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2015: Vindication for Irish

"We had to lose it first to win it," said Eastern Region IRL captain Kenneth Hoey as his side took the amateur title.

Kenneth Hoey lifts the trophy for Eastern Region IRL
Kenneth Hoey lifts the trophy for Eastern Region IRL ©Sportsfile

Eastern Region IRL captain Kenneth Hoey remembered the "sickening" feeling of walking past the UEFA Regions' Cup trophy after his side lost the 2011 final to hosts Braga; this time, it was someone else's turn to get that sinking feeling as the Irish side took the world's top amateur prize on home soil.

There was fun to be had at the finals in the Republic of Ireland, but the football was deadly serious, with teams from Turkey, Northern Ireland, Croatia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Poland joining the hosts in battling for a place in the final.

Gerry Smith's Eastern Region IRL were sure of a final place after two games, following up a 2-0 success against Ankara with a 2-0 victory against South Moravia – who had also started Group A with a victory. They could afford to rotate their squad and rest some key players for their final game, a 2-1 success against Tuzla, knowing that their 4 July final opponents still had plenty to do.

Sreten Ćuk's Zagreb side emerged as early favourites, mauling Dolnośląski 4-0 on the opening day and then beating Eastern Region NIR 3-1 on day two; however, Württemberg took four points from their opening two games, meaning the two sides went into their final game at Home Farm with an eye on the final. The German side took an early lead, but Zagreb – marshalled by brilliant playmaker Božidar Karamatić – recovered to win 2-1.

The final at Tallaght Stadium, however, was a step too far for the tiring Croatian side. Karamatić was on the bench through injury, and they could muster little response to David Lacey's early opener in front of a crowd of well over 1,000. "It's probably the best day of my life – it's unbelievable," Lacey said after the final whistle. "We've tried for so long to win this trophy – we got the silver medal in 2011, and now we got gold."

"A lot of work went into this," added Hoey, a postman from Cork. "We had to lose first to win it."