Monday 9th March
The boys were up early once again this morning. They left for practice at the rink in a blizzard. They had an escort again today, this time though it was a snow plough clearing the path in front of the bus in order for it to get down the road. They came back a lot happier about the ice; the local Roman must be learning his trade quickly! They didn’t seem as tired, perhaps they are acclimatising to the altitude. They had to rest up in the afternoon in order to save their energy for the big game later that night. The weather was extremely bad today; blizzards, wind – you name it we had it! The Kit Bag arrived and the timing couldn’t have been better. I’ve never seen any grown man as happy in my entire life as Jon Crawley was today! Finally he could show these boys what it was like to be in a real Team Ireland dressing room. The lads were also delighted as they had their full kit available and they would get to wear their jerseys with pride.
We (the parents) got our minibus and headed into town for the first match and the Official Opening Ceremony, which we thought was before the games! The ride to the rink is always a little more comforting when you decide not to look over the side of the road. Although calling them roads might be a little stretch as any landslides or rocks that come off the mountains stay where they land and the drivers just swerve around them. Potholes, and it might be safe to call them craters they are that big, are as common on these roads as they are back home! Anyway, we eventually made it to Erzurum town and made our way in to the GSIM Ice Arena for the first game. Iceland was playing Bularia. We were early as were all the local school kids who decided to practice their English on us and they had no intention of going away. Just a quick word on the game that was in progress, Iceland looks good!
The stadium started to fill up before the end of the first game. Although I’m not surprised as it was free in. Take note ice rinks in Ireland! The stadium as I said yesterday is brand new and it seats 2,000 people. Everything about it is state of the art except it has no wheelchair access. The toilets are “local” style with the exception of two “European” style toilets. I’ll leave it to your imagination what “local” style is like! After the first game and just before the start of the second game, between Turkey and Ireland, we moved our camp over to sit behind the Irish bench and get the flag out. Meanwhile, the crowd continued to pour in, all in support of the host nation. The local VIP’s arrived for the opening ceremony along with a barrage of local TV cameras and photographers. Derek Tuite eat your heart out! It was then that we got some idea of the noise that would be created by the Turkish supporters for the rest of the evening. There had to be at least 3,000 of them and they were still coming… When the Irish lads came out for the warm up, they got the loudest booing ever but the place absolutely vibrated when the Turkish players started to warm up. Extremely intimidating for the young lads! Well I mean it was until the 11 crazy Irish fans had warmed up! We were going mad waving flags and screaming at the top of our lungs. Why all the Turks thought we were absolutely mad, and even if I do say so myself, we gave them a run for their money in the supporters stakes!
I’m sure you’ve all seen the score line and the statistics but it doesn’t reflect the great effort put in by our boys. Stand up parents because let me tell you, you all have sons to be really proud off! An inspiration to every other team in Ireland. Any team would have been delighted to have the financial support the Turks had. They were very friendly and generous in throwing sweets down to our bench form the stands. Security saw an end to that fairly quickly. Nevertheless, the game carried on at a frantic pace with end to end hockey and in fairness our boys never dropped their heads. The refereeing was good, no complaints there. The drive back to the hotel was lovely, very dark and slippery but it certainly wasn’t slow! These bus drivers have no fear!! Anyway, on to tomorrow and Iceland…