Amsterdam GAC travel with intent for Leinster JFC
By John Harrington
Parnell Park in Dublin will be the scene of multiple family reunions this Saturday afternoon.
European champions Amsterdam GAC play St. Marks in the first round of the AIB Leinster Club Junior Football Championship, and the game represents a great opportunity for their players to connect with parents, siblings, and friends as well as play a championship match of real consequence in Ireland.
“Everyone's families will be coming from all over the country to support us and it'll be great for them too because they probably hear about all these matches and trainings that we do, but they don't actually know any of the players in the team, so I think we're looking forward to that aspect of it as well,” Amsterdam captain, Robert Butler, told GAA.ie.
“My parents will be there so for me personally it's great to get that feeling back. When you move over to Europe you're almost wondering if you'll ever get that opportunity again to play in a championship game with them there, so to get that opportunity is great and we're really looking forward to that.”
Playing a match back home in Ireland obviously represents a logistical as well as financial challenge for the Netherlands-based team, and they’ve had to get creative to make sure all their panel plus some supporters make it to Dublin.
“Yeah, it's basically, trains, planes and automobiles,” says Butler. “We have I think 30 lads in total. Throw in some girlfriends and other people that are involved with the club that want to watch us coming over as well.
“To reduce costs we have some players hosting people that live around the Dublin area. A few people staying in hotels, some people are saying with parents and then they'll drive to the game in the morning.
“So, yeah, we'll all meet each other at Parnell Park, do the warm-up, and get ready for throw-in!”
Rising to a challenge is something that comes naturally to the Amsterdam players by now.
Their training venue on the outskirts of Amsterdam requires a significant round-trip for most players, and they don’t have the sort of facilities or support that most club players in Ireland would take for granted.
Everyone mucks in as much as they can in a variety of different ways, be it coaching, logistics, or fund-raising.
“Two of our players, Damien Ahern and Cathal Kenny, are the player-managers, but we all try and chip in and we're all part it,” says Butler.
“Some of us are part of committees, some lads wash the jerseys, make the tea, bake the scones, whatever is needed.
“There's challenges with that also because you can't fully focus on football, but there's also benefits to it because I think it does tighten the group as a whole and it makes you want to succeed.
“We are realistic too with people in terms of the commitment required. Everyone has to work. Everyone has life outside of football also, so this is a commitment.
“I mean, for us to train every Wednesday, that can be four hours altogether by the time you leave home and come back. We don't have the luxury of a local pitch like you have in a parish.
“We don't have a strength and conditioning coach, we don't have a dietician, so we have to look after that ourselves but we're adults as well. We understand people have their own lives to live, and people have moved over here for mostly for their careers.
“This is, I would say, a very big aspect of people's life outside of work over here. This is a community for most people and I think it's reflected in the football too. We train hard and then we enjoy ourselves after.”
As with every GAA club abroad, the social nexus that Amsterdam GAC provide their members with is a huge part of their appeal.
But they take their football seriously too and have been the dominant team on the continent in recent years, winning five of the last seven championships.
A Galway SFC winner with Salthill-Knocknacarra in 2012, Butler is one of a number of Amsterdam players who have played to a high-level and are ambitious about continuing to drive standards in the club.
“I'm fairly green in terms of European football, but I do have to say that since I transferred over I have been impressed by the standard, particularly this year,” says Butler, who works for packaging company, Smurfit Kappa.
“We had two very good games against Luxembourg and Madrid and I do believe that the standard will continue to get better obviously as more and more people emigrate and Gaelic Games gets bigger and bigger throughout Europe and the rest of the World.
“Maybe the pandemic has helped that, but this really does feel like a club this year. We’ve had 30 at training every night and we train as hard as we can for a team that's here. Honestly, I'm 28 now, but this would have to be one of my most enjoyable years of football ever.
“I think it's just natural that if you have guys that have played at a high level and they're playing with other guys that have played at a high level that you continue to try and push the standards, and that's what we try and do.”
Saturday’s match against St. Marks is a journey into the unknown for Butler and his team-mates.
They’ve prepared as well as they can, but will have to overcome some obvious disadvantages if they’re to pull off what would be a historic victory.
“For us to try and organize a challenge game we'd have to drive two or three hours and now with the Covid situation we don't have that luxury of challenge games,” says Butler.
“So, we rely very much on A versus B or in-house games against each other. That's also I think why there's been a big focus on training because that's our only opportunity really to test each other and try and improve because we don't have the luxury of having games.
“We have an idea of what St. Mark's will be like, all we know is we're going to have to play probably your best game of the season to even be able to compete.”
Rising to a challenge comes naturally to everyone involved with Amsterdam GAC. Expect them to do so again.