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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 18 May 2021

'He arrived in from Lebanon and was training two days later'

Ireland’s Defence Forces are in the Netherlands where they will aim to book a place at next year’s World Military Games.

THIS WEEK, MEMBERS of the Irish Defence Forces will be serving their country wearing the green football kit rather than their combat uniforms. 

Many have spent time overseas in war-torn parts of the world, but Capt Richie Barber and his squad now find themselves in the small Dutch town of Harskamp — located less than an hour outside Amsterdam — for the 2019 CISM World Military Games qualifiers.

Ireland, who have only ever reached the finals twice before (in 2007 and 2017), face Lithuania at the home of third-tier club Ijsselmeervogels tomorrow before meeting the French on Friday. 

Three teams progress from the two mini groups of three, meaning Ireland will either have to top their group or finish as the best-placed runner-up to secure their spot at next year’s tournament in China. The other group features the Netherlands, Germany and Greece. 

Barber The Irish Defence Forces team. Source: Twitter/FAIreland

“France have just beaten Lithuania 4-0 so that has set a tough task for us,” Ireland boss Barber tells The42.

“They have thrown down the gauntlet for us. We’ll be looking to get three points and good score against Lithuania, and then hopefully it will be a winner-takes-all against France on Friday.

“They [the French] are good but from what I’ve seen today, we can beat them.”

Having represented Ireland for six years, including at last year’s World Cup in Oman, Barber has recently stepped in to replace former manager Ian Snee after he left to go overseas.  

With the help of coaches Colm Kavanagh and Anthony Jinks, the former St James’ Gate defender (who’s still lining out in the Leinster Senior League with Cherryfield United) has brought through a number of younger players ahead of the qualifiers.

“We’ve a very strong team,” he says. “It’s nearly a completely new one since Oman, with the exception of four or five. There has been a massive turnover, which is the nature of the army with people going overseas and new fellas coming in.

“We’ve taken in four or five recruits who only joined the army in the past year and they have stepped up and been brilliant — the likes of Glenn Fulham from Sacred Heart and Adrian Rafferty of Cherry Orchard.”

Ireland have traditionally punched above their weight on the international stage, and Barber adds: “In terms of size, we have the smallest army and the smallest pool of players in this by a long shot, but we always compete.

“The group is very committed and disciplined. They have a chance to represent their country, wear the green jersey and get a cap, which mightn’t happen for them otherwise.

“They have already served their country as it is, but the chance to do that in football means you get complete buy-in. There’s no easier lads to work with, they’re unbelievable and they would do anything for the team and for their country.”

In preparation for the games, the Boys in Green played nine warm-up matches over the past four weeks — including two Oscar Traynor Cup ties against the Carlow Soccer League and the Leinster Senior League — and claimed seven wins and two draws. Last Tuesday night saw them draw 0-0 against NIFL Premiership outfit Newry City at Oriel Park.

The way I look at it, I believe this team would survive in the SSE Airtricity League First Division,” insists Barber.

While Aidan Friel of Finn Harps will skipper the side, one of their key players is former Sligo Rovers and Wexford Youths midfielder Chris Kenny, who was remarkably back training with the team within 48 hours of returning from Lebanon.

“Chris was the team captain in Oman and was playing with Sligo Rovers at the time but he went overseas,” Barber says. “While he was there, he contacted me as he knew this was coming up. He said he was willing to sacrifice his UN leave to come in and be a part of the group.

“He arrived in from Lebanon and was training two days later. He’s looking at more nights away from his family to be part of this in order to drive the team on and help us qualify for the World Cup.”

Sean Maguire and Chris Kenny Chris Kenny up against Cork City's Sean Maguire during his Sligo Rovers days. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Getting to don the Ireland shirt is a major achievement at any level, and the group will be hoping they can now go one better and compete on the world stage in Wuhan City next October. 

I was lucky enough to captain the team when we got our first-ever win against Germany in 2014,” Barber ends. “That was an unbelievable honour and it’s probably right up there with serving your country overseas and helping people.

“For the lads, it means a lot. I handed out the jerseys the other night and we made a bit of a ceremony of it. They were taking photos, hanging them up, ironing them and making sure the kits were 100% ready to go.

“You could see the pride they take in the jersey, and it’s the same way we do with the uniform.”

Irish Defence Forces squad

Goalkeepers: Ken Deegan (St Francis), Darren Kelly (Lucan United), Gavin Mulreaney (Unattached)

Defenders: Lee Delaney (Evergreen), Chris Doolan (Ballymun United), Sean Guerins (St. Michaels FC), David Long (St Francis), Dean Tilley (St Patrick’s CY)

Midfielders: Ben Donohue (St Pauls FC), Ricky Fox (Shamrock Rovers), Aidan Friel (Finn Harps), Glenn Fullam (Sacred Heart FC), Chris Kenny (Shamrock Rovers), Sean Poutch (St. Mochtas FC), David Stack (Cobh Wanderers)

Forwards: Jody Dillon (Stradbally Town), Adrian Rafferty (Cherry Orchard), Paul Sheehan (Glin Rovers), Tony Smith (Curracloe FC)

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Ben Blake

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