Rarely has a Gaelic football match in southern Spain seen such a large attendance as last Sunday’s match between the Costa Gaels and the Gibraltar Gaels – particularly in weather conditions more akin to a typical Irish weekend morning than one on the sunny Costa del Sol.
Admittedly, most of the crowd were members of the Marbella and Almeria rugby clubs – who were to play a league match after the Irish showcase – but they were glued to the thrilling spectacle that took place in the mud and torrential rain. Huddled against the elements under the canopy of Marbella Rugby Club, the crowd witnessed an exciting match between two well-drilled sides.
The appalling weather contributed to a fiery encounter that saw the referee have to break up more than one confrontation between opposing players as tempers flared in the pouring rain.
The home side started the brighter, going ahead by a point within the first two minutes. However, further early pressure yielded no scores and a rare foray into the Costa half by Gibraltar saw a goal for the away side against the run of play. Buoyed by the goal the Gibraltar team settled into the game, but was not to be outdone by a resilient Marbella side. As both sets of players became accustomed to the conditions points were traded on an even basis and despite a late goal by the Costa Gaels, Gibraltar went in as slight leaders at half-time.
The rain continued to hammer down as the teams took to the treacherous pitch for an electrifying second half. In contrast to the first half, Gibraltar came out with all guns blazing, scoring a blitz of points within a number of minutes and capitalizing on an innocuous, floated free-kick into the box that somehow found its way – untouched by anybody through a sea of bodies – into the back of the Marbella net. The roaming Gibraltar no. 10 posed most problems for the Costa team, scything through midfield at ease, though poor finishing saw most of his efforts drift wide.
Aware that a chasm was opening up in the score-line, the Costa Gaels rallied with an impassioned comeback. Some aggressive midfield play allowed their forwards the freedom to attack and the Gibraltar goal come under a five-minute assault that miraculously yielded only one goal. A saved penalty and three point-blank stops from the Gibraltar keeper kept his team in the game, though he did let one through during the sustained Costa attack. Another penalty a few minutes from time was converted by the home team and took the match to 3 goals and 5 points apiece. With no further scores, the match finished in a deserved draw.
Typically, the heavy rain abruptly stopped as the players left the field to a rapturous round of applause from an overjoyed Spanish crowd. Soaking wet and coated in mud, whatever animosities had transpired on the pitch had abated with the rain, and both sets of players joined for a post-match barbecue and drinks.
The Costa Gaels will travel away to meet Seville on December 15th, with Gibraltar making the same journey a month later.