Young, gifted and multi-ethnic–melting pot offers vital ingredients to Irish teams
SOCCER:The Republic of Ireland Under-15s scored a remarkable 3-0 win over Juventus in Qatar yesterday with Zachary Elbouzedi scoring twice and Jean Yves Poame once for Niall Harrison’s side, who will take on local side Aspire Academy today.
While the win was pleasing for Harrison, though, as well as for his employers at Abbotstown, the very make-up of the squad he has brought to the Middle East represents a cause for some satisfaction with the 17-strong party arguably the most ethnically diverse the association has ever sent away for a game.
Five of the 17 originally named for the trip were born outside Ireland or can point to prominent family roots abroad. Two, Ismael Diallo and Poame, arrived from Ivory Coast as kids while Daniel Mandroiu’s father’s family is originally from Romania. All, observes the FAI’s intercultural officer Des Tomlinson, feel at home in the green jerseys they wore for the very first time yesterday.
“If you talk to kids generally who come here at a young age in terms of their awareness of nationality then it’s going to be Irish,” he says. “They would still be aware of their family’s country of origin and the traditions that they are being taught at home. But if you talk to Noe (Baba, the 16 year-old born in Cameroon who has lived and played in Castlebar for the last six years and who has just signed for Fulham) his socialisation is in Mayo. For the lads in Corduff, it’s Corduff. They all have Irish passports and they all feel Irish.”
Tomlinson works closely with Harrison, who oversees the association’s Emerging Talent Programme, to bring promising youngsters from all sections of the community into the fold. While players must be eligible to play competitively for Ireland, which means having or being entitled to a passport, in order to get into the programme, clubs up and down the country are working with kids from all backgrounds, including those struggling to obtain citizenship.
Outside of Dublin, Tomlinson, who is also on the board of the charity, Show Racism The Red Card, cites the likes of Middleton in Cork, Foundation in Galway and Limerick’s Granville Rangers as examples who do particularly good work in the area. He and the FAI’s regional development officers run a number of programmes aimed at involving children from Ireland’s newer communities in the game and once recruited at their schools a co-ordinated effort is made to channel them into local clubs.
Baba’s progress from a 10-year-old still finding it difficult to communicate is an impressive example of how swiftly things can move along when the system works. The number of clubs who are represented at international level for the very first time this week also indicates the way the large-scale investment during the boom has levelled the playing field, so to speak, in schoolboy football.