Sunday 16th November, 2014 – Hoa Phat FC Training Fields, My DInh, Hanoi.
On a balmy Sunday afternoon in My Dinh, Hanoi, an historic event took place as representatives of the Vietnam Swans, Viet Celts and Hanoi Dragons met for the inaugural “Hanoi International Rules Canister’. The game saw players from three different codes – Australian Rules, Gaelic Football and Rugby – playing a fourth one – International Rules. For the purposes of this game the planet was divided in two with the Viet Celts taking control of the Northern Hemisphere and the Vietnam Swans taking control of the Southern Hemisphere. The solid contingent of Hanoi Dragons rugby players greatly added to the occasion. Their Southern Hemisphere players lined out with the Vietnam Swans and their Northern Hemisphere counterparts did likewise with the Viet Celts. It was a game that ebbed and flowed from end to end with some lightning attacks from the Viet Celts (Northern Hemisphere) players being matched by hefty tackles and big marks by the players from the Vietnam Swans (Southern Hemisphere).
Three codes, one canister
VC Ladies Exhibition Game
The day began with a Gaelic demonstration match involving the Viet Celts ladies, with some players making their competitive debuts and others showing how much they have improved their mastery of the finer arts of soloing, tackling and shooting. Siobhan Kiernan proved one of the stand-out players, setting the game ablaze in the first half with a hat-trick of well taken goals, ably assisted by the runs and support of Bui Thi Yen. Down the other end, the blue defenders held their own with Lorena Darcy beguiling spectators into thinking that she was an old hand at this game which she was only playing for the first time. In midfield, Niamh Marshall, Rose McConnell and Sarah Downey played out some fierce contests and set in motion a variety of different attacks and sequences of play.
Alison Keys working the solo to perfection
The second half of the game saw the introduction of some of the young Swannies, taking to the game like the feathered kindred of their club’s moniker. The Sheaghdha Lucardie and Charlie Fennell added attacking verve and pace to the Blue line up, while Will Francis and Max Keys came in to provide some support for Marion Klaver and Alison Keys in the Red team. Despite signs of a Red resurgence after a well taken goal by Will, the Blue’s eventually proved the stronger outfit, with Sheaghdha’s magnificent lob over the unfortunately mal-positioned red goalkeeper rounding off an excellent display of Gaelic football by both sides.
Viet Celts (Northern Hemisphere) 6.6.6 (60pts)
Vietnam Swans (Southern Hemisphere) 2.5.12 (39pts)
As kick-off time in the main event crept up on the players, team captains Daniel Hopkins and Neil Hiney made a few last minute tweaks to their starting line-ups to accommodate the rugby players, who as stated had been split along hemispheric lines in keeping with the allegiances of the day. Confusion was rife with regards how to run with the ball, pass it, the scoring system, what constituted a legal tackle and how ‘marks’ worked but everybody was up for making it work. Before the throw-in the two teams came together and were given a quick debriefing on how to tackle from the local expert in the game – Grant Keys. The tackles he enacted on his team-mate Nick Darcy may have been meant as explanatory but a few nervous faces soon appeared on the pale complexions of some Northern players as it became clear that there’d be some heavy tackling over the course of the afternoon.
And then it was time for the throw-in/ball up, Keys and Mark Horkan selected as the behemoths to contest the initial encounter in this historic event. The Northern Hemisphere started well with their speed and directness. Wild Bill Langslet calmed Northern nerves with a well taken 3-pointer but it was the Southerners who drew first goal blood with a Rob Lee toe-poke, the first 6-pointer for the day. However, their lead was short-lived with Neil Hiney’s first major for the afternoon, quickly followed with another one from Moroccan Amin Shiranai, with his unmistakable coiffure delighting all those present. The Southern players troubles with the round ball soon become evident, with their hard runs, huge leaps and constant determination being let down by some wayward goal kicking, the Aussie Rules behind post at least ensuring the scoreboard was ticking over. The first quarter came to an end with the score at 17 -12 to the Gaelic players and their colleagues for the day.
