After last years successful tour hosting Saint Joseph's University in Ireland I was contacted by Chris Gobrecht, Head Coach of Yale's Women's Basketball Team regarding bringing her team to Ireland on a pre-season tour. Over the space of 7months I worked closely with Chris and together we created aneight day tour itinerary to suit her exact requirements.
In August the team arrived and I thoroughly enjoyed hosting their tour and I'm delighted to report it was truly outstanding for all involved.
Please read my day by day report below.
I was delighted to meet Yale Women's Basketball Team (WBB) on arrival at Shannon all set for an exciting eight days on our wonderful island. Chaka Travels Managing Director Mark Marais, myself (Gerard) and our excellent coach driver were all awaiting in the arrivals hall to greet the team off their flight. After some introductions we escorted the team onto their luxury coach for the journey to the first hotel in Galway. After settling into their luxury hotel for the next 2 nights the team where treated to an excellent lunch.
The group had been travelling all night and also had to cope with an unexpected delay but this did not deter them at all. We had organized a coaching clinic for local children at a nearby school so straight after lunch Coach Gobrecht got all the girls changed and we made our way to the coaching clinic. Well, the faces of over 40 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!
That evening a few off the assistant coaches and alumni wanted to see some sights of Galway so I duly obliged and escorted them into the famous Latin Quarter where we listened to some fantastic live traditional Irish music. We may also have enjoyed a few pints of the black stuff!
After a very restful nights sleep everyone arrived down for breakfast and later that morning the team went for their first practice session before their first game that evening. After returning to the hotel to freshen up the team then 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 guide Robert. The group was blown away by the beauty, setting and history of this wonderful place, not to mention for most it was their first time seeing a real life castle!
After the tour the mindset changed to this evening's game so we returned to the hotel and the group gathered their kit and we all made our way to the venue for game 1 versus a Galway Select team. The game was played in Great Spirit and after a brave a battling performance from the home team, Yale WBB just proved too strong and eventually won 67-41. This was an excellent first test for Yale and I think they were pleasantly surprised at the level of the opposition they faced.
That evening everyone was allowed to let their hair down so the Latin Quarter was again paid a visit and more black stuff consumed!
Yale WBB team had well and truly embraced Ireland and everything it had to offer!
After a bit of a lie in and a hearty breakfast we checked out of the hotel and visited the stunning world famous Cliffs of Moher. We arrived at the Cliffs and typically for Ireland we had rain, fog and wind but this did not deter the group as this beautiful place has a magical presence and the sight of the Cliffs was enough to convince the team they were somewhere very special! A few of the team were brave enough to venture to
the edge of the Cliffs and everyone got some excellent photographs which they will cherish for years to come.
After the Cliffs we all made our way to Cork where we were to spend the next two nights.
This was Game day 2 but before that 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 from the Blarney Castle and his Irish charisma, charm and constant jokes were 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 girls faced their second opponents on the tour, Glanmire who compete in the Super League in Ireland. This was to prove a far sterner opposition as Glanmire touted a couple of Irish Internationals in their squad. The game was played in superb spirit with Glanmire leading the game throughout until the last 2 minutes. Yale finally found their shooting range and after a few successive scores in the last couple of minutes they narrowly recorded their second win by 54-51 points.
That evening the girls wanted to explore Cork and its nightlife so I utilized my contacts and managed to get the group VIP all access to Corks number one nightspot!
Today the group had an extra couple of hours in bed which was welcomed greatly by those who had a late, late night! After checking out of our hotel we then set upon our journey to Ireland's capital city, Dublin!
We arrived at lunchtime and after a smooth check in we sat down to an excellent lunch in the hotel. After freshening up we went off for a guided tour of the Guinness Factory at St James Gate. Most of the group had sampled and thoroughly enjoyed the "Black Stuff" prior to this so seeing where it is actually brewed, and then shipped around the world was a superb bonus for them. Let's just say the tour was a resounding hit with all, in fact some of the group even managed to pull a perfect pint of Guinness and have certificates to prove it!
