This year’s Swan Cup Hockey Tournament, played at Dangan over the past four weeks, marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the tournament by the late Larry Swan in 1991. His unique vision was for a tournament that would mix players of all ages, from under-16 up to veterans from both the men’s and ladies’ teams, as a way of building team spirit within Galway Hockey Club.
That spirit was very much in evidence on Saturday for the final, where the number of father/auntie and son/daughter combinations on the pitch was notable. Alan Stephens played alongside his daughter Kate and son Tom. Dermot Nolan was joined on team Blue by his sons Jack and Cian. Martin Hughes’s team also included daughter Ellie and son Harry. John Folan played in green with his sister Norah and daughter Ailbhe.
One of the great things about hockey is that the rules and umpiring ensure that emphasis is on passing, skill and control, rather than on physical contact. This allows 15 year olds to play on the same side as 30 year olds, and 60 year olds. It’s not unusual to see former Irish senior internationals, such as Tara Browne, playing in the Swan Cup alongside juniors and veterans. This year, Irish Masters international goalkeeper Martin White togged out. The tournament format requires that each team consists of two veterans, two senior men and two senior women, with the remainder of the team coming from the U-16 ranks. There are some rules applied to level the playing field, such as the "showboating will be penalised" and "passing by push only", but essentially everyone contributes and participates on an equal level.
The emphasis is always on the fun side of things, but it does get competitive for the business end of the tournament. In Saturday’s final, Team Green defeated Team Blue after penalty strokes, when the sides couldn’t be separated in normal time. Team Green took the lead in the first half, through Alison Ahern and looked to be cruising to victory. However, late in the second half, following good work by his brother, Galway minor footballer Jack, Cian Nolan fired home the equaliser. And so it went to penalties. First up, Cian Nolan dispatched his penalty to put the Blues ahead, but Green goalkeeper Holly Comer stopped the other two Blue efforts. Despite a diving save from Anna Burns to deny the Greens on one occasion, Ailbhe Folan and Stephen Quinn held their nerves to score and seal the victory.
Larry's wife Máire, daughter Lara and son Mike were on hand for the prize-giving ceremony, while his granddaughter Kate and grandson Tom were playing on the pitch.
Commenting on the tournament, Mike Swan said "My father Larry would have been proud to see the standard of hockey on display over the past few weeks, and he would have been delighted to hear all the laughter and craic echoing around Dangan. I would like to thank the committee, especially Norah Folan, who put such effort into organising the tournament - even down to providing social media results updates and different colour tee-shirts for each team. I'm looking forward to playing again next year myself."
Club president, Dermot Nolan presented awards to Michael Brennan, Eugene O’Donnell,
and Nicola Van Der Walt in recognition of their contributions to the development of the club over the decades. He thanked the tournament sponsors, Hennelly Finance and Irish Life Health. He then paid tribute to the final umpires, Ann Dempsey and Michael Brennan, as well as the team of umpires who supported the tournament. He also presented Player of the Tournament awards to Martin Hughes (veteran), Holly Comer (senior ladies), Cian Nolan (senior men) and Anna Burns (junior). Dermot finished up by saying that, “There is a great family atmosphere is this club and it’s a family that is looking to grow. We are keen to attract more new members of all ages and abilities. We especially welcome more boys and men for the season ahead.”
The event finished up with delicious hot food served by the Wildfire company from their converted fire truck. It was a great day in the sunshine and you couldn’t help feeling that Larry Swan was there somewhere, leaning against the pitch-side fence with a smile on his face.