Well, the moment finally arrived then?
British players gracing the courts of the German top league.
I shall gloss over my own travelling woes, which make the film ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles’ look like a walk in the park.
Nevertheless, it helped distract me, and therefore calmed my nerves prior to the game.
The game began at a terrific pace, and it was obvious in the first minute or two that a lack of opportunity for the Essen squad to train together would make defence tough The GB lads had arrived on Tuesday, and some of the other players even later, meaning they were really going into the unkown.
2-0 down in 90 seconds, the 3-0 down before 3 minutes, and early nerves from the Essen half backs made them shoot too early giving cheap turnover of possession, for a low percentage shot. It looked as though Grosswallstadt would rewrite the record books with the score, but a goal from Farkarsovsky settled Essen, and they began to retain a share of possession.
Ciaran Williams had his own little piece of history starting as playmaker, and he began to work the team from the centre. Instigating a move which created a 1 on 1 from 6 metres for the right wing, followed by a direct pass to find an unmarked left wing should have meant Ciaran’s play brought Essen level but both wingers failed to convert, their lobs going beyond the far post. You can’t afford misses in the top flight, and a period of sustained pressure causing two defensive errors, along with 2 more misses which on another day the back court might have converted, instead of level scores, Essen found themselves 7-1 down. It was key point, and maybe people thought Essen would fold, but instead they dug deep and with some big defensive hits, in particular from Patrick Weinceck (The oldest looking 19 year old I’ve ever seen in my life) they started to cause uncertainty in the Grosswallstadt attacking play for the first time, giving the keeper some protection and resulting in some fine saves. All this time, Dan McMillan had been rolling sub for Ciaran in defence and was relishing the battle. With a performance that belies his short time playing handball he played an integral part in the defensive ‘machine’. In a period when Essen closed the game back to 9-4, 3 chances were missed, and with them probably went the chance to keep the pressure on Grosswallstadt. The balance of play was much more even now, though, with Dan McMIllan making an impression as he collected a yellow card. His strength in the challenge was to then lend him his own little piece of history too, as he walked off to sit out the first British Bundesliga 2 minute suspension. Nevertheless, it was this strength in defence that steadied the ship. Even so, the gap opened to 13 goals by half time (24-11), with the game effectively over as a contest, but the commitment to the cause remained for the Essen team.
The second half opened with a quick goal from the hosts, but three in response from Essen made them realise the visitors were not going down without a fight. Seb Prieto had now joined the fray, but was given little opportuntiy to operate by the Grosswallstadt defence. This was Essen’s best spell though, and they matched the hosts pretty much goal for goal until the moment came. Farkarsovsky intercepted an attempted feed to line and rode two challenges as Seb took off down the wing, and Farkarsovsky picked him out on the run at 9 metres. Seb climbed gracefully to slot his shot past the ‘keeper as if he’s been doing it all his life. With 10 minutes to go, 33-19 was probably a fair reflection, but on another day Essen could have kept it much closer.
A two minute suspension from a tiring Weincek put Essen on the back foot for the final period, and a second a few minutes later, (his third) saw him leave the field and Chris McDermott take to the court. He will be glad to have even this small time under his belt, and making some tackles in defence will have settled his nerves a little ahead of Hamburg next weekend, but the two ‘reduced’ spells in this final 10 minutes had made the score open out a disproportionate degree by then end, at 41-23.
Merlin Braithwaite was unlucky not to get any court time. I’m sure over the coming weeks as the Essen coach gets to know better what our lads have to offer him, he will realise that in Merlin he has one of those players who will give you a goal out of nothing, and Essen needed that at times yesterday.
The greatest praise I can pay the GB boys is that a stranger who was not told, could not have picked them out from this team. They fitted right in and showed no nerves in front of the vociferous 2500 crowd. They have a simply remarkable opportunity to further their careers here. I stood back for a moment at the end of the game, watching with no little amount of pride as they signed autographs. I hope those at home realise, this is not the end of their journey, just the start of a new and exciting phase.
Reproduced with permission of the author Paul McDermott. Originally posted on England Handball Forum 8th February 2009.
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