Destination: La Manga,Spain
Length of trip: 5 days
Overall rating (based on enjoyment): 10/10
Last month, the League of Ireland season came to a close. It was a very long year and I was glad to get the break. I was relieved to have all November and December off to focus on college and catch up. After the last game on the Friday night, I set about starting a group project which was due in a weeks’ time. As I went to check if I received an email off a fellow group member, I noticed I received an email off the St. Pats secretary. Thinking it was probably just a general email, I clicked on it without much thought.
“Your player has been called up on standby for the Ireland U21 squad”
I sat down to digest what I had just read.
“The squad will report to La Manga training camp on the 10th of November”
LA MANGA? (Googles La Manga and current temperatures)
I will be travelling to the south coast of Spain to play friendly matches against Czech Republic and Slovakia. Remember when I said I was glad to get the break that was all nonsense. I couldn’t believe it. Personally, the thought of even being near the U21 squad never even entered my mind, after some poor performances throughout the year, but I wasn’t complaining.
After a few days break and a few late nights, it was time to keep my fitness up for the trip ahead. Arriving in without training for nearly two weeks would be a recipe for disaster, and I wanted to give myself the best chance to make an impression with the newly assembled squad. It was the first squad at the new age level so I knew this was like a trial so the manager can examine his newly inherited crop of players.
When the squad was released I was flattered to notice that there was only four homebased (league of Ireland) players in the squad. The rest were made up of players from the best clubs in England, with numerous examples of the “granny rule” kicking in. This is where English players are eligible to play due to a distant Irish relation. The thought of being named amongst players from Man United, Liverpool and others was a confidence booster and further increased my determination to impress.
The itinerary followed a few days later.
Skimming through the very thorough plan for each day, I realised I have two games and two training sessions essentially to try stake a future place in the squad, more realistically two training sessions and a game, as there was a squad of 22 travelling. A short time with not much room for error. Obviously I knew it wasn’t such an extreme situation, as the coaching staff reassured me that they have been watching me all season and were impressed about how I done, but still.
We arrived mid-day on the 10th to the very luxurious resort, famous for being one of the best training resorts in Europe. We made our way through the beautiful golf courses, the 5 star hotel on the resort and past many mansions, to get to our accommodation for the 5 nights. Villas. Yep villas. Arrangements had it that it was 4 per villa, so I was wondering to see who I will be getting to know for the next few days. Happily enough my room mates consisted of a fellow home based player I knew well, a Stoke and a Blackburn Rovers player (currently on loan from Manchester city). I couldn’t help but remember I should have been in lectures as I sat on the balcony overlooking the golf course in the 22 degree heat. “This is the life.”
Training was in the “football centre” of the resort. As we made our way to training, we drove by the main pitch surrounded by a little stadium, where our games were going to be played. 8 training pitches, one as perfect as the next.
Having not kicked a ball since the season ended, I was very pleased with how I done, and was named in midfield to start the first game v Czech Republic.
It was great to put on that green jersey once more, its a feeling that’s hard to describe. After playing a hard 70 minutes, the manager made 7 substitutions at once. Everyone needs game time so I wasn’t disappointed. I was very happy with my performance as I exited the pitch. Unfortunately a late goal meant we lost 2-1 but the result wasn’t important.
The day after meant rest and recovery with a lot of free time to ourselves. The management organised an evening meal for us in a local restaurant. Rumours throughout the meal began spreading that all the new players, which was about 15 of us, had to sing a song as part of the initiation.
“Not a chance”
As one lad confidently stood up on his chair and rattled out ‘stand by me’, I knew there was no getting out of this. Luckily for all my teammates and coaches, they got to experience a rendition never heard before of Jason Mraz’s song “I’m yours”, one that was so dazzling it got everyone in the room singing along…..
We had another good session the next day. The trip was going really well but unfortunately it was coming to an end. It was far more enjoyable then I originally expected and the whole team bonded well. After making a late appearance in the 3-2 defeat to Slovakia, I went home proud.