European dream comes true thanks to hard graft
European Champions, that has a nice ring to it, doesn't it.?
Gerry Smith agreed as did his squad of heroes that left every drip of energy on the Tallaght pitch after their pursuit of UEFA Regions Cup glory shifted from dream to reality.
This was the amateurs and Smith's Holy Grail. The Irish have been 16 years chasing this particular title, coming close, a silver medal in 2011 in Portugal when the gods conspired against Ireland in the sweltering heat of Braga.
On Saturday, though, those same gods decided to smile down on the Boys in Green, leaving Smith emotional in his post-match interview.
The news that two of Croatia's main men were out, one through suspension and one through injury, certainly set the crowd abuzz beforehand.
In the end, though, this success didn't need any external assistance. This was a win that was born and bred from within.
After the heartbreak of Braga, Smith made a promise. "We said then we'd be back. I knew once we qualified out of the group in Hungary that we would be walking up the steps," he said.
The hard work hasn't stopped for the Irish staff. He added: "Gerry Davis was up working on the video until quarter past three this morning and we were up and at it at half eight again. All week it has been football, football and more football. We have played ten competitive matches and won ten. We have scored 27 or 28 goals and conceded two.
"It was great to see so many here, the families and people from around the leagues. We have gold now, we have a European championship and time to kick on at all levels."
The win means Smith is only the second Irish coach to steer his country to European success, and the first at amateur level. Smith was part of the back room staff when Brian Kerr did his underage double back in the 1990s, the Irish head coach now joins Kerr in a very exclusive club.
Defensive rock Noel Murray uttered what the players were thinking. "Unbelievable, it just unbelievable," he said.
The Tolka Rovers defender was one of the outstanding players in the tournament as he rose to the challenge along side Paul Breen. "It has been a lot of hard work all week, a great effort by the players and this makes it all worth while," he addded.
Breen, Murray and the immaculate Kevin Lynch along with skipper Ken Hoey provided a defensive rock on which the best of Europe were snashed.
Hoey, who along with goal scorer Davy Lacey, Breen, Ross Carrig, Chris Higgins, Brendan O'Connell and Lar Dunne were survivors from that defeat in 2011 summed up his feelings: "We finally did it. The crowd came out in force today and they really got behind us and got me through those last few minutes."
It was a historic day for Hoey as the Rockmount man became the first Irish man to lift the UEFA Regions Cup and the first to lift a UEFA trophy on home soil, but skipper didn't forget those who matter the most. "It's brilliant result, best I will ever get. It has been hard on my family, on my partner Stacey, my kids Lauren and Kyle, they have had to miss out on a lot.
"It is an honour to be captain of this team, but there are a lot of captains in that dressing room."
uefa regions cup