Dupnitsa 26–27 July 2015
Alarm goes off at 7am but I’m a little awake already. It’s probably the anticipation kicking in early. Declan was to pick me up at 8am. The bags were packed the night before, (and looking across the floor of Room 502A in Hotel Rila, at my collection of packed belongings, it seems I over estimated. Not only did I pack most of my wife’s softball gear but enough t-shirts to clothe the whole Irish Squad!), and sitting at the front door. Declan arrived and I said my goodbyes to two of my girls. After we picked up Panda at the Red Cow myself, Sarah and Declan made our way to the airport.
Unfortunately our flight to Istanbul was delayed and we sat on the runway for 40mins or so waiting to take off. We had a connection to Sofia and we were going to be cutting it fine. Flying into Istanbul was amazing. Sully pointed out Gallipoli to me and then this sprawling mass of city buildings & life gradually filled my window. It is absolutely massive. Minarets poked up from the roof tops and as we exited the plane a wall of heat hit us heavy. This was different from what we left on the Dublin runway. Luckily our connection was delayed as well and we made it. As we pulled up into the sky I looked out and Istanbul again seemed to reach out for miles. I think I spotted the famous Turkish Blue Mosque. It’s more of an aqua-green. As a side-note, the Turkish Delight offered on our first flight was the best I’ve ever had. They do it right! Turkish Air in general was very good.
There was no escaping the heat in Sofia. Even though we arrived at night, the heat was still heavy. We took the slow-bus to Dupnitsa and as our luggage rattled about in a trailer behind us, we sat uncomfortably in a sweaty bus. Still, there isn’t another bunch of sweaty people id like to be in a bus with – in the Bulgarian Mountains! This is a special group, the chemistry is there and bonding no longer needed. We are a solid group of players ready to represent Ireland with pride and “take it to them”. and then…sleep.
I, along with some others, have been in Dupnitsa before and since my last visit a lot has changed. The busy town nestled in the hills, still has a buzzing square and pedestrian area just around the corner from our hotel. There are plenty of cafés and restaurants and all the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. As for the Hotel Rila it has changed too. The rooms have been improved and some renovated. I think myself and roommate, Francis, lucked out. Our bathroom looks to have been recently installed. You can still smell the sealant. We have two sinks, so we can brush our teeth at the same time, a power shower and a Jacuzzi bath! Our room has a double bed and single bed and we have a designated “chill-out” zone. Frank made me a protein smoothie earlier today and we enjoyed it in our “lounge area”.
The team headed to the pitch today for our designated training time on the diamond. After some light fielding we all took some cuts. The heat is tough and it will take a lot of water to get us through this week. We simply aren’t used to playing in these temperatures. I brought a black plastic sack in my kit bag because sometimes you need to put your kitbag in it, playing in the Irish weather. I would wager my house that I will not need the black sack this week. When the dugout is in the shade there is some relief. But there is no hiding from the heat while on the pitch. It is something we will have to get used to quickly and find a way to perform through it. Everyone came away from the session without too much complaints, so long as we keep hydrated and protected with sunscreen we should be good.
I say no complaints though Andy was hit by a ball on the leg, off the bat of a GB player. We were stretching outside the field and the ball dropped out of the sky, to shouts of – “heads!” and “lookout”. It caught her on the calf and she has a nice bruise as a momento of her first day in Dupnitsa.
Newsflash!!! Hotel Rila has a Spa in the basement! Sauna, steam room, pool, Jacuzzi. The Irish team spent about an hour in the spa, soaking muscles and trying out various hot/cold combinations to get the lactic acid moving about. I have the feeling we will frequent the spa many times during the week.
So it’s late now on the eve of our first game. I’m sitting here watching Frank loosen up on his foam roller as I write this and feeling ready for sleep. We are playing GB at 9am on Pitch 1 tomorrow. The bus is picking us up at 745am. I can’t wait to get this show on the road. I feel a certain something within the squad that makes me feel we can do something special this week. There are lots of good teams here and we are one of them. As our coach told us this evening: “hit it hard, and good things will happen”. Bring it on!
Gentlemen, to bed! For tomorrow we rise at…6am…Gentlemen, to bed! for we rise on the morrow at 6 fifteen…well..with enough time to make the bus at 745am…so lets say…ah crap I dont know.