My Invictus Diary: Game Day!
27th September 2017
Richard Osborne will be one of the only Brits who will be backing another country at this year’s Invictus Games. His incredible coaching journey has seen him become the coach of the Georgian sitting volleyball team and he’ll be mentoring them at this year’s Games. While in Toronto, he’s writing an exclusive diary for Volleyball England. In his fifth piece Richard has laid out the plans but can the Georgians perform under pressure and make it to the semi-finals?
It's not everyday you get a police escort to work, but for the second day running that's exactly what we receive as five Canadian riders navigate us expertly to the Pan Am Centre where the day of reckoning has arrived. There has been an incredible transformation of the sports hall overnight and the organisers have pulled out all the stops to lay out three courts with sitting volleyball flooring and install all manner of electronic equipment to record scores and televise events. I can't let the moment pass without paying tribute to Chris Williamson and team for pulling it all together and, of course, the army of volunteers who are out in force to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Our first match is against Jordan as those who have read my earlier posts will remember have kept me awake at night as I've mentally plotted our path to victory. The Georgian coach arrived last night and we had very good discussions about all manner of related issues. How has training gone? Very well. Who are good teams? Georgia, obviously! Who do we play first? Jordan. Are they good? Yes, my ulcer can testify to that!
And so the moment arrives. The teams warm up and we get into a huddle for a final team talk. I remind the players where they have come from since 2014, that they have fought together on the battlefield and do so again now on the volleyball court, where victory will depend on hunger, determination and the indomitable Georgian spirit that they will NEVER give up (I shout the last bit for dramatic effect...). The team bellows its customary call, "Sakartvelo", which means "Georgia".
The officials call the teams to the service line and I take a deep breath. After a scrappy start, the Georgians get into their stride and start to build momentum putting Jordan under pressure with well timed hits and good blocking, snuffing out their main threat. The first set is won by Georgia 25-13. A fantastic start but the job isn't done. The second set is fought tooth and nail by both teams and remains tight throughout, however, Georgia pull away and claim victory 25-20. Brilliant! I cannot contain my relief and yell out a primeval scream, which accounts for my hoarse voice now!
A short break and we reconvene for our second test of the day - Estonia. I had watched them train yesterday and while I thought they looked capable, and certainly more accomplished than last year, I did not consider them to be as potent as Jordan. Big mistake. No two games are the same and where Jordan had played 3-touch volleyball as much as possible, Estonia were prone to pushing the ball back over on the first or second touch. The Georgians were unprepared and slow to react. Goga spoke constantly to the team and I yelled instructions to Beso, the captain, to help the team combat this unexpected tactic. With a tighter defence and greater concentration now in place Georgia pull away and take the first set 25-17. The Estonians came out for the second set with renewed vigour but the Georgian powerhouse rolls them over 25-12. Fantastic! Georgia top their pool and will play France who were 2nd in pool B for a place in the semi-final.
Goga and I retreat to the canteen for some much needed sustenance. His English has improved since I saw him in April and we work on the plan for France. Before we know it we are called back to court for our last match of the day. I had not had much opportunity to observe France during the day and they had evaded me at both training sessions so I was stepping into the unknown. I warm up Giorgi, the Libero, while Goga works with the setters and the hitters do their thing. The match starts and it is immediately clear that France are in the same mould as Estonia, preferring to push the first and second balls over the net instead of attempting to set up an attack. The first set is completed quickly in favour of Georgia 25-10. One more set and our place in the semi-final is secure. It arrives momentarily with Georgia striding ahead 25-13.
For the third year running, Georgia have progressed to the semi-final but who will be their opponents we wonder? The answer lies in the outcome of the match between the USA and Netherlands. We have played the latter for the bronze medal in both 2014 and 2016, with the Netherlands triumphing at the former and the Georgians exacting revenge last year. The first set is taken by the Netherlands but the US come back to take the second to tie the game. In a tense third set, which saw the score yo-yo between the two teams, the US just pipped Holland confirming their place in the semi-final.
Ecstatic at our success the players head back to the hotel for a rest before we go to dinner followed by a team meeting.
It's been a perfect day. Oh, and on top of all that, today was my birthday. I am fifty. The Georgians gave me three gifts today; victories against Jordan, Estonia and France. I return to my room and there are balloons and a bottle of wine from my family at home. I wish they were here with me, but thanks to social media I can see them every day. For some reason, though, they always seem to be out when I call!
The finals will be streamed live in the UK so anyone interested in following the teams can via the link here: http://sportscanada.tv/invictusgames2017/livestream-schedule
Read Richard's other diary posts: