I was delighted to welcome Duquesne University Men's Basketball Team (DMB) into Shannon Airport all set for an exciting eight days on our wonderful island. Chaka Travels Managing Director Mark Marais, my colleague David and I (Gerard) awaited the team's arrival and after some introductions we escorted the group onto their luxury coach for the journey to their first hotel in Galway, the excellent Connacht Hotel.
The group had been travelling all night so after a hearty lunch we had organized a coaching clinic for local children at a nearby school so straight after lunch we made our way to the coaching clinic. Well, the faces of over 50 excited youngsters dispelled any jet lag from the group and they delivered an outstanding, informative and fun filled clinic to some very well deserving kids!
We returned to the hotel and the group enjoyed another fantastic meal before having an evening of downtime to recover from some jet lag they may have been experiencing.
The Dukes in Ireland - day one
After a very restful night's sleep and a relaxing morning the team boarded the coach and we all made our way to the wonderful Ashford Castle. At Ashford Castle we were hosted for a beautiful lunch in the main dining room and we were then given a private tour of the complex by our ever informative and top guy Robert. The group was blown away by the beauty, setting and history of this wonderful place, not to mention the complimentary sweets in the Castles very own Cinema!
After the tour we returned to the hotel and enjoyed more great food before the mindset changed to tonight's game! Shortly after dinner we departed for the venue for game 1 versus a Galway Select team. The game was played in Great Spirit which was witnessed by a very healthy crowd with standing room only in the gym. After a brave and battling performance from the home team, DMB just proved too strong and eventually won 86-51. This was an excellent first test for the team and even though DMB ran away with the game it was a good opening test for Duquesne and a chance to blow any travelling cobwebs away!
That evening everyone was allowed to let their hair down so the Latin Quarter was paid a visit, lots of black stuff consumed and the party continued into the wee small hours.
It was safe to say that after their first full day in Ireland the group had embraced everything it had to offer!
Ashford Castle Ireland team
After a hearty breakfast we checked out of the hotel and visited the stunning world famous Cliffs of Moher. On our way to the Cliffs we stopped at a famous viewing point for some pics and the group where entertained by some local talent! We arrived at the Cliffs and to my astonishment we had beautiful blue skies and not one breath of wind! We couldn't have asked for better weather. A few of the team were brave enough to venture to the edge of the Cliffs, me included and everyone got some excellent photographs which they will cherish for years to come.
We then set of on our journey to Cork where we were spending our next two nights.
Seen on the road to the Cliffs of Moher
Assistant Coach John Rhodes and his family at a rest stop on the way to the Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher Ireland Nick Foschia, David Haus pose with Gerard
After breakfast we boarded the coach and set off for the Blarney Castle. I had organized a private guided tour to the Blarney Castle and all the group were looking forward to kissing the famous stone! Our private tour was conducted by Paul the Manager from the Blarney Castle and his Irish charisma, charm and constant jokes where a big hit with the group. I am pleased to say that everyone made it to the top of the castle and kissed the stone, just watch this space to see if any of their wishes come true!
That evening the team played a quickly rearranged fixture against local Super League Team, Neptune. We had a warm welcome to Neptune's stadium and again DMB ran out 100-54 in a very comprehensive win!
That evening I had organized VIP entry for the team to enjoy one of Corks top nightspots. David and I tagged along with the coaches and alumni and again we had a fantastic night and left no stone unturned
Derrick Colter kisses the Blarney Stone
After an extra couple of hours in bed which was welcomed greatly by those who had a late night we checked out of our hotel and then set upon our journey to Ireland's capital city, Dublin!
We arrived into Dublin just in time for lunch which we enjoyed at the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel. We then had 45minutes to get to our hotel at Croke Park, check in, and gather our kit to leave for this evenings game. We were on a tight schedule due to an ÔAll Ireland Hurling Semi Final' taking place in Croke Park and we wanted to avoid clashing with the 70,000 spectators who would soon be leaving the stadium!
