Destination: Esch-sur-Alzett, Luxembourg
Length of trip: 3 days
Overall rating (based on enjoyment): 8/10
Part two of the Europa League endeavors! This time the opposition being Luxembourgian outfit, AS Jeunesse Esch. Fresh off the back of a 1-0 win from the tie in Dublin, this could be our chance of progression. We knew what had to be done. A week of thorough preparation began for the biggest game of the season. A chance of entering the the 2nd round, making that dream of a giant killing match ever closer. But we can’t look ahead of what stands in our way.
We scrutinized the opposition in preparation and I could almost name their whole squad off by heart (and what foot each one was). We were prepared, determined and focused.
We flew out on the Tuesday, departing from the platinum lounge. No, not your average terminal one or two, the platinum lounge. Firstly, as we weren’t used to this level of luxury playing in the league of Ireland, we were all given a map to help us try and find this exclusive area we didn’t even know existed. Once we all managed to find our way to the departure lounge we were welcomed into a lavish departure room with flat screens, plush couches, iPad’s to play music and free food and drink. As professional as we were and that, the boys had no problem stuffing their bags for the “long flight”, which was only scheduled to be 2 hours but any excuse I suppose for a couple of bags of crisps and chocolate bars. Here is me chilling out (also with chocolate) reading the paper, as you do, before the flight.
Feeling like we made it, we strolled through security and onto the bus to find out what plane we were going to be flying in. Rumours were speculating that we were getting a private plane (well chartered) but being a young lad on the team, you have to take what the older boys say to you with a grain of salt. I was never the best with flying, even in the biggest of planes but the thoughts of us boarding a little delicate plane, scared the life out of me.
As we made our way to the plane I seen four private planes lined up beside one another. Three of them looking manageable, in terms of comfort and safety, the other well…..
“As long as that one isn’t ours we will be ok”
No prizes for guessing which plane we pulled up beside…
As we pulled up beside the plane, we were nearly looking down at it. Greeted by the pilot with a big wave (something for some strange reason that doesn’t fill you up with a lot of confidence). The pilot himself started unloading our bags off the bus and into the “boot” of the plane. We got there safely however, despite the tight squeeze and the left propeller not spinning as the plane warmed up (something the lads weren’t shy of informing me about) but all in all it was a grand flight, with nice food.
Now it was time to do the business.
What a beautiful country, you could see why it why it was one of the richest countries in Europe. Beautiful buildings, scenic landscapes and luxurious cars. We flew into Lux airport, and headed down south to the French boarder to a city called Esch. What a place. True beauty tucked into the mountains. Again not much time to explore and visit but from the multiple bus journeys to and fro it was spectacular.
As it was the middle of July, we had to adapt quickly to the temperature. We trained the day before the game in their compact stadium. We knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Despite not being named on the starting eleven, I couldn’t help but feel the all too familiar pre-match nerves. The game was massive and that was summed up by the amount of fans that travelled to see us play, even though there was no direct flights to Lux.
After taking the lead in the second half, the dream was on, a place in the next round of the Europa League. However, a late strike by a substitute, made way for a very anxious finale. Still watching from the bench, I must have kicked every ball with the lads on the pitch. After they missed a late chance we knew we were in the draw for the next round! The feeling was much sweeter this time than last year’s disappointment. It made the thought of returning to Dublin on the same plane that night all the more bearable. We were in the hat and celebrating, but what awaited us next…….