WALKING football remains a minority pursuit in Ireland but a growing number of people are finding the modified form of the game the perfect way to stay fit and happy and to forge friendships.
Paul Cumiskey arranges games for teams made up mainly of people between 50 and 80 around Dublin, and he estimates around a hundred people play the game regularly.
He’s seen a notable increase since the turn of the year, having had to cancel a number of games before Christmas due to lack of interest.
Whether it’s new year’s resolutions or the enthusiasm of entering into a new year with a fresh slate, it’s an encouraging development for Cumiskey ahead of February’s Walking Football Festival.
The authorities have been enthusiastic in their support, with both Dublin City Council and the FAI backing initiatives to get people back into sport in their retirement years.
Next Wednesday sees the National Training Centre in Abbotstown host the Walking Football Festival (kick-off 11am), bringing together teams from Dublin and beyond in one place.
“We’re trying to get a few of the lads who are playing in different places to come up on the same day and we’ll have a tournament between us,” Cumiskey tells the Dublin Gazette.
“We have less than a hundred [players in Dublin] at the moment, but it’s down to people not knowing about it. When I say the phrase walking football to people, it’s the first they’ve heard of it.
“I say to men who come up to me – it’s open to women as well – that you can go home and tell people you played a football match today.
“And they did, because it’s a football match for their age with no sprightly youngfella flying around the pitch. It’s a level playing field. Somebody in their 70s can play against me, who’s 54.
The social element of walking football is equally as important as the health benefits, especially for people living on their own.
“This is probably between someone getting out of bed in the morning and not. There’s guys coming down at half 11 on a Wednesday and they’re sprightly.
“Whereas you can go down to them on a Thursday and they probably don’t even move out of the house. In most of the places we try to get the lads to sit down and have tea and biscuits after it.
“Lads open up and, because the common denominator is already there, they’ll talk about the football that was on at the weekend, or the Ireland team.
“This could be two people who’d passed each other in the street the day before because they didn’t know they had that common denominator.”
To get involved in walking football, call or text Paul Cumiskey on 0863371799.