TWO Clare players were among Ireland’s seven-a-side soccer team to take gold at the Special Olympics European Summer Games held in Antwerp, Belgium last weekend.
Peter Kavanagh from Ennis and Declan O’Dwyer from Kilkishen performed extremely well, with Peter being named man of the match, having scored a hat-trick in the final against Israel. They won the game 4-0.
This is the first time that Ireland has participated in the seven-a-side event. It previously participated in 11-a-side and five-a-side but this is the first time they have achieved gold at European or World Games. In addition to this, they also took a Fair Play Award in recognition of their exemplary conduct on the pitch.
Declan participated in three games on the first two days of the championship but got injured and had to sit out the remaining games from Tuesday onwards. Nevertheless, he was an important cog playing in defence and also on the forward line during those games.
Team manager Graham Hillick explained the team came together just nine months ago and in that time, it has gone on to achieve amazing heights.
“To win a European championship in nine months with a team of guys that you haven’t played with and don’t know says it all as to how far they have come. We knew they would do well but we never expected them to do as well as they did, they have come from the bottom all the way to the top.
“As far as I know, this is the first time Ireland has won gold between European and World Games in any of these competitions [soccer]. They have won silver and bronze so that’s what makes this a massive achievement,” Mr Hillick said.
Ten players travelled to Antwerp on this Irish panel from Clare, Carlow, Cork and Wicklow.
“This was the team’s first time competing in these games; we came together nine months ago and we just gelled straight away and this is the first full major competition we have played. We had a friendly in Dublin before we left but that was the first time they played together, that’s what makes it all the more special,” Mr Hillick added.
He paid particular tribute to Peter who he said “had a massive part to play in all the games, especially in the final game”.
“He scored a hat-trick, so you could say he won the final for us. It was massive. He got man of the match, so that was pretty special,” he concluded.
A new team will be selected to represent Ireland at the World Games next year.
By Carol Byrne