Cardiff Dragons Women’s 7s make their mark at the Tournoi International de Paris
14th-15th May 2016, Paris
Cardiff Dragons women crowned a season of firsts for the club by taking on the prestigious Tournoi International de Paris, a multi-sports event with a thirteen-year history and over 2,000 participants.
Never before had the Dragons entered a competitive team abroad, and to make an international debut in such a celebrated tournament (with World Cup winning full-back Lilian Thuram among its patrons) in one of the world’s most exciting and iconic cities proved a thrilling and memorable adventure for all concerned. A squad composed largely (with a few unfortunate absentees) of the Dragons Rock ladies who performed so well in their first Bristol Casual League season, augmented by relative newcomers Charlotte and Donna and stalwarts Amy and Ali (swapping cycling mitts for goalie’s glove to join us during her epic ride across France) lined up alongside 23 top sides from all over France, continental Europe and the UK to face two days of intense competition—not to mention singing, dancing, sightseeing, fun and increasingly inventive body decoration.
With coach Ryan, assistant Darrin and Superfan Sue leading the cheering, the team took to the pitch for their first group match with the main objectives of enjoying themselves and soaking up the experience. If there were any doubts about the quality of the opposition and the difficulty of the task ahead, they were dispelled in the opening game when, despite creating chances and notching a first overseas goal (Amy’s close-range conversion of Harriet’s cross-shot), the Dragons were repeatedly ripped apart like a breakfast croissant by the fast, fluent counter-attacking and clinical finishing of Les Fromages Blancs—whose star player (Mademoiselle Yellow Boots) displayed skills which the likes of Platini, Cantona, Henry and Zidane would have envied—resulting in an 8-1 defeat. The following match—a 5-0 loss to Rosa Bonheur—revealed signs the team were beginning to acclimatise to the broad pitch and unusually large goals, and the spirit was certainly not flagging.
In between games, there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy the music, refreshments and party ambience around the stadium, liven up the face-paint, mingle and make friends with members of other teams, whilst Ryan and Darrin took the chance to wipe the tactics board clean and produce a cunning plan to staunch the flow in the ‘goals against’ column.
The resulting change in formation—implemented with immediate understanding and commitment—reaped a remarkably rapid reward: a clean sheet (with Ali in spectacular, feline form between the posts) and a fantastic winner from Charlotte crowning a strong, fluent display in a 1-0 victory over hitherto unbeaten USTB. With a first ever overseas victory for Cardiff Dragons FC to celebrate, there was no restraining the singing, dancing, hugging, and outpouring of emotion that followed, and with a growing sense of belief the ladies pushed their exhausted bodies through the last game of the day, only succumbing by a single goal after Harriet had struck the bar in a 1-0 defeat to Baston & Friends.
The Dragons—several among them having enjoyed a lively mid-tournament evening’s partying in the City Centre—began Sunday’s programme with a chance to consolidate and even improve their fifth position in the group with a win in their final encounter versus Les Degommeuses. Whether it was the general air of confidence and harmony or the decision to replace the traditional warm-up with a Dragons Rock cancan that had the effect, what followed was the finest display of pacy, skilful passing football ever seen by a Dragons women’s team—perhaps by anyone sporting the blue-and-black badge. In full control from the start, commanding at the back, moving the ball fluently from defence to attack, and dancing round defenders almost at will, the team seized the lead with a wonderful run and finish from Charlotte from a seemingly impossible angle. Energy levels soared, and when the striker sidestepped yet another hapless opponent to slam in the second, the Dragons really began to breathe fire. Harriet’s long-range third instigated a period of samba football, with defenders Amy, Hennie and Claire all combining in the forward movements at various points and a fourth goal seemingly inevitable. Charlotte was foiled in her hat-trick bid by a stunning save, and Bethan was particularly unfortunate not to seal her magnificent performance with a score; but the final word went to the opposition when Ali, having her least busy match of the tournament, was unlucky to be beaten by a scrambled goal on the break.
It was clear from the post-match euphoria that everybody—players, coaches and supporters alike—was well aware this squad had just surpassed any previous achievements in footballing terms, and would be returning to Wales having done themselves, the club, the city and the nation proud, whatever ensued in the remaining classification matches.
With injuries to Donna and Charlotte reducing the team’s options to the minimum, the Dragons battled bravely in the first of these matches before going down 1-0, but secured a final overall position of 15th with an epic final victory in the last encounter of the tournament. Amy sniped the winner after a stinging shot from Harriet, but all the accolades went to Ali, whose stupendous bravery and athleticism between the sticks epitomised her contribution to the team throughout the event and settled the vote for Dragon of the Tournament, presented in the form of a sparkle-studded Dragon-blue model of the Eiffel Tower (what else?). Announcing her retirement after the game, the keeper could not possibly have bowed out on a higher note, and the champagne flowed in celebration both of Ali’s personal career and tournament and an amazing, unforgettable two days at the Stade Maryse Hilz for Cardiff Dragons as a whole.
Cardiff Dragons squad: Ali, Amy M-J, Bethan, Charlotte, Claire, Donna, Harriet, Hennie (C), Megan R.
RESULTS – GROUP D
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 1 Les Fromages Blancs 8 Dragons Scorer: Amy MJ
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 0 Rosa Bonheur2 5
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 1 USTB 0 Dragons Scorer: Charlotte
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 0 Baston & Friends 1
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 3 Les Degommeuses 1 Dragons Scorers: Charlotte (2), Harriet (1)
|Les Fromages Blanc||5||3||0||2||14|
|Baston & Friends||5||1||1||3||9|
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 0 Cacahuetes 1
- CARDIFF DRAGONS 1 Six Feet Under (Marseilles) 0 Dragons Scorer: Amy MJ
FINAL CLASSIFICATION: 15th of 24