In August 2012 Link2Ireland a division of Chaka Travel welcomed Saint Joseph's University Women's Basketball Team to Ireland for a 10 day tour.
The Saint Joseph's Hawks represent the athletic teams at Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia. The Hawks compete in Division I in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Philadelphia Big 5.
"The Hawks" were taking part in a 10 day tour of both North and Southern Ireland during which they would have 5 competitive games against local opposition whilst also visiting some of Irelands most famous sites e.g. The Giant's Causeway, Cliff's of Moher and Guinness Factory to name a few.
"An unforgettable adventure"
Susan Moran: Associate Head Women's Basketball Coach, Saint Josephs University
"I just want to thank all at Chaka Travel / Link2Ireland for organizing an unbelievable trip to Ireland and Northern Ireland for our Saint Joseph's University Women's Basketball team. You truly went above and beyond to make it an unforgettable adventure. Both the food and accommodation were top notch, but what made the trip was the genuine care and concern that everyone involved showed at each step of the journey. We got the opportunity to play some good competitive basketball. We loved getting involved in the community by partaking in the clinics at local schools. And without a doubt we got to see some of the nicest sights that Ireland and Northern Ireland have to offer. The trip was an invaluable team bonding experience and the memories that were made will last a lifetime. Thank you again for taking the Hawks under your wing. We couldn't have asked for a better company to work with."
Gerard Watson (Manager of Link2Ireland):
"To welcome a top American University sports team of this calibre to the North and South of Ireland for a pre season tour epitomises what we can offer in both facilities and competitive opposition. We have demonstrated that a pre season sports team tour of Ireland will help any students bond, grow in stature and experience, but most importantly give them long lasting positive memories which will benefit them in their future lives.
We not only welcomed the coaching staff and the team but we were very pleased to have a number of Alumni and family accompanying the tour which again shows our level of commitment to providing a tour which can cater for all concerned. I hope you enjoy the following storybook which will give you a day by day insight into "The Hawks" tour of Ireland."
After their overnight flight from the USA the team were warmly greeted at Dublin Airport by Chaka Travels Managing Director Mark Marais and me (Gerard). The team were then escorted onto their luxury coach for their journey to their first hotel in Galway. After settling into their luxury hotel for the next 3 nights the team where given some free time to explore Galway or just rest and recuperate after their journey.
That afternoon Head Coach, Cindy Griffin took the Hawks to St Mary's school where the team ran a coaching clinic for 80 local children. The coaching clinic was a fantastic success with many of the children's parents in attendance and watching their children get top class coaching from some of women's Basketball's future stars. The team then returned for a free evening which many spent catching up on some well deserved sleep!
After a great night's sleep everyone rose for breakfast excited and refreshed about the rest of the tour. The team had a practice session at a local sports hall which gave the coach time to work on a few things for their upcoming games.
After lunch the whole group gathered and we boarded our luxury coaches and travelled to our first tourist attraction of the trip, the stunning Kylemore Abbey. The group where really taken by Kylemore Abbey, not only for its beauty and location but for it's history steeped past which caught everyone's imagination.
After dinner that evening the group where then hosted in the Kings Head Bar in Galway. Mike Murray and Matt Flint from the Galway Titans Basketball Team kindly presented each person with a lovely memento to take home to Philadelphia with them. After a few pints of the "black stuff", some live music and great craic the group made their way back to the hotel to get rested up for their first competitive game the following day.
The first game day had finally arrived but before any court time the group where off to their second famous landmark, The Cliff's Moher. After an interesting coach journey where many of the group were amazed to see sheep casually walking along the road, we finally arrived at the Cliff's. Even the gale force winds couldn't dampen the group's spirits with some of them even venturing close to the famous Cliff's edge for that extra special photo.
After the Cliff's the group then boarded the coaches and made their way to Limerick University Arena where the first game against National Champions, Limerick was to take place. With a healthy crowd in the Arena the game got under way with The Hawks running out eventual winners 80 - 48. This was a good start for The Hawks to get their tour of to a winning start but sterner opposition was on the horizon.
After breakfast the group checked out of the hotel and we made our way to our next destination, Cork for the next two nights. The group had a speedy check in and after an excellent lunch we all made our way to the world famous, Blarney Stone. It just so happened that a film crew were also in attendance at the Blarney Stone. The crew were filming for an upcoming programme featuring famous places in Ireland which is to be shown on Irish TV Station "TV3" in Spring 2013.
