Ireland win Homeless World Cup Men's Shield after an undefeated run
Ireland 4 Egypt 4 ( Ireland win in penalty shootout) before a packed stadium Ireland triumphed in a nail biting final.
Starting well Ireland found themselves behind to a well-taken goal by Egypt. Both teams were nervous and Ireland found it difficult to get into their rhythm, however Ireland equalised through Captain Adrian Power but parity didn't last long as once again Egypt went in front with a clever toe poke which found the corner of the net.
Half time 2-1 in favour of Egypt.
Ireland came out the second half and forced the play and again equalised when the nimble footed Michael McDonagh scored after a clever move.
The Irish however were still finding it difficult to impose themselves as they had in previous games and once again fell behind to a forceful toe poke from outside the box. 3-2 up the Egyptians were putting it up to the Irish and with time running against them Ireland continued to pushed forward and were justly rewarded when Adrian Power lived up to his name and powered in an equaliser.
Now the Irish had the bit between their teeth and after clever work by Dean O' Connell, McDonagh put Ireland in front. With time running out Ireland looked comfortable to see out the match but once again there was a twist in the tale and stunningly and to Ireland’s horror with the last kick of the game Egypt equalised
and the final whistle blew. And so, as has been the case in Ireland’s campaign their inability to see out games was costing them dearly and now they faced a penalty shootout once more.
Come the hour come the man and up stepped Limerick man and Captain Adrian Power to the penalty spot the Irish held their breath but they need not have worried because Power's penalty was text book leaving the goalie no chance. Now it was Egypt’s turn and with Ireland’s goalie John Farrell between the posts the pressure was on. The ball came flying in off the Egyptian's boot but Farrell stayed big and made the save.
Ireland win the Homeless World Cup plate competition.
13 games unbeaten in six days an incredible achievement by the team and Homeless Street League coach Thomas Morgan, as a delighted manager Sean Kavanagh beamed “What a team, our coach Thomas instilled a wining mentally and these lads gave it their all, I am proud and their country can be proud, there were no prima donnas on this team, just honest lads and footballers who gave their all for the green jersey. What more can I say”
Colin Farrell, supporting Ireland at the Homeless World Cup 2015 “It is about giving a sense of purpose, inclusion and community through football.”
The 13th annual Homeless World Cup tournament will be held in Chile from 19th-26th October and Ireland has picked the cream from the Street leagues, in the hope of bringing back the trophy, but the Street Soccer League is about a lot more than scoring goals –it literally has (and will continue to) change lives. J
The Street Soccer League - set up to support young men affected by issues such as homelessness, addiction and unemployment - has proved an effective tool back into mainstream society over the last 12 years, and Kavanagh has witnessed many success stories first hand. This is what keeps him dedicated to a project that often lacks funding, but which, he says, is a crucial tool in re-integrating its participants back into ‘meaningful living.’
‘Looking at these guys, it’s easy to forget that they have crossed many hurdles to get here,’ he says. ‘They deal with homelessness, unemployment and are often on the peripheries of life, on the outside looking in. So for them to commit to getting up at six o’clock every Saturday morning, travelling to Dublin for training, to be so focused, organized and fit, is a testament to everyone involved in the Street Leagues. The sense of personal achievement – from year-round participation in the leagues, and especially, representing their country in the World Cup – cannot be under-valued. It really is a great tool in bringing about meaningful, and often lasting change.’
This team certainly comes across as a group of dedicated, talented athletes, determined to do their utmost to perform well for their country. There is no bad humour or griping even when fitness coach Graham Tucker notches up the pressure. As a team they are committed to representing their country to the absolute best of their ability, and their excitement and pride is palpable.
‘I am determined to do my best,’ says Paul O’Connor, a smiling 20-year-old from Pearse Street in Dublin. ‘There’s a fair bit of pressure on me - in my own mind - because this year I’m the only one from my area picked for the team, so I want to do well for all the other lads who didn’t make it.’
