving George “The Younger one” Downer, Dan “Dare” D’Arcy, leading to “The Somerset Pirlo” D’Arcy putting Shane “The Boyband” O’Kelly through to net the 6th goal for the Seagulls and it was long to the family dynasty scoring was capped off by Tiarnán “The Tiger” O’Kelly, when he confidently slotted home after being brilliantly set up by George “The Younger one” Downer, to seal a 7 goal to 1 victory for the Seagulls and top of his mightily impressive debut.
This game was all about promoting diversity and inclusion through the power of football and what better occasion to see the Shegulls hand out their inaugural Player of the Match Award, so as both the Harpers AFC and the Ballybrack Seagulls gathered for some post-match refreshments in the Whiskey in a Jar Bar in Hamtramck, the Shegulls under the chair of Lesley O’Sullivan, announced that the inaugural player of the match awarded was jointly won by George “The Younger one” Downer and Tiarnán “The Tiger” O’Kelly, with some emotional post awards speeches delivered, particularly by our hosts who were blown away by our respect and what it meant to them for travelling all the way to Detroit to play this game.
I think is fair to say, the post-match reception with the Harpers was one of the highlights of the trip, with two groups from ranging and diverse backgrounds brought together by the common love of Football, some that’s hard to beat.
So having shared a football field and shared some beers and tails, the Ballybrack Seagulls left their hosts and headed back to our hotel to finish out the night with a nice meal and nightcap to reflect on what was a spectacular day in Seagull history.
The following day we awoke to our Penultimate day in Detroit but it was a busy one ahead, as it was time to take in a bit of culture around Detroit, so what do you do when you’re in the “Motor City”, well you take a trip to the Ford Motor Factory, at the Rouge, where Ford previous made the famed Mustang but now manufacturer the F-150 Truck and having visited the Ford Motor Factory, at the Rouge, we then took in the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation before heading in Downtown Detroit for something to eat and drink as we prepared to Little Caesars Arena, to catch an NBA Game between the Detroit Pistons and the Portland Trail Blazers.
What a way to end our trip to Detroit, to fully emerge ourselves in the history of Detroit and to enjoy one of the best and greatest American past times, and a professional NBA Game.
At the end of the game, the Seagulls got the opportunity to get onto the Court for a Free Throw, which was a brilliant end to a great night’s entertainment, the “Captain” nailing the throw on behalf of the Seagulls.
So here was the day everyone was regretting, the final day of mini-American adventure as we prepared to travel back to Chicago via the Amtrak “Wolverine” from Detroit, with the O’Kelly and O’Sullivan clans taking to the road to return their hired minibus and for all the group to meet up once again at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago before board Aer Lingus EI124 back to Dublin and await what was next up for the travelling Ballybrack Seagulls.
A big thank you to our hosts Harpers AFC for what was a brilliant trip, and we wish you all well.
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