Local trio set for deaf futsal Euro bid

by James Hendicott

IRELAND face a “group of death” scenario, according to assistant manager Ben O’Looney, as they head to Amsterdam to compete in European qualifying for the Deaf Women’s Futsal European Cup this weekend.
Of the 14-player panel, captain Laura Clarke, from Greenhills – who will represent Doncaster Belles in the deaf Champions League this year – and is an 11-time winner of the deaf inter-pros.
Forward Jade Kavanagh (Lucan) is a regular in the Leinster inter-pro side as is Tallaght youngster Helen Ward is an inter-pro regular.
In the qualifier, Ireland face Germany, hosts Holland, Italy and Denmark over the course of three days, including a two-game Sunday, with the talented young squad hoping to finish in the top four who advance from the group.
“The main difference between deaf futsal and regular futsal is the difficulty in communicating from the bench,” O’Looney told the Dublin Gazette of the group heading for Holland.
“We have strategy timeouts but, once you’re playing, there’s not much the management can do to impact strategy, which is very important.
“The refereeing operates in a different way, too. There are three umpires, one for each third of the pitch, and they use flags to indicate when the game starts and stops, but other than that, it’s the same as the normal game.
“In some ways futsal is more akin to basketball than soccer, as its very technical and shape-oriented. We have a lot of experience in our squad, including Nathalie O’Brien, who won the FAI Senior Cup with Cork this year.
“Futsal’s been around for deaf players for a while in Ireland, but there’s a real new push around it in the FAI over the last year. We’ve gone from six players to 24. That does unfortunately mean we can’t bring everyone to Holland, so the next step is establishing an Under-18s side, as we have a lot of young players with a lot of potential. Quite a few also play mainstream football, especially the younger girls.
“We only meet about every three weeks, which means we’ve had to give the girls a lot of fitness tasks to work on on their own. There are only five on the pitch at any one time, so it is a lot about game management, and about the transition from defence into attack.”

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