Tralee at the ICG Games 2017
The Tralee International Children's Games teams returned from Kaunas, Lithuania on Sunday evening with great memories of shared experiences on and off the playing fields. The Tralee teams had performed with distinction in soccer, basketball, judo and athletics while the travelling supporters/family members were a tremendous assistance to coaches and teams. Incredibly Tralee had a full delegation of 50 members at the event and the largest number of supporters of any town or city at the Kaunas Games. All helped to further Tralee's reputation at the Games and produce an experience that will linger in the memory for all athletes, coaches and supporters.
Early days in Kaunas:
Tralee arrived in Kaunas late on Thursday night (June 29th) from Shannon airport and arrived by bus to their accommodation in the Hof Hotel in central Kaunas. On Friday everyone participated in a walking tour of Kaunas city, with its magnificent pedestrianised streets, cultural centres, churches, shops and museums. Unfortunately the weather was poor on the day and took from the overall experience and in many ways the weather throughout the week was typically Irish, with sunshine and showers predominant.
On a rain free and sunny Saturday the delegation visited Trakai Castle, which was an early point of fortification and power for the dukes of the region. It is a truly beautiful restored building, appearing to rest gently in the calm waters of a very large lake, with much for the visitor to experience in its rooms, passageways and historical presentations. The fighting of the knights and their good humoured explanations of how best to succeed with an opponent drew large and appreciative audiences. Prior to departure to Vilnius, the capitol of Lithuania, the Tralee contingent were served a local drink and local dish known as kibin, which for all the world was like a Cornish pasty and tasted delicious.
Vilnius was like Kaunas in terms of what is referred to as the "old town" and the "new town", terms which mark the recent economic development in both cities since their freedom from the Soviet Union in 1990 and their entry to the European Union in more recent times. The pride of the Lithuanian people in their relatively new found freedom and in the present day control of their own destiny was very evident throughout and their past struggles remain crystal clear within the national consciousness. As the two major cities of Lithuania, both of which have served as the country's capitol at various times in its history, they serve as a monument to the past and a symbol of a brighter future for the people of the nation.
On Sunday the tour to the Open Air Museum of Lithuania in Rumsiskes was greatly hampered by a constant drizzle. Nevertheless the mode of life, works and traditions of the peasants and townspeople of Lithuania's five ethnographic regions was still in evidence for all to see and much of it was reminiscent of our own customs and traditions around farming, lace making, small country schools and early Christian churches and symbols.
On Monday a visit to Uno Park-an adventure forest park which contained over 100 climbing events and five different trails graded in terms of difficulty and suitable for all ages and levels- will remain one of the highlights of Tralee's stay in Kaunas. Athletes, coaches, parents and family members took with gusto to the challenges presented by the various climbs and in the main completed their course. In hindsight it may be said that the younger the child the less fear and greater balance was evident, but nevertheless it may also be said that the climbing trails succeeded in bringing the child within out of everybody. It was a sight to behold in some!
The Kaunas Games:
On Tuesday, July 4th, the various teams from the 88 cities represented at the Games by the participating 1,750 athletes began to arrive in Kaunas. The Tralee teams were bussed to Kaunas University where they were accommodated and had their meals for the next 6 days. Wednesday was a training day for all athletes, with each team allocated a training time at their competition venues. That evening the Opening Ceremony was held in the Kaunas Sports Hall and televised live on TV 3 Lithuania.
It was spectacular in its own way-if a little too long overall- with many performances of local Lithuanian dancing and singing by the stars of the country's music industry. The atmosphere in the hall, with athletes, coaches and supporters present was magnificent and the biggest cheer of the night on the introduction of visiting teams came from the Irish supporters, suitably decked out in tricolour paint and Irish flags. The TV cameras and the local paparazzi could not resist the Tralee supporters, who revelled in the attention!
Competitions began on Thursday and all Tralee teams were in action. On the Track Sean and Tim Pollmen-Daamen both finished 4th in their respective heats of the 1500m in times of 4:34.83 and 4:42.72 respectively, which placed Sean in the A Final, and Tim in the B Final on Friday. Tim ran first and was just pipped at the post into second place in a time of 4:33:20-9 seconds up on his heat time-a remarkable achievement. Sean finished 11th in the A Final in a time of 4:36:39 and both boys can be really proud of their performances as they were a year younger than most of their competitors. In the 400m heat Basit Oyejambi ran well and finished 4th in a time of 56:94, which did not allow him to advance.
In basketball the Tralee team of Mary O Connell, Aoife Dillane, Rachel Kilgallen and Rebecca Conway played in the first ever 3V3 competition at the Children's Games. The game is decided over 10 minutes or first to score 21 points and essentially played within the half court. They suffered a heavy defeat in their opening game 17-5 to hosts Kaunas but bounced back to defeat Tripoli of the Lebanon in their second game on the same score line. In their final group game against Raanana of Israel they went under by just one point (5-4) after both teams had battled hard for a quarter final placing.
The team then went into a group to finalise places from 9th to 16th, and defeated Netanya from Israel 17-6, to put the previous day's disappointment behind them. Playing with renewed confidence the girls overcame Darmstadt of Germany 15-4 in what was their best overall display, and then went on to defeat Kitchener of Canada in their final game. This gave the girls a final placing of 9th overall in Tralee's first outing in 3V3 basketball, winning four games from six.