All went according to plan and we departed on time for our next game versus Templelogue at Oblate Hall. The game tipped off at 6:45 and was watched by a very healthy 500+ spectators who all enjoyed the excellent basketball on display from both teams. It was very close in the early stages of the game with only 4-6 points separating both teams at any one time.
In the second half DMB upped their game and eventually ran away 95-57 winners.
That evening after returning from the game the hotel bar was very lively after the game at Croke Park so David, the coaches and myself joined in on the festivities.
Rene Castro Templeogue Dublin Ireland
Team Templeogue Dublin Ireland
This morning we had arranged another coaching clinic for some local children at KUBS the venue for this evening's game. Once again the team delivered an excellent clinic which the children thoroughly enjoyed.
We retuned the hotel for dinner before gathering our stuff and making our way back to KUBS for this evening's game.
The game again was played in fantastic spirits, and we had the opportunity to meet Josh Steel's father who had made the trip from London to watch the game and see Josh before he departed back to the states.
Following the game we all met once again in the hotel bar, and David and I had the pleasure of presenting Coach Ferry with a beautiful crystal, and Coach Glesman with a bottle of ÔRed Breast' whiskey (which some of the coaches had become very fond of during the trip!)
After a few pints of the black stuff, myself and David again escorted the guys out around Dublin, and a great time was had by all.
After another great night's sleep and another two fantastic meals at the hotel, we again boarded our luxury coach and went in search of Duquesne's study abroad facility, located in Dublin. The housing is stunning and provides Duquesne students with the option of studying abroad!
We then ventured to the world famous Guinness Factory where we had the pleasure of a private tour and quite a few samples of the black stuff! We then departed for Dublin City Centre, where we had built in some free time to enjoy some shopping in Dublin and to pick up some souvenirs for the families at home!
This evening I again used my contacts to get the players in to one of Dublin's top night spots, and I proceeded to join the coaches for some farewell drinks in the hotel bar!
After breakfast the group boarded their luxury coach for the last time and we set of for our journey to Dublin for their onward flight home.
On arrival at the airport we all disembarked, there were many hugs, thank yous but most of all some fantastic memories for all to take home.
Well, from the initial correspondence between Coach Glesman and me prior to the trip, to seeing the tour unfold before our eyes was absolutely superb.
Myself and David had the pleasure of meeting some truly special individuals, and created memories that will last a lifetime.
We would like to say a massive thank you to Coaches Jim Ferry, Rich Glesman, Brian Nash, Danny Lawson, Brian Baudinet and Dennis Cuturic for making this trip so enjoyable and it is easy to see why the team and staff have so much respect for you all. It would be amiss of us not to give a special mention to Coach John Rhodes who had battled through health problems prior to the tour, it's impossible to put into words how glad we are that you made the trip and seeing you make it to the top of Blarney Castle and even busting some moves on our nights out were some of the best moments of the tour.
The Duquesne team would not have been complete, without Dr Anish, Dave Saba, Vic Bauer, Max Heinaeur, Dave Steckel and Laura Klimchock, it was a pleasure to spend a week with you all.
We also had the pleasure of meeting the families of both Coach Ferry & Coach Rhodes, and we couldn't be happier that they made the trip.
Of course the trip wouldn't have been complete without the players, who throughout the tour were an absolute credit to their University, so to DC, Jeremiah, Darius, LG, TySean, Rene, Jordan, Marshall, Nick, Josh, David, Eric, Mar'Qywell and Nakaye we wish you all the best for the upcoming season and for the future, we have no doubt you'll be successful wherever you decide to do.
Throughout the course of your life, you get to meet some people who leave an undeniable impression on you, and during this trip David and I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Michael Vozza, truly one of the most unique and positive individuals either of us have met. Your commitment to the basketball program is fantastic, and this trip would not have been the same without you.
Finally, at Link2Ireland we do not welcome our teams as customers, we welcome them as friends.
On this trip we have met some wonderful people who we will certainly remain in contact with and who knows, we may even get a trip over to see the team play in their home arena!
Thank you for taking the time to read our report.
Warmest regards Gerard & David