Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI duo striving to raise profile of Blind Football in Ireland

18 May 2017
Imagine this...
 
You receive the ball, take a touch... Put the head up... You hear voices on the pitchside shout "SHOOT"...

 
This is familiar experience for many of us, whether we play football on a Saturday morning or a kick about with mates during the week. But think about this scenario if all you see around you was darkness... blackness... Nothing. You are blind.
 
Presumably, it becomes a lot tougher to get that shot off. However, football for the blind in Ireland is not just a thriving sport, but one which is growing from strength to strength. Two staff at RCSI, John O'Brien (Laboratory Manager in MCT) and Stephen Bolger (of our security team at Bilfinger) have been coaching the Irish national blind football team and are enrolled on the FAI (Football Association of Ireland) Coach Education Pathway. John is only starting his journey this year but wants to emulate Stephen who currently holds a National C licence and is progressing to UEFA B license in the coming months.
 
Blind Football Ireland is a newly formed body which seeks to provide footballing opportunities for blind people living in Ireland. The group is collaboration between the FAI and Vision Sports Ireland. Late 2016, the national Irish team received UEFA International Status, with their first journey into full international competition in Romania coming last month at the 2017 IBSA Blind Football European Championships, which you can read about here
 

John (front row 1st from left) and Stephen (back row 1st from left) with the Blind Ireland Football team
 
Under Stephen and John's guidance, along with their fellow coaches, Ireland put in some great performances in the tournament and finished in sixth place - a great achievement for their first international tournament.
 
Want to know more about this intriguing version of the beautiful game? Then read on...

How the sport is played
Blind (or B1) Football is played on a 20m by 40m surface with kick-boards on both sides of the pitch and the game uses a special ball with ball bearings in it. This special ball makes a noise and gives the players the chance to know where exactly the ball is. The format of the game is five-a-side where the four outfield players wear patches and blindfolds to ensure no light gets in. The goalkeepers are fully sighted.
 

Pictured (l-r) is John O'Brien and Stephane Bolger
 
This is where effective coaching comes into play (aka John and Stephen) as there are only three coaches allowed to speak with players during a match. These are: the goalkeeper in the defensive third, a coach on the halfway line and finally an attacking coach behind the opponent's goal. These coaches can only speak with the players when the ball is in their third of the pitch.
 
Despite what some may perceive, the game is extremely skilful and fast paced in nature, with all players defying the norm in demonstrating that by using all of your other senses, you don't need your eyes to play football.
 
It is obvious that to be a coach in blind football, you need to be a skilled communicator which will assist your players on the field. Speaking on his experience so far, John said "Stephen has been with the team for the last three years working alongside head coach, Alex Whelan and assistant coach and ‘Football for All' Development Officer (Munster), Nick Harrison. I started in January this year, and walking into an international set up with the quality of both players and coaches was a little overwhelming but they welcomed me in and I haven't looked back since!"
 
"The training leading up our first international Blind Football competition was really tough but considering their performance in Romania, it stood to our players. The fact they got to put on the Green jersey, hear the fans who travelled over belting out Irish chants and shouting their names, never mind receiving their first full international caps, gave us all a lift and made us immensely proud. Unfortunately we fell short on this occasion but we are all working hard to ensure we keep climbing the international rankings."
 
How can I get involved?
If any RCSI staff are interested or have friends, family who are interested in seeing how it all works, the Irish team and coached will be at Mayfest on Saturday 20th May. Mayfest is an annual event run by Vision Sports Ireland that promotes sports and activities for people with visual impairments. The event is held at the ALSAA sports complex, Swords Road, Toberbunny, Dublin 9 which is near to Dublin airport.
 
The FAI and Blind Football Ireland are attending the event on Saturday 20th May to try and recruit new players and coaches into the game. The date also coincides with Blind Football Ireland's first inter-provincial matches of the year. The event is run by Vision Sports Ireland in two distinct parts with competitions in various sports in the morning; speeches etc during a lunch break and the opportunity for new people to come and try the game that afternoon from 2.30pm - 5pm.
If you are interested in learning more about the game or about Blind Football Ireland check out their website.