2008 IBSA European Football Championships

Ciaran O’Brien has become the latest former Leicester Celtic player to represent Ireland at international level when he took part in the IBSA European Football Championships for the partially sighted in Turkey in early 2008. 
Ireland were ranked 13th in the World; as a result of their success in Turkey, Ireland are now ranked 6th in Europe, gaining automatic qualification to the IBSA World Football Championships in Argentina. Ireland were drawn in a tough group with three-times World Champions, Belarus, as well as Spain, who were ranked number two in Europe.
In the first match against Spain, Ireland took the lead with eight minutes remaining, with a well-taken goal by Warren McDonald. After constant pressure, Spain eventually breached the Ireland defence to equalise in the last four minutes. Spain continued to press and, heartbreak for Ireland, scored the winner in the final seconds, emerging victorious 2-1. Ireland team manager, Robert Moore: “Although the lads are gutted, they gave everything they had in the tank – I’m so proud of them”. Next up were tournament hot favourites Belarus, who play football on a full-time basis in their native country. Ireland knew what to expect and doggedly defended and fought for every ball until five minutes before the break, when Belarus scored to make it 1-0 at half-time.
In the second half, an enthralling game developed – very entertaining for the neutral observer. Ireland pressed for an equaliser, but unfortunately were left exposed, and paid the price when, with three minutes remaining, Belarus scored their second goal to seal the result; final score 2-0. The Ireland players, naturally, were disappointed to lose once again but, were reminded that Belarus had defeated other teams by far greater margins – in fact, the margin against Ireland would prove to be their lowest in the entire tournament, a tribute to how far this Irish squad had come on in recent years. Coach Tony McDonald put things in perspective: “on paper, we lost this game but this was a tremendous testament to the character of the team. The lads won’t realise what they have achieved here today, but they certainly will in time”.
Ireland’s next group match was against France, and as a result of their performances to date in the tournament, they were considered favourites (France having been beaten 6-0 by Belarus). However, France were in no mood to allow Ireland to dominate the match and took the lead early in the first half. This appeared to galvanise the Ireland team and, sure enough, captain Paddy Coates came to the rescue with a superb goal to leave the teams all-square at the break 1-1. Ireland played very solidly but were feeling the effects of their two physically demanding games against Spain and Belarus. However, the half-time team-talk (not to mention the efforts of team physiotherapist Fintan O’Donnell) seemed to have given the team renewed resolve when, after continuous pressure in the second half, John Gaughan rifled a shot into the top corner of the net to make it 2-1. Ireland continued to surge forward, leaving gaps in defence and were cruelly punished by France, who scored the equalising goal, to leave the score at the end: 2-2.
In order for Ireland to secure 3rd place in their group, it was vital that they beat Serbia (inexperienced newcomers to European football) by a greater margin than France, who defeated Serbia 14-0. As it transpired, Ireland were disciplined and clinical in their demolition of the hapless Serbs, winning out by 27-0, with Paddy Coates leading by example, scoring 9 goals, while other scorers for Ireland were: Niall Durham (5); Ciaran O’Brien (5); Warren McDonald (4); John Gaughan (3); and finally, Roland Kennedy scored one goal, creating a unique record by scoring in four European Championships since 1998. With Spain defeating France 7-0, Ireland’s 3rd place position was confirmed and, as a consequence, qualified to play England to decide 5th and 6th places in championships.
The game against England was a thrilling encounter, with both sides evenly matched throughout. After 10 minutes, Ireland took the lead through Warren McDonald, but were pegged back by England who equalised before half-time. With Irish legs beginning to tire from their heroic efforts during the week, England scrambled the winning goal with 8 minutes remaining to secure victory by 2-1, leaving Ireland in a creditable 6th place in the tournament. The IBS International Football Squad have set new standards at this tournament, having reached their highest ever ranking in Europe, securing automatic qualification for the IBSA World Football Championships in Argentina in 2009. Michael Clarke, Chairman of Irish Blind Sports: “The IBS Footballers have brought honour and pride to all in Irish Blind Sports. By their achievements in Turkey, I am hopeful that more blind and partially sighted people, young and old, will be encouraged to participate at all levels of sport in Ireland”.
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