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World Cup fever for Irish medical team

Dr Gavin Keane previews the upcoming World Medical Football Championship

The Irish Medical Football team travel to the exotic climes of Cancun, Mexico, this July to compete in the 25th World Medical Football Championship, also known as the Doctors’ World Cup.

2019 will be Ireland’s fifth time at the tournament, competing with teams from all over the globe. After impressive showings in our first two outings, reaching the last eight in both years, Ireland have struggled to make an impression in the last two tournaments. But there are grounds for optimism, with a raft of fresh young talent making their debuts this year, as well as new coach Alan Burns, who manages LSL team Seafordrock United FC.

The tournament itself is no walk in the park — 11-a-side matches, six games in seven days. In 30+ degrees of jungle heat. It follows the format of any international event, with round-robin groups of four in the early days, followed by the knockout stages. Every game matters.

It’s also not all football. There is a concurrent sports medicine conference with international speakers, which is always very interesting and well attended. Over the years, Irish speakers have represented their country in this arena with no little aplomb.

Once again, we have been extremely fortunate with sponsorship in helping us reach our destination. We are delighted to welcome aboard our new title sponsors GreenLight Medicines, Ireland’s leading researchers into cannabinoid and plant-based therapies. They have been very generous and enthusiastic in their support of the team and we hope this is the beginning of a long relationship.

We also welcome law firm Mason Hayes and Curran and are delighted to have them back our journey to Mexico. GP Buddy have also signed up to sponsor our man-of-the-match awards, which we will stream on our Twitter feed, @IrelandMedical.

We have enjoyed long and fruitful relationships with a number of our returning sponsors. Notably, Irish GP indemnity company Medisec continues to be one of our strongest supporters and we are very grateful for this. The Mater Private has been in our corner for a number of years and we also welcome back Direct Medical, Athlone-based specialists in respiratory equipment.

In a bid to freshen-up the squad, we undertook a nationwide trawl for new talent. Gems were unearthed by delving into our true national pastime: Gaelic games. A cohort of impressive athletes playing competitive club GAA have signed-up for the trip: Cillian Keogh, Colm Kirby, Kieran Murray and former Kerry minor keeper Padraic McCarthy are all embarking on their first adventure with the national side.

As ever, there is a strong contingent from St Vincent’s FC (SVFC), now competing in the dizzying heights of LSL division 1B. We are delighted to welcome back established club players such as new SVFC coach Rory Durand, Irish team captain Nathan Wall, Gavin Kane and Barra Neary, as well as exciting new talents Darren McMahon and Fionn Lynch.

We’ve even managed what the HSE can’t by attracting Irish doctors back from abroad for the chance to represent their nation: Fionn Nally returns from Australia, while Owen Diamond and Mike Anthony join from the NHS, all making their squad debuts.

Ciaran Judge, Ian Daly, Brendan Crosbie and Dave Gildea don’t fit into any of the categories above, but we are very fortunate to count them in our number. They will likely form the spine of the team, from rock-solid centre-back through to all-action midfielders, to keen-eyed striker, respectively.

We also have a selection of more mature footballers in line with the unique requirements of this event. The rules state the every team must field two over-40 and two over-35 players at all times. Clearly insisted upon by an ageing player at the inception of this endeavour, the elder elite fully support the notion of encouraging ongoing commitment to fitness and inclusion. So ‘experienced’ players Cormac Farrelly, Eddie Dervan, Connor Gallagher, Steve Karagiannis, Kerry O’Connell, Gav Keane and new/old recruit Mike Maguire will iron-out their wrinkles and wade into battle once again.

But for true persistence, we doff our caps to the Irish Masters team, who take part in an over-45s 7-a-side tournament concurrently. Led by Waterford respiratory physician and football nut Mark Rogan, their squad includes such evergreen luminaries as John Brown, Jimmy Lyons, Paul Harrington, Frank O’Brien, Mick O’Tighearnaigh, Deirdre Horneck, Alan Mulgrew and Attila Bondar lining-out for Ireland.

While acknowledging the various limitations — amateurs, doctors, overage — there remains an inescapable thrill to lining-out in an Ireland shirt, belting out the national anthem and facing up against Brazil or whoever in a world cup. It is the stuff of childhood dreams come true. It is an extraordinary event for all concerned and we especially envy the excitement of the many new faces in the squad, experiencing it for the first time. Although we are not professional players, we can still say we are playing football for Ireland and we will do so with pride. Please follow our adventure on Twitter @IrelandMedical. Any players interested in joining up for future years or sponsors interested in getting involved, please email irishmedicalfootball@gmail.com, or visit irishmedicalfootball.com.

The World Medical Football Championship will take place from 29 June-7 July 2019 in Riviera Maya, Mexico. A report on how the Irish team fared will be published in a future issue of the Medical Independent.  

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