In Judo Sean Murphy was first into the fray and was thrown ippon by his Lithuanian opponent; his second fight against a Polish athlete, which lasted the full four minutes, ended with his opponent having scored 2 wazari before time ran out. Both bouts were hard fought and intense but Sean was out of the U 45 kg competition. Chris Palmer followed and won his first bout with an impressive throw for ippon against an Israeli opponent. He lost by 2 wazari to a Swedish opponent after the clock had timed out. He then had a bronze medal fight against another Israeli but lost in an osaekomi hold down of 20 secs. Marko Kauric lost to an Israeli opponent in round 1 with an ippon, while his Slovenian opponent in Round two trapped him after a tremendous battle and won the match on an osaekomi hold down. All three judokas performed with intensity and determination but just fell a little short on the day.
The football team won their two group games on the Thursday, 12-0 against a weak Garliava of Lithuania in game 1, with Irish internationals Sean Mc Grath and Sean Kennedy scoring 4 goals apiece, ably assisted by Leo Gaxha (2),who was one of the most accomplished and hard working of our team in all games, Soni Ramani and Philip Evans, the youngest member of our team in Kaunas. Game 2 against Pesnica of Slovenia ended with a 6-1 final score line, having been tied at 1-1 at half time. It was very tight in the first half with Pesnica taking the lead in the 3rd minute, levelled on 15 minutes by Mc Grath. Once the team scored their second and third in the second half Pesnica seemed to crumble and Tralee, powered on by Junior Ankoma-the team's most consistent player at the Games- and Kevin Goulding went on to win 6-1, with all six goals coming from Kennedy and Mc Grath (3 each). The final group game against Kecskemet of Hungary on Friday morning and ended with a 3-2 victory for Tralee to top the group. Padraig Hilliard was sound in goal throughout and was unlucky not to stop the second goal scored from a rebound after a great save late in the game. Once more Kennedy and Mc Grath (2) were the scorers, with Soni Rramani having a top class game in the middle of the park.
The quarter final saw Tralee paired against Sopron, another of the Hungarian teams. Tralee lost this game 4-2 and so exited the competition but the game will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. The lack of sportsmanship displayed by players and officials from Sopron, their win at all costs attitude, the rash of late and dangerous tackles which were never addressed by the referee throughout, and the constant intimidation and trash talking of their opponents, all left a very bad taste in the mouth afterwards.
Irish international Sean Mc Grath had to retire from the game with a knee injury after 15 minutes after a tackle from the goalkeeper which was a stonewall penalty, but never given; Sean Kennedy was the recipient of numerous tackles throughout, some of which were deserving of red cards, and like his fellow international Mc Grath ended up in hospital after the game. Both returned to Tralee in plaster, Kennedy with a cast on his ankle, Mc Grath with a full length cast to immobilise his knee. Tralee ICG intend to write to the Technical Commission of the ICG governing body to complain the lack of officiating and sportsmanship in the match.
Tralee fell behind twice in the match, but each time levelled through Sean Kennedy, whose performance was incredible in the circumstances, and especially after Mc Grath's injury. All of the team responded magnificently to the situation and none more so than Goulding, Gaxha and Rramani. The final two goals were conceded in the fourth last and final minutes. The competition was eventually won by Kecskemet, who had earlier been beaten in the group game by Tralee.
Tralee ICG secretary Mike Culloty said that the overall experience for the teams and supporters remained a positive one despite this one particular game: "It is true that this was a disappointing match, a display of complete lack of sportsmanship. In our 13 years taking teams to the Games this was easily our worst experience on the field of play. However the overall experience of good sportsmanship in competition, of Lithuanian history and culture in our early days in Kaunas, of the wonderful people and their hospitality, and of the significant contribution by our athletes and supporters which enhanced the Games experience of others, will eventually be what is remembered by all. It was fabulous to have so many parents and families with us and they were a constant source of support and help to our athletes and coaches, who once again did a tremendous job supervising and caring for the children. It should be noted that the parents also provided us with many moments of good humour and a bit of craic throughout the week".
The Tralee ICG teams were coached by Liam Culloty, Paul Dolan, Paula Henry and Danny Roche; the head of delegation was John Byrne and all five did a wonderful job of caring for the children at the Games University accommodation and at all relevant events. The teams representing Tralee and Ireland at the Games were:
Soccer: Sean Mc Grath (Park FC), Philip Evans, Leo Gaxha, Junior Ankomah, Sean Kennedy, Soni Rramani, (Tralee Dynamos), Padraig Hilliard, (Castleisland FC), Kevin Goulding (Ratoo Rovers)
Basketball: Rachel Kilgallen, Aoife Dillane, Mary O Connell, Rebecca Conway (Tralee Imperials)
Judo: Chris Palmer, Sean Murphy, Marco Antonio Kauric (Kerry School of Judo)
Athletics: Basit Oyejambi, (Tralee Harriers), Sean Pollmen-Daamen, Tim Pollmen-Daamen (An Riocht)
Tralee ICG acknowledges the support and extends their appreciation to all who helped in any way to make participation at the event possible for these young athletes. Thank you.