FOOTBALL | Dundalk Gardai find the going tough at Mallorca Tournament
Results didn’t quite go their way, but the Dundalk Garda team put in a brave performance at the recent Mallorca International Tournament held in Santa Ponsa.
The tournament, which was semi-pro, proved to be a big step up in class for both of the Irish representative teams from Dundalk and Donegal.
With the majority of other countries involved used to playing futsal, it proved to be a steep learning curve for the Irish lads.
Placed in Group E, a seven-team pool, Dundalk were fixed to play on the afternoon of the second day of competition.
Dundalk were already aware of the mammoth task which lay ahead having witnessed their Irish counterparts, Donegal, play earlier that morning.
Donegal finished their group by drawing just one game and losing the other five, albeit by small margins. They also managed to score only once which was something that caused concern.
Baptism of fire!
Dundalk began their group fixtures with a game against the previous year’s runners-up, Jordan.
If this wasn’t enough, the temperature hit 29 degrees, literally making it a baptism of fire for Dundalk!
It proved to be something of a wake-up call as Jordan showed some unbelievable quality and, despite Dundalk’s best efforts, ran out comfortable 6–0 winners in the end.
The Jordan team went on to inflict similar scorelines on three other teams but still only finished second in the group. They had big wins in the last 16 and quarter-finals before going out in the semi-final. They finished the tournament in third place.
Getting to grips
In game two, Dundalk faced Maastricht from Holland. The standard was a slight step down from the Jordanians but despite having a number of chances Dundalk struggled to find the target.
They were, however, beginning to get to grips with the game of futsal in general and after a good effort, the Dundalk side was beaten 2–0.
Off the mark
Game three was against Swiss side Aargau, who drew their previous game in the group.
It was at this stage that Dundalk started to find their way but, again, they were unable to find the net.
Fortunately, due to some good defending and some fine goalkeeping, Dundalk held out for a 0–0 draw and put their first point on the board.
Catalunya were next up in game four. Having won their first three games, the Barcelona side looked like contenders to win the competition.
It looked another ominous task for Dundalk but they put in their best performance of the day.
While under pressure for long periods, Dundalk also started to play some good football and create chances. At the other end, Catalunya peppered the Dundalk goal but were denied by some fantastic saves.
Spurred on by the support of other teams at the venue, Dundalk got a great chance when the Spanish keeper was dispossessed just inside his own half.
With his goal wide open, the keeper cynically rugby tackled a Dundalk player to the ground, preventing the goal from being scored and receiving a red card for his actions. However, it proved worthwhile as Dundalk couldn’t convert the free kick.
Dundalk found themselves playing against four men for three minutes but their numerical advantage didn’t last as they were also reduced to four when one of their players received a yellow card.
As time ticked on it looked like Dundalk might still get an unlikely result but they were hit with a late sucker punch when a brilliantly worked free kick from the Spanish side was finished to the net from close range.
This was a huge blow to the Dundalk side after a fantastic effort and judging by the reactions of the Spaniards following the full-time whistle it was clear they were well aware of how fortunate they were.
Catalunya went on to top Group E but they were knocked out in the last 16.
Late goals win it for Bolton
Even though their hopes of qualifying from the group were now over, Dundalk still had two more games to play.
Energy levels were dropping but game five was against English rivals, Bolton, who at this stage were also out of contention.
In a highly entertaining game between the two sides, Bolton edged it on a scoreline of 3–1.
Dundalk scored their first goal of the tournament when Gerard Blaine smacked home a cracking free kick from just inside their opponents’ half to draw level but Bolton went on to score two late goals to clinch the victory.
The final curtain
Dundalk’s final group game was against French side IPA 91 who knew that a win would see them qualify as one of the best third-placed teams.
Despite this, Dundalk put up another brave display against one of the better sides in the competition.
Blaine’s second goal of the tournament left Dundalk 2–1 behind before two late strikes from the French gave them a flattering 4–1 win in the end. IPA 91 went on to be beaten by the eventual winners in the last 16.
This brought an end to what was a highly entertaining day of soccer at a fantastically organised tournament.
While results didn’t go Dundalk’s way, they put up some great displays against extremely strong opposition and the experience will prove invaluable. Both Irish teams ended up with very similar results, both drawing a game each in their groups.
Considering the opposition, it could be argued that had Dundalk a bit more experience and some luck on the day they could well have taken a couple of wins in the group.
As it stood, there was little argument that the three strongest teams in the group had qualified.
The Gardai may not have enjoyed the success that Stephen Kenny’s team enjoyed in Europe last year, but having a specially commissioned Dundalk FC kit to wear at the tournament meant they were recognised by other teams.
It was commented on a number of times, most notably the Catalan team from Barcelona who pointed out the ‘Irish champions jersey’.
Members of the Catalan team asked about it following the game between the two sides, putting some perspective on what Dundalk FC have done to put Irish soccer on the map.