As the father of a young baby, and unemployed, despite having done numerous courses, Paul sees football as a way of keeping him focused, self-motivated and driven. It has also helped him steer clear of the pitfalls, living in an area synonymous with drug abuse, unemployment and disaffection. ‘You see drugs every thirty steps living where I do,’ says Paul. ‘I’ve seen many people going down that road; that has made me more determined not to. Being involved with the Street League has helped me. Graham (who also runs the Street League
down in Pearse Street) took me under his wing. He taught me how to deal with things, to have the right attitude in life. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.’
Coach Tommy Morgan has years of experience in the field of pro football, having carved out a remarkable career in both Britain and Ireland since he was a teenager. Having played for Belvedere, by the age of 16 he signed with Blackburn Rovers and was on the squad when they won the premiere league trophy in 1995. He also captained the Irish team that brought home the bronze during the 1997 Fifa World Youth Championships in Malaysia in 1997, then went on to play for various clubs including St. Pat’s and Bray Wanderers.
Seven years ago he began coaching for the Street Leagues in Wheatfield Prison and it was seeing the positive effects that football had on the players that encouraged him to stay involved. ‘You can see the positives straight away,’ he says. ‘Their whole attitude changes quickly as they get to understand the team environment. Its gives them respect, a sense of structure, and like any group of lads, they take it on board.’
He is particularly happy with his squad, whom he describes as ‘good lads’ who have both the necessary commitment and real ability. ‘You have to give them a pathway to express themselves and make them comfortable in their environment,’ he says, ‘but this team are great and have been training really hard. It’s a big adjustment, and a new format and they have to adapt to that quickly, but they are all very fit. They’ll be up against over 40 teams in Amsterdam, so it is tough, but if we’ve prepared them properly they should be fine.’
Joseph Thompson is one of the four from Portlaoise who made the team. An enthusiastic 21-year-old, he is now working towards a coaching qualification through the Kick-Start Gateway Programme. ‘I had struggled with things since I was a kid,’ says Joseph. ‘I had Dyslexia and my teachers told me I would never amount to anything. I got through secondary school purely through sport - GAA, football, hurling, running – sport meant everything to me, but because I didn’t get good grades, I wasn’t able to find a job.’
He continues, ‘As a teenager, things weren’t great with the family. I couldn’t handle it, so I left, becoming homeless. It was demoralising on the streets. I could see no way forward. All my life I’d been into sports and when that happened, sport just left me… I couldn’t see any way of coming out of homelessness. I stopped trusting people and found it hard to find that again.’
Things began to improve when he got involved with the Sports Partnership. ‘When I went into the programme I was very uncertain because of those trust issues, but now I’m so glad I did,’ he smiles. ‘Through the Street Leagues and the council I got training and now I teach kids and people with disabilities to play soccer. I’m also working towards my coaching badges; it’s great.’
Joseph was thrilled to be picked for the Irish team. ‘I wasn’t told until we were on our way back from the trials,’ he grins, ‘and I wanted to jump for joy when I heard. I’m so excited. I feel so proud. When I have that green jersey on my back and hear that National Anthem playing – I can’t wait!’
Relations with his family have also improved. ‘I’ve kind of come back to myself now. My confidence levels are up. I’m also getting on a lot better with my parents and they have never been prouder of me. They can’t wait to see me in my Irish colours representing my country.’
‘While of course the football is important and winning that coveted cup is on all the players’ minds, this is the real ethos of the Street Leagues at play,’ says Sean Kavanagh. ‘Fostering inclusivity and giving these young people a sense of themselves has a ripple effect on every aspect of their lives. The changes are obvious. Football can be that catalyst.’
Fitness Coach, Graham Tucker agrees. His life has changed completely since he represented Ireland in Mexico at the 2010 World Cup, and he now mentors other young people, running the Street Leagues as well as doing Youth Work at St. Andrews Resource Centre. ‘My life is completely different now,’ he admits. ‘Representing my country was a big motivating force, a big achievement for me. In the Street Leagues we try and keep them focused on their lives and a lot of them have done really well. Seeing them progress, seeing their sense of joy and
pride at representing their country, it’s amazing the turnaround in their lives after that.’
▪The Homeless World Cup takes place in Amsterdam between September 12- 19th.