THE IRISH deaf futsal team qualified for the European Championships with Greenhills’ Laura Clarke – who captained the side – Lucan’s Jade Kavanagh and Tallaght’s Helen Ward all part of their run.
They needed to finish in the top four of their qualifying group of five over three days. While that might sound an eminently manageable task, the presence of powerhouse sides Germany and Denmark, alongside strong Netherlands and Italy sides, made the Irish favourites to finish bottom. The side outdid themselves, however, and came through at the last.
On the opening day, Ireland played out a dramatic 3-3 draw with the Dutch hosts in which Ireland saw a player sent off, while they had led late on. A second day defeat to European champions Germany, 6-1 left them with two vital games on Sunday to decide their fate.
They lost heavily on Sunday morning, 13-0 to Denmark, who are regulars in the European top three. Crucially, though, they dismissed Italy 6-2 in the final game and ensured qualification along the way. Italy had gone into the game a point behind Ireland and needing the win.
Nathalie O’Brien scored twice in the opening half, one which saw an Italian player and coach dismissed, and the Ireland leading 2-1 at half time. Aisling Hanley and Carmel Heery added second half goals in an ultimately comfortable victory.
Coach Dave Bell said of the outcome: “We knew we’re not on the same level as Denmark yet. We wanted to have our most influential team out for the Italy game, so we did that.”
Fellow coach Ben O’Looney added: “The question after a heavy defeat like that was always going to be can the girls pick themselves up and bounce back.
“Full credit to the squad, they did a great job, it showed an awful lot of character, an awful lot of strength.
“We were looking at traditionally big teams, and every game is tough. International football is new to all but two of them, but we always had a lot of faith in the skill level. It was about competing on the big stage.”
“We’ve got a really, really young team,” Bell added. “It’s magnificent. The first game against Holland was a great game. Germany was a great experience for the girls, they’re the best team in Europe at the moment. We learnt a lot from that game, and we’re really developing.
Captain Clarke in particular was commended by the coaches, having played just two months after giving birth.
The squad, which has an average age of just 19, contained a large majority of players who had never played competitive international futsal before, and will now travel to the finals, which take place in Finland in December of this year.