The Irish Amputee Football Association's World Cup squad; Owen Casey, Donal Bligh, Kevin Cahillane, Simon Baker, David Saunders, Mandy King, Garry Hoey, Alan Wall, James Boyle, Kevan O'Rourke, Craig Dowling and James Conroy, were presented with their International caps last night by FAI Chief Executive John Delaney. The ceremony, hosted at Bewleys Airport Hotel marked the end of a two week journey which saw the 16 strong squad travel to Culiacan, Mexico, compete at the World Cup against some of the finest teams in the sport and achieve a World ranking of 18th. The squad received a roaring reception at Dublin Airport where family and friends continued the incredible support that the players and staff had been blessed with throughout the tournament and indeed throughout the year. The FAI's Football For All National Coordinator Oisin Jordan welcomed the team home at Bewleys Hotel and John Delaney, who had addressed the squad before their departure, returned to award the players for their achievement. This squad made history as the first Irish team ever to compete at the Amputee Football World Cup and will undoubtedly go on to compete at many more in the years to come.
The IAFA International squad embarked on a once in a lifetime adventure nearly two weeks ago when they left Ireland for Mexico. In the coming weeks the players and coaching staff will have ample time to reflect on what was an incredible and invaluable experience: a World Cup debut against Brazil; a group game against the three time, reigning, World Champions Uzbekistan; games against sides from South America and Africa and an intense battle over two games with Eastern Europeans Ukraine.
Expectations were high when the squad left Dublin. Ten months of preparation, training and hard work had been put in by both players and coaching staff. Ireland were drawn in the tournament's group of death alongside Brazil, Uzbekistan and Ukraine, all three of whom were ranked within the top ten before the tournament. The Irish amputees were unlucky to lose to Brazil in their first game, inches away from taking the lead in the game on a number of occasions. World Champions Uzbekistan proved too strong for Ireland in their second game although James Boyle did score Ireland's first goal of the World Cup in the second half. It is also worth noting that Ireland were the only other team, with finalists Angola, to score a goal against the former World Champions during the tournament.
Ireland played Ukraine in their final group game. Having drawn the first half 0 - 0, a harsh second half penalty left Ireland feeling that they could have won the game. Neither side progressed to the last 16. Ukraine's poor goal difference meant that they would contest the Copa Culiacan with the Irish team, Kenya and Columbia. Ireland cruised past Kenya despite not firing on all cylinders. They were then in the driving seat against Columbia until the South Americans scored a fortuitious equaliser. A second half sending off meant that Ireland had to settle for a point. Level with Ukraine after two group games the sides played off for top spot in the group in their final game of the tournament. Fatigue and the emotion of the occasion had a bearing of the Irish team's performance. Ukraine took the lead and used their vast experience to grind out a win, Ireland's effort ensuring that they would have to battle to the very end.
Ireland finished the tournament in 18th position, second in the Copa Culiacan group with 4 points. Ireland were one of the highest placed World Cup debutants. They were recognised by numerous sides, Ukraine in particular who had beaten them convincingly in 2012, as one of the up and coming sides in the sport. While the draw hindered Ireland's progress in the tournament the opportunity to play against some of the best teams in the World will undoubtedly stand to Ireland as they look to build on this invaluable experience.
The IAFA players would like to sincerely thank the coaching staff for their monumental efforts throughout the year. Manager Christy McElligott, Coach Kevin Brady, High Performance Coach Alan Heary and Physio Dave Cushen have all worked tirelessly to prepare the squad for their World Cup experience. No stone was left unturned and the players wanted for nothing over the course of the year.
To the families, friends, fans and supporters, you enabled the players and staff to be all that they could be during the tournament and during the year. You stuck by us through thick and thin, shared in the excitement and the disappointment and made each and everyone of us feel like superstars. We at the IAFA could never thank you enough.
We would like to thank the FAI, Oisin Jordan and John Delaney in particular, for your belief in our ability to compete at International level. To our main sponsor Paddy Power without whom our trip to Mexico would not have been possible and indeed to everyone both in Ireland and Mexico who contributed in so many ways to make our World Cup experience so enjoyable.
Last but by no means least the IAFA would like to say a special word of thanks to the two members of our Junior squad who travelled all the way to Mexico to share in the experience with the International squad, Josh Dunne and Kieran McCartney. It was a real pleasure to share the experience with these superfans and their mothers, Orla Dunne and Sonja McCartney. Both shared results, pictures and videos through their Facebook pages and kept all our supporters back home up to date with events in Mexico when the squad itself was unable to do so. Issues with communication and internet access were a problem for the team in Mexico but the players and staff were enabled to rest easy safe in the knowledge that Josh and Kieran were sending messages home on our behalf.
This may be the end of our World Cup journey 2014 but... brace yourselves... this is only the beginning of the IAFA's efforts to compete at the highest level Internationally in the years to come.
From a tired and emotional IAFA reporter, thank you all for sharing the journey with us, visiting our website and social media pages, and I sincerely hope you'll continue to follows us!? As the fella says; We'll be back!! COYBIG!!