Down Syndrome Futsal squad receives international caps

“Trailblazers, you will always have that. As the first ever players with Down Syndrome to play Futsal internationally, I am sure you are very proud; there is very few people actually in the world that actually go on and played for their country. In any type of sport and any type of football or Futsal. Amazing achievement. We as an association is very proud of you.” Marc Canham, FAI Director of Football on presenting the team with their international caps.

Ireland’s first national Down Syndrome Futsal team was presented with their international caps ahead of the friendly Ireland vs New Zealand game at Aviva stadium on Tuesday 21st November. Football for All’s Paddy O’Reilly, Head coach Paul Smyth and Marc Canham met with the team and their parents.

“The awarding of a cap to an international player dates back to the 1870s and remains a symbolic gesture, as well as a prized keepsake. Therefore it was important to ensure that all players who featured for Ireland at senior level were eligible to receive this one-off cap that represents their involvement with the team.” In this instance, these caps were hard earned as Ireland’s first international Down Syndrome Futsal team travelled to Padua, Italy, in early September to participate in the Sport Union for Athletes with Down Syndrome (SUDS) European Championships.

The team had a jam-packed week, playing 5 games in 4 days. Turkey, Italy and Portugal have been playing for at least 4 years in different international tournaments and had to stand their ground against the newcomers.

One of the stars of the team, was no other than local player Jamie Linden. Jamie’s experience in and knowledge of the game brought a certain calmness to the team during the first game. Once the team got the feel of the competition, Jamie stepped up and set the tone as defender landing him the nickname “the Hulk”. He was excellent in applying his hard-earned skills. Jamie is well known in town and has been playing in various teams in Dundalk over the years.

Jamie Linden is presented with his cap by FAI director of football Marc Canham during the Ireland Down Syndrome Futsal Squad Cap Presentation at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Being first-time competitors did not leave the Irish team at a disadvantage reckoned Máire Hourigan, mom of Futsal player Cian Kelleher from Cork: “Our athletes demonstrated belief and strong heart and operated in a fun-loving way throughout the week. I am so proud of all of them and loved the cohesive way the teams bonded, dressed in their similar attire. Memories were created, experiences were made, and our athletes led the way in style in how they handled themselves, one another, and their opponents. Truly phenomenal ambassadors. Onwards and upwards. There are no limits!”.

A number of the players selected for the squad had previous involvement in Football For All, and were very quick to adapt their skills to Futsal. This event also provided the players with the opportunity to test their skills against other players with Down Syndrome from the other nations involved.

Creating a player pathway for players with Down syndrome in Ireland from grassroots all the way through to International Level, would be the next natural step. By getting more players with Down Syndrome playing to play Futsal (the International game is Futsal) on a regular basis will mean that the future is bright and more players can aspire to represent their country at future events.

Irish multisport down syndrome futsal team training session at Corduff Sports Centre in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paul Smyth, Head coach, was delighted by the team’s performance “The players and families made huge sacrifices all through the year in preparation for the SUDS European Championships. This enabled the team to match more established countries with outstanding performances throughout the tournament. On behalf of the coaching team, Brendan Corish, Sean Mulligan and myself, we would like to acknowledge the support of the families and supporters who got behind the team and made it such a special experience. It made us all proud to be Irish. We would also like to recognise the endeavours of those pioneers who worked tirelessly on this project, the Down Syndrome Louth and Meath Branch and the unbelievable support of the communities and businesses. It was a pleasure to be involved with this historic group of players.”