That evening the group got to explore Dublin and specifically the famous Temple Bar area where the craic, music and atmosphere are in abundance!
Today was the day Yale WBB played their 3rd and final game of the tour against Meteors. After breakfast the team had a light training session to prepare for this evenings game and then they returned to the hotel for some rest and relaxation.
The group then made their way to the KUBS arena, the venue for this evening game. The team came up against a very young but eager Meteors team and eventually ran away winners by a very healthy margin 85-43 and this completed Yale's 3-0 record for their competitive games on the tour. Half time entertainment was provided in the form of traditional Irish dancers who jigged, jumped and skipped to the delight of the cheering crowd. As it was Saturday evening Dublin was already buzzing with atmosphere so the entire Yale group joined in on the festivities and even Coach Gobrecht got involved to joy of the team!
This ended 6 great days in southern Ireland and the following day the group was heading up to Northern Ireland and its vibrant capital city, Belfast.
The 2 hour coach journey from Dublin to Belfast was welcomed by everyone as it was an extra couple of hours to catch up on some sleep time!
The group arrived into Belfast and after lunch at their hotel they again boarded the coach for a private tour of Belfast's most famous sights including, Titanic Quarter, Harland & Wolff Shipyard and of course the areas which saw most of the troubles. The tour was superbly delivered by Davy our ever charismatic coach driver and the group listened and responded tentatively to all they heard. They all agreed that even though Belfast has had its troubles in the past it is now a flourishing, beautiful and friendly city!
That evening we had an excellent meal in one of Belfast's top restaurants and afterwards I again managed to call on a few contacts and got the group the VIP experience in one of Belfast's top nightspots.
This was the group's penultimate day and it began with a coaching clinic and was attended by a number of local children. Again the coaching clinic was a resounding success and this was down to the Yale WBB squad's dedication and enthusiasm to teach and help the kids improve. After the coaching session Yale played a very informative scrimmage game against local side Belfast Rockets. The session was followed by a Q&A session where the kids had some excellent questions for the team to answer.
This evening Yale where presented with their farewell surprise from ourselves and this was seats at the excellent Celtic Dreams show which was running in their hotel during their stay. Before the show we were all served traditional fish & chips in the hotel bar which went down a treat with everyone! After this we presented Coach Gobrecht and the team with a beautiful piece of engraved Belfast Crystal to mark their tour of Ireland and something they can proudly display in their trophy cabinet back at College. Yale also had a surprise for Mark (Marais), Davy (coach driver) and myself. We were each presented with a basketball which was signed by all the team, a wonderful memento!
After all the formalities we took our seats for the Celtic Dream show which was a super end and a fitting way to cap a cracking tour!
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 Gobrecht and me several months prior to the trip, to seeing the tour unfold before my eyes was absolutely superb.
A special mention to Coach Gobrecht, and her family, Bob, Maddy, Bill and Adrianne, you guys were absolutely superb and it easy to see why the girls have so much respect and love for the Coach as she is a truly wonderful woman.
Coaches, Claire, Lauren and JB, I had some great times with you, brilliant laughs, memories and I am so pleased we have kept in contact.
Jon and Melanie, a wonderful couple who I warmed to immediately and again I have kept in contact with, I wish you both and your 4 children all the best for the future and thank you for the endless laughs and craic!
Liz (Osborn) thank you for coming on the trip to support not only your daughter but the whole team, you were a joy to spend time with and I wish you all the Irish luck for the future.
Last but not least, The Team! You guys were the reason this trip was so successful, your dedication, attitude was nothing short of brilliant and you are all a huge credit to your University.
Jana, Zena, Emmy, Meredith, AB, Sarah, OJ, Nyasha, Amanda, Hayden & Whitney I wish you all the best for your futures and I have no doubt you will be successful in whatever you choose to do.
Finally, at Link2Ireland we do not welcome our teams as customers, we welcome them as friends.
On this trip I have met some wonderful people who I will certainly remain in contact with and who knows, I may even get a trip over to see the team play in their home arena!
Thank you for taking the time to read my report.