HAVING qualified three years ago for the Deaf European Futsal Championships, COVID put a halt to the competition but thankfully it resumed and this week two Cork girls are part of the international squad who compete in Italy.
Cork City’s Nathalie O’Brien and Carrigaline player Rebekah Grant are key players for Sinisa Sicar’s side who have got off to a great start in the championships.
On Thursday they had a great five-nil win over Israel and a four-nil win over Switzerland, however two losses to Germany and Spain have made things difficult for them in their quest is to qualify for next year's World Cup in Brazil.
At the time of writing this, the girls in green are hoping for a win against Poland in the play-offs. How great would it be to have two women’s international teams compete in a World Cup tournament next year?
Here O’Brien and Grant tell us about their experience and the honour of playing for their country.
“This is the fifth international tournament I’ve played in,” said O’Brien.
"I’ve played in Amsterdam, Switzerland, Finland and it’s fantastic to be in Italy this week. We are here in the beautiful Montselivano having qualified for the championships back in 2019.
"Obviously, due to COVID the tournament was delayed until now but it’s great to be asked even after this length of time.
“It’s difficult to get the side together for the past few months with girls playing in their own leagues etc. however, we did manage to meet a few times and that made it more exciting for everyone.
“There was a great buzz leading up to the tournament and now that we’re here everybody is eager to do well.
"We’ve had some great performances but also some disappointing, but we are still hoping we can qualify.
“The squad is based on players from all over Ireland. The players are mainly from Dublin, two from Donegal, two from Cork, one from Carlow, one from Roscommon, one from Galway and one from Sligo.
"Most of the girls play with their local teams while there’s Laura who plays in WNL with the U17’s Sligo women’s team.
"I play with Cork City seniors in the WNL and we also have Aisling Hanly who plays GAA with the Roscommon team (who are currently in the semi-final of their championship.)
“Having another Cork girl on the team is great to be honest because Rebekah is a great bit of stuff.
"She’s a warrior on the pitch, never ever gives up and I admire that so much about her. And she’s a great crack to be fair. She’s done really well so far in the tournament, and I imagine she will only get better as the games go on.
“For me, to play for my country it means so much. It’s a great feeling representing my country, making my family proud, especially my dad who gets so excited.
"Nothing beats that feeling.”
Grant, who was thrilled to have scored a hat-trick against Israel, is also delighted to be part of the squad and hopes she can help her side to a World Cup.
“I feel very proud of myself to be playing for my country and so hope I can be a role model for younger kids with a disability like mine,” said Grant.
“We have a talented team but more importantly a great group of people. Prior to this qualifying campaign, I had 14 international futsal caps scoring 12 goals.
"I was delighted to add to that tally this week. To qualify for the World Cup next year in Brazil would be unbelievable. I hope we can do it.
“I currently play with my local club Carrigaline after a brief spell with Cork City at underage level.
"I also play with the college team, MTU Tralee and all these sessions have helped me develop as a player.
“Like Nathalie it is great for us to experience playing with girls who aren’t deaf as well as being part of a deaf team.
"This week we get to experience the game at a different level in so many aspects. We as a team do really well to communicate and that’s down to excellent management and organisation.
"They are always very positive, we trust each other, we use gesture, sign language, and lips reading. It is a good challenge for the team because you learn new experiences in their life.
“We’ve had a great week to date and let’s hope we can finish on a high and secure qualification.”