Volunteer Joe Vile showing his opponent Luke the Swannie Jig
In the second quarter the Southern Hemisphere players started to dominate proceedings, with the height along the spine of their team serving as the basis for their attacks from the back and ‘up the guts’. Vietnam Swans legend Mick Francis was solid as a rock in goals, with his accurate long punts out from them giving his tall timber ever chance to attack. The odd shaped ball continued to plague the antipodean forwards, as they collected only one over and five points from six clear scoring chances, Swans Keys and ‘Crazy’ Dan Hopkins the main perpetrators. This was partly due to the influence of John Shoulders in the Celts backline as he marshalled his defence and his own inner demons to ensure that his defensive hounds of hell were always clipping at the heels of the Swans forward line. On the basis of play, the Swans won this quarter well and the VC forwards had very few chances being well shut down by the Swans defence and their service cut off by Joe Vile and his brethren in the Swans midfield. Amazingly however the scoring for this quarter was only 8pts to 7pts in favour of the Swans to give the Celts an overall lead of 24-20 at half time.
One of the few remaining original Swans and long-term supporter, Mick Francis back in action in the goals for the Swans
In the third quarter, the captain of the Northern Hemisphere, Neil Hiney started to run the show from midfield, making intelligent angled runs all over the pitch, covering acres with his barrelling strides and roaring constant instructions to his players throughout. Luke Kenny and Mark Horkan got similarly involved, both registering good scores to keep the scoreboard ticking over in favour of the independently republic inclined. Young Swan/Dragon multisport talent Scotty Mills made his mark a few times with great salmon-like leaps from the ground to earn valuable scoring opportunities, although he did not always profit as well as he might have. In defence, and later in midfield, Alex Maskiell was a huge presence throughout, although the searing pace of Amin Shiranai caused problems for the Australian defenders whenever he found himself involved in the action. Thanks to a clever ball by Wild Bill Langslet and an unselfish pass from Justin ‘Rude Boi’ Stevenson, Celt legend Jim Kiernan with grit and determination, fearlessly barged his way through heavy traffic to see the ball in the back of the net in the last minutes of the quarter. It was a great team goal. Without over-elaborating the passing, the fact that the Celts forwards were always prepared to pass the ball on quickly to a teammate in a better position meant that by the end of the third quarter the Northern Hemisphere team had amassed a healthy lead of 41 – 25. Wild Bill Langslet was having his best game in a VC shirt.
Young Swan Scotty Mills reaching for the sky
The Swans were still in with a shout of winning the game in the final quarter but needed a few 6-pointers early on. They had to chase the game which left them exposed at the back and this was ably exploited by the intelligent running of Mike McMillen. As the game entered the final stages of what had been an enthralling contest for those gathered hordes who had congregated for this unique event, the pace showed no sign of abating, with fitness levels on both sides proving testament to their constant commitment to their multiple sports. Despite eventually registering more scoring opportunities, the egg-chasers from the South couldn’t get the ball looping high and proud through the posts, with the superior accuracy of the assembled Northern Hemisphere representatives proving to be the difference. Neil Hiney was top scorer for the latter, with a goal, three overs and a smattering of points, while Rob Lee was the most accurate of a good spread of Australian and Kiwi scorers, with a goal, an over and a couple of points. The evergreen Swan Dan Lucardie also impressive up forward with two overs scored in open play.
It was a day that will be fondly remembered by those who participated, and especially by those who dreamed it up over multiple bia hois and via countless irrelevant and irreverent emails. Special mention to Jim Kiernan for his vision and procurement of the traditional Bia Hoi canister, a prize that will surely be much sought after by footballers of all persuasions across Hanoi for many years to come. Thanks also to Dave Cunningham for stepping in at short notice to do a fine job at officiating and Grant Keys for orgainising all the logistics from the Tay Ho end of the International Rules Curtain.
Plaudits must go to all the players who made the time and effort to turn up and make what was essentially a made-up sport into a successful hybrid encounter for the representatives of the different codes and clubs. While goalkeeper, Paddy ’The Wall’ Armagh might rate himself as the main reason for his team’s success, there are those who’ll claim a deal was made with the devil himself by one of the Irish divils, as what else could explain a score-line of 6-6-6?!
Thank you to our literary colleagues at the Viet Celts for allowing us to publish this thoroughly entertaining account of the day’s play. Also seen on thevietcelts.wordpress.com