Last year, when I took a team to the World Championships with the promise that Ireland Lacrosse was not going away, I really don't think anyone believed me. But surprise, surprise… we're still here. And, even more surprising, we're in Ireland!
This summer's tour was designed to promote lacrosse in Dublin and Limerick. Dublin was chosen due to the sheer number of universities in a very small area, and the availability of students to recruit to try this sport. And Limerick was chosen because the University of Limerick is a sports teaching college, and has some magnificent sports facilities, and the athletes to go along with those facilities.
I must admit that I was prepared for the worst when I left my home on Long Island. What the heck was I thinking? I'm a woman, promoting a men's sport, that I never played (I can't even shoot a lacrosse ball!), in a country that I had never even been in, with a group of athletes that, although they are all Irish citizens, most had never been to Ireland either. We had no idea what to expect…but what we found was beyond our wildest expectations…and so this is the tale of Ireland Lacrosse's first tour of Ireland.
All team members were expected to assemble at the Dublin airport no later than noon on Sunday, August 9, 2003…that would mean that I would be there before everyone to meet and greet them all. In an ideal world I would've been there…in the real world of airline delays, and layovers…I arrived in Dublin at 1:30 pm…an hour and a half after the bus was supposed to leave the Dublin airport to transport us all into the city center. I thought for sure that they would have left me to fend for myself (I know that I would have left them if they showed up late)…but to my extreme pleasure, I walked out of Customs only to find my 25 lacrosse players, my 2 coaches, my trainer, and 1 of the 3 referees (has anyone seen Dick Pepper?) standing there with an Irish Flag waving on the end of a long pole. Talk about a sight for sore eyes!
We were delivered to our accommodations in the Temple Bar section of Dublin, which was less than 3 blocks from Trinity College, our playing ground for the next 5 days. Curiosity surpassed the need for sleep…and most of us wandered over to Trinity that very afternoon to see what the fields looked like, and to take in all the city had to offer.
I arrived back at my apartment only to find Brett Davy, former UNC All-American, and NLL lax star, waiting for me. Brett had been put in touch with me through USLacrosse Director and UNC lax alum Steve Stenersen. Brett has been living in Dublin since April. I'm not sure Brett knew what to expect when he heard we were coming to Dublin for exhibition games, and lacrosse clinics. But I, of course, asked him to suit up and play for us…and then I asked him how long he was staying in Ireland and if he'd be willing to coach one of the teams that I wanted to establish in the area. I must tell you, Brett did way more than suit up for Ireland, he played host/tour guide/friend to us everyday. Thanks Brett!
Monday morning the team was expected on the field by 10:00am for their first practice session together in more than a year. And, thankfully, my other 2 referees arrived safely in Dublin…and Dick Pepper was found, for a little while, anyway.
The crowds that we attracted for just our practice sessions were amazing…and the most often asked question was "can we touch the ball?" Everyone wanted to know how hard the ball was, how much it weighed, and how the players were able to throw it so hard.
It was clear to us…by the number of very brave individuals that were sitting behind the goals without any fear whatsoever, that they had no clue how much it hurts to get hit by a lacrosse ball, never mind the damage it could inflict on them if they happened to get hit by one (even when warned in advance). Have you ever seen Brett Davy shoot…or John Daly or Frank Luciano or Sean O'Brien? They could kill the average bystander with one of their shots!
Flyers were distributed throughout the college, the pubs in Dublin, and to anyone and everyone that would listen to us promoting the next day's game, inviting interested parties to participate in a clinic, and shooting session on my experienced goalies.
We expected a few people to show up, but what happened was typical of Ireland Lacrosse. We had a full blown crowd! When it came time for the clinic, we put lacrosse sticks into the hands of hurling players, and within 10 minutes, these newest lacrosse players were scoring on my "experienced" goalies!
The age range was from the youngest, an 8-year old who after a short tutorial had learned to "stall it on the sidewall," to the oldest of Trinity and UCD college students/hurling players interested in participating in this sport in the hurling off-season. They felt that the stick skills for lacrosse would keep their stick skills for hurling sharp in the off season which is just what we were thinking! The hurling players had to be reminded, however, that they couldn't use their hands on the ball, and that there is no "3-step rule" in lacrosse.
I have arranged with these students to set up teams at both Trinity and UCD at the start of this school year, which should be taking place as you read this. I have also spoken to some contacts at the primary and secondary schools in the Dublin area, and I am going to meet with the headmasters of some of these schools to arrange to send one of my coaches into the schools once a week to teach lacrosse skills during PE classes.
I cannot even try to tell you that lacrosse was the only fun that we were having. Dublin is an unbelievable city, and as hard as the teams, and coaches, and referees worked on the field, that is as hard as they partied off the field.
There are few women that can say that they have been escorted to dinner every night by a group of "Vikings" or have danced the night away with 30 men, or have had "Shockey" wait up for her every night to make sure that she got back to her apartment safely (no matter how late it was, there he was waiting on the stairs for me!)
I had a second mission in Dublin. I had to find an apartment because I am relocating to Dublin within 6 weeks of this tour, and I needed a place to live. I did not find an apartment, but I'm not worried because I found a whole group of new friends, and people willing to take me and my lacrosse equipment in for a few weeks until I find a place to live. That is what the people in Dublin are like…like family.
We left Dublin on Friday, August 15th and drove west to Limerick. It really is only about 140 miles from Dublin to Limerick, but the trip seemed to take forever, through some of the most exquisite countryside ever to be seen.
The University of Limerick can rival some of the best sports schools in the US. It has amazing facilities, and the grass playing fields are like putting greens…smooth green grass carpet. The players and coaches all stayed at the dorms at the university…and I quote…"sweeeet!" Needless to say, the athlete part of each and every player came out in full force in Limerick.
We were introduced to some amazing people at the University, specifically Neasa O'Donnell, Sports Administrator. Neasa came and met us on the field the first day, and advised us that for the next day's game that she had sent an email out to all of the university's staff and professors to come and watch the sport that claims to be the fastest game on two feet. I believe she even said to them that we claim to be faster than hurling. Needless to say, Neasa and I got along famously as we both like to stir things up a bit.
Her challenge to the University paid off. Just about every staff member spent their lunch hour out on the lacrosse field watching our game.
We left a set of goals at the University of Limerick, and I have a promise from Neasa that a team will be established to use those goals. As soon as I'm settled in to my new home in Dublin, I am making a second trip out to the west coast to go over the details of the sport with her.
I left the team on early Tuesday morning as I was traveling over to Amsterdam for the E-lacrosse tournament, but my departing words to them were…"Thank you gentlemen, you have made history! You are Ireland's first World Lacrosse Team playing Lacrosse in Ireland."