Some of the group were interviewed about their trip so they may actually become TV stars as well as Basketball stars! This evening the group made their way to Milano's restaurant in Cork for a cracking Italian feast but the highlight of the night was some of the girls Irish Dancing in the middle of the restaurant, I must say some of them showed some pretty impressive moves! This was just an example of how relaxed and how much fun the girls were having on their tour.
Game Day 2 had arrived but before this the group were attending the famous Jamieson Whiskey factory for some pre game refreshments.
Those that weren't playing that night took advantage of the whiskey tasting and let's just say some of the group left the factory with a warm glow, me included. That evening we made our way to Upper Glamire to face Glamire Montenotty. This game proved a far sterner test than the first with The Hawks running out eventual winners 58 - 45.
The group were then hosted for an evening reception in the Hotel Montenotty, sponsors of the opposing team. A special mention and big thanks to Dennis O'Sullivan, President of Glanmire Basketball. His and his teams warm welcome and hospitality was fondly noted during an excellent speech by Head Coach Cindy Griffin.
Today was probably one of the main highlights of the trip, especially for one member of The Hawks travelling party. Susan Moran, associate head coach originally hails from Tullamore, Ireland. She left home over 15 years ago and embarked on a basketball career which eventually saw her turn out for New York Liberty in the WNBA. So this day was very special as Susan was bringing her college basketball team home to her own doorstep, literally!
The team was hosted in Susan's old high school and then finally in her parents' home. Everyone had a great time and it was a fantastic honour for Susan to show the kids where her outstanding achievements in life began. The group then travelled onto Dublin for their next two nights stay.
Today started off with a private guided tour of the world famous Guinness Factory in Dublin. After fuelling up on the "Black Stuff" the group travelled DCU Sports Complex to face their third opponents DCU Mercy. The Hawks notched up their third consecutive win of the tour defeating DCU Mercy 65 - 53 which again saw The Hawks having to step up a level to oversee the challenge of DCU Mercy.
Today the group travelled North across the border into Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. When the group arrived into Belfast I immediately asked them what it felt like crossing the border into another country, their response was unanimous.......... "What border?"
This evening saw The Hawks take part in their 4th competitive game of the tour against a very strong Irish select team. The encounter between the teams was sometimes bruising and in the end the Irish select team proved too strong for The Hawks resulting in their first defeat of the tour 61 - 54.
Today saw the group explore the wonderful city of Belfast in an open top bus. Many of the group commented how wonderful and positive it is especially after its troubled past. After the open top bus tour the group were hosted by the Sports Minister at Stormont Parliament Buildings which was an honour. After a wonderful afternoon at the Parliament Buildings the group then returned to the hotel to prepare for their fifth and final game of the tour against English team Barking Abbey. The Hawks ended their tour with a 72 - 53 victory over Barking Abbey giving them a 4 - 1 tour record.
In this action packed day the Hawks visited the world famous Giant's Causeway on the North Coast of Northern Ireland. After lunch at the Bushmills Inn they made their way back to Belfast where they had a private guided tour of the new multimillion pound Titanic Signature Project Building. The group really enjoyed hearing all about the ill-feted ship and especially seeing where the mighty sea liner was built. On the last evening The Hawks where hosted in Belfast City centre Bar and Eatery Love & Death Inc. There was traditional Irish Stew and a three piece Irish Traditional music group which entertained the group. There were a number of heart warming speeches given by Cindy Griffin (Head Coach) and myself. Chaka Travel & Link2Ireland then presented Cindy and Susan with some beautifully engraved Belfast Crystal commemorating the 2012 SJU Hawks Ireland Tour.
After a hearty breakfast the group boarded their coaches for the last time and made the short journey to Belfast International Airport for their onward journey home.
Having been involved with the organisation of this trip from day one and then getting to accompany the group whilst in Ireland I cannot reiterate enough how special the trip was! The kids on the tour, many of whom have never left the United States experienced a once in a lifetime trip. Their experiences will go a long way to benefit them in their future both in and outside of education. My own personal experience was nothing short of outstanding. Having been involved in the tour from day one and then seeing the tour unfold before my eyes made it extra special and gave me a sense of pride. I am very much looking forward to welcoming many college sports teams in the future to our wonderful island.