Ireland, as I have said somewhere between twelve and 3,000 times already, is known for its unbelievable natural beauty. The green grass, rolling hills and stone cliffs produce unbelievable photo opportunities. Many Americans, however, only get to experience the Republic of Ireland’s splendor, never venturing into what they perceive to be a dangerous Northern Ireland. That is a real shame, because that means they will never get the chance to see Giant’s Causeway.
We visited the Causeway after our trip to the infamous rope bridge. Completed all in one day, the treks up and down the Irish landscape were quite tiring. No worries, however. The team was fully prepared for our excursions. Armed with flip-flops, surgically repaired joints and bum ankles, we all left wanting more climbing and exploring (read with sarcasm).
Formed from millions of years of hardening volcanic lava, the Causeway is an incredible display of Mother Nature’s ability to produce stunning scenery. The pictures I show here do it no justice. If I were to ramble on about how gorgeous it was any longer, you would stop reading. So there, I’m done.
After our stops at the Rope Bridge and Giant’s Causeway, we finished our extra busy Monday with a tour of the Bushmill Distillery. The 400-year-old distillery produces the famous Bushmill Whiskey. While Irish whiskey is most commonly associated with Jameson in the states, Bushmill is just as recognizable on the island. Bushmill is the oldest distillery in Ireland and the tour of the distillery’s grounds was a neat inside look into the process of producing a drink that has simultaneously inspired generations of Irish poets and made me gag.
Admittedly, I am not a whiskey person. I admire those who sip the drink and somehow hold back the grimace that so naturally infects my face with the simple mention of the word. The team seems to sympathize with my views, as many of our complimentary glasses of whiskey that followed the tour were left untouched.
The distillery tour brought an end to our busy day and the team began its journey to our hotel in the city of Londonderry after a quick team dinner.
Arriving at the City Hotel of Londonderry late in the night, most of the team used Monday to catch up with sleep. For the first time on the trip, Tuesday morning and afternoon would be completely free for the team to use as they saw fit.
Tuesday in the city was a great way for the guys to get away from the previously ultra structured trip itinerary. Able to roam the streets, the team split up for lunch, allowing small groups of players to go on their own through the historic Irish city. Known for being the only walled city left in Ireland, Derry is a city that plays host to a multitude of street-side shops and stoned-city squares. Guys on the team got to make their way around the wall’s border, eat at local cafés and restaurants and get some shopping done for family and significant others (don’t expect anything great, I saw what some of these cheapskates got you).
The town of Londonderry sits on a beautiful river that wraps around about half of the city. It is much smaller than Belfast, yet the city life does not suffer at all from its size. With a lot of local pubs and retail shops, the street was vibrant throughout the duration of our stay.
Londonderry will be our last stop in beautiful Northern Ireland. From this point on, we will be in the Republic of Ireland.
For our second matchup of the tour, we faced off against a very physical and talented Ulster Elks squad at the University of Ulster at Jordanstown. For the second straight game, our team was treated to a fine Irish crowd. This contest, however, produced a much more partisan crowd as we lacked the support of the clinic’s attendees at this particular game.
In the end, the Ulster squad was able to hold off the Fords for a 74-62 win. Neither team shot particularly well from the floor, especially from beyond the arc. The Elks were able to get to the line much more than the Fords as the two Americans on the squad played extremely physical around the hoop.
In the previous contest, the Fords were able to get a lot of easy baskets in transition that greatly aided them in dealing with the unfamiliar 24-second shot clock. Many of the turnovers on this night, however, did not lead to easy baskets. The Elks were able to get back on defense and use their height advantage to slow down the Fords’ fast breaks.
Coupling the reduction of our fast break points with inconsistent shooting and untimely turnovers proved to be too much for us to overcome. Various Fords caught fire for brief parts during the game. Matt Stitt started off hot, followed with streaks by Alex Schwada, Ian Goldberg and Bo Friddell. But these bursts of points would prove to be short-lived, as we struggled to find consistent scoring throughout the game.
Ultimately, the Elks were a better team on this night. We learned a lot from our encounter with a team that was very physical and well organized. Hopefully, we can return to our winning ways tonight against Ballina.