47 weeks. 329 days. 7896 hours, 473,760 minutes. 14 Seconds. FC Irlande Running Club… ahem… FC Irlande II were finally back in the famous Green for a Super Saturday at Nossegem and boy did it feel gooooood! First up in the new campaign was a tough test against Wong As. 1, who rocked up with plenty of due respect having got the better of the IIs in the previous league meetings.
First up a bit of housekeeping – the main headline of the off season undoubtedly being our legendary Captain Das tan hanging up the armband and opting to mix it with his seamen again after two glorious years of leadership (2019-2012). Team Magma founder Ryan “faces” the difficult task of filling Dastan’s boots, alongside our head coach John-Simon. No prizes for guessing that pre-season involved a lot of running with these two at the helm. On the transfer front it’s been a quiet window for the IIs so far, although the board have always been clear that retaining the existing talent in the squad and tying the players down to long-term deals has been the main objective. Nonetheless, our scouting network here are always on the lookout for top quality additions and talks with several targets are at an advanced stage, so don’t go to bed just yet…
With several injuries and a number of the squad given extra time off after returning late from international duty, it was a depleted second team squad for the opening game. When the team news came in it was confirmed the IIs were rolling out their new-look 4-1-4-1 formation. Thomas Earl passed a late bowel check to be passed fit enough for the clash in the pivotal anchor man role, while veteran CB and former IIs skipper ‘Mister’ Alessandro rolled back the years to line up alongside his new skipper Ryan at centre back. With star striker and reigning POTY Amadou unavailable for this one, our top goal scorer from pre-season Ionut filled in up front. Third-team new boy Matt (not Nate) answered the late distress call for reinforcements and joined our player-coach for the day on the bench. Johnny Sparks was looking to make his first competitive appearance since that fateful day in Nossegem almost three years ago. Josh retained the number-1 shirt to start in goal, but with that awful monkey still on his back – the second team are yet to win a game with him in goal. The stats don’t lie, Joshy…
FC Irlande kicked the game off and went about their business in a meaningful way, setting the pace of the game, playing on the front foot and applying plenty of pressure. Benji was causing all sorts of problems and having his own personal nutmeg competition on the left wing, notching up three by half time by my count. Lolo was getting similar joy down the right side with that silky left peg, and Ionut was his usual bullish self, giving the Wong defenders a handful and a half to contend with. The three attackers, supported by advanced midfield duo Julian and Luis, all combined well to create some excellent opportunities that we were regrettably unable to convert. Luis also battered one clean over the safety netting into the car park for six. The other big flashpoint in the first half came after a tangle between Ale and the Wong striker threatened to boil over, but a booking apiece was enough to defuse any further beef between the two. Overall it was a feisty but good-spirited first half, with both sides getting stuck in and giving as good as they got. Nonetheless, it was the IIs who were frustrated to be going into the second half with the deadlock still unbroken.
We were playing the second half in our bogey end so knew it would take a big performance to come away with the coveted three points. Tommo was typically man-mountainous in holding midfield, while Hadri and Nate both defended vigilantly and broke forward from the wing-back positions to join the attack and pin the Wong side in. Before long, John-Simon gave the fans what they wanted and entered “centre-stage”, taking to the field like a duck/fish to/out of water (delete as necessary). After plenty of hustle and bustle and half chances here and there, the decisive moment of the game arrived. Having just made an excellent last-ditch, ball + man tackle moments before, the referee decided that two was one too many for poor Ale. As the Wong striker bore down on goal from wide on the goal line, Ale cleaned out both ball (first) and man and the referee called for a pen. We carefully managed to avoid any pesky encroachment and Josh did really well to get a hand on the spot kick, but it was too well-struck to keep out. One-nil Wong, with a good twenty minutes to play. It became a pretty frantic game from there on, with Wong happy to soak up Irlande pressure. To freshen up the attack, Matt and a semi-fit Clemente came in on the wings and despite sustaining enough pressure to find an equaliser, we were unable to rescue the more-than-deserved point. Disappointing as the result was, it was also a very encouraging first performance overall against a canny outfit and we will build from here. Josh, your first taste of the changing victory celebrations is coming next week – promise!
Man of the Match went to the imperious Thomas Earl, who even at 75% health was the best player on the park. Also a big “hand” to Ale who had an excellent game and was unfortunate to be on the wrong end of the 50-50ish penalty decision. It was a quiet night in the library after the game, with everyone’s dignity, bodies and personal belongings well and truly intact. We save the real partying for the first victory!