With just over two weeks to go before the beginning of the Homeless World Cup, the Irish Homeless team have flown to Chile to acclimatise, train and see the sights. It promises to be an exciting time for those involved and a time to finally put their training to the test.
Ireland has a good reputation amongst the other nations at the games and the players are determined to uphold the legacy of those before them. Ireland has regularly finished within the top ten teams in the world. Expectations are high but those involved are quietly optimistic about shocking some of the bigger teams.
Before the team flew out, Sean Kavanagh and the Team’s manager Mick Pender organised a friendly with a team made up of former League of Ireland players to put Ireland’s team to the test. The Homeless World Cup Team won in a gruelling 13-10 battle. Not bad for a team that has only been training together for a few weeks.
Before that Ireland’s team from last year’s Homeless World Cup was brought in to play and they were duly dispatched by this year’s recruits. On the back of such victories the team can travel to Chile with their heads held high. Those involved in the team know it’s too early for predictions but this is one of the strongest teams to be sent out to a tournament in recent years.
The team’s training is nearly completed and the players will be thankful once the games begin. Whilst the players appreciated the difficultly of the training, they are thankful that soon they can just concentrate on the football. Fitness coach Graham Tucker has spent the last six weeks putting the squad through a gruelling regime of long distance running, sprints and drills.
Before the team flew out they took part in a half-marathon, followed by an hour of short distance running and topped off with one hour of football training. For the players this was the norm, for the outside observer this is lunacy. But it’s what’s required. Having played in a World Cup in South America himself, Tucker knows the level of fitness needed to deal with the scorching heat and high intensity games.
If nothing else, the players will be prepared for this year’s games. three matches a day under a midday sun in a game where the ball is out of play for only a matter of seconds. Fitness is an imperative.
For the players it has been a long journey to Chile. Trials for the Irish Homeless Team began over a year ago. From a pool of over 200 potential footballers, eight have been chosen. To have made it this far is an achievement in itself and one that the FAI has chosen to recognise.
Regardless of how the team performs, each of the players will receive an official cap for representing the Republic. Incredibly the FAI is the only football association to recognise their nation’s homeless football team with such an honour. For the players it means more than words can describe. The chance to gain a cap for one’s country and share an honour with the likes of Roy Keane, Johnny Giles and others is something they will cherish for years to come.
The only question that remains is how the team will fare at the Tournament. Despite strong preparation, the odds are firmly stacked against the Irish team. The last three winners of the Homeless World Cup have been Scotland, Chile and Brazil. This year, pundits are touting the South American teams to emerge victorious once more.
Street leagues in South America are better funded, acclimatised to the warm weather and often have more players to choose from. México’s squad has been training together for the last six months and the Mexican street league has over 20,000 footballers to choose from.
Others like Brazil will be acclimatised to the heat and always have the legendary samba skills to fall back on. Finally we have the host nation of Chile, who will have thousands of supporters behind them for matches. In comparison to many of her competitors at the tournament, Ireland has had to work with slightly less resources.
Ireland’s street leagues roughly have just under one thousand players each year and the Irish Homeless World Cup Team only trains for a couple of weeks before each tournament. Each team does the best it can with the resources that it has.
Public and private donors have contributed generously to the Irish Project but the money pales in comparison with some of the bigger nations. In spite of all this, Ireland has consistently finished amongst the top teams in the second tier of the games, often providing a few shocks along the way.
The tournament will begin on October 19th and will run until the 26th. We at Pundit Arena will be providing updates of how Ireland’s team perform at the games. Judging from the past few performances, it’ll be a tournament to keep an eye out for and besides, how often do we get to cheer on Ireland at a World Cup?
Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.