Saturday 15 December 2018

Mark gets call-up to Irish side

Mark Irwin from Ballymote will play for the Irish national Garda soccer team tomorrow with Norway in Oslo
Mark Irwin from Ballymote will play for the Irish national Garda soccer team tomorrow with Norway in Oslo

Emma Gallagher

A local footballer has become the first player from Sligo included in the Irish national Garda soccer team.

Mark Irwin, who plays for Ballymote Celtic, has been called up to play for his country.

The side travelled to Oslo on Monday to take on Norway tomorrow in the 2018 European Police Championships qualifier.

Mark, 27, is the first Garda from Sligo who has been included in the male national representative side.

The 15-man squad is coached by Aaron Callaghan and consists of members of An Garda Síochána from throughout the country, most of whom play for local soccer teams.

If the Irish can overcome Norway in the playoff they will qualify for the 2018 European police championships which takes place in Prague this summer.

Mark said he was thrilled at receiving the call-up.

He added: "I heard on New Year's Eve that I'd been selected. I had been training for three months with trial games and matches with my own club.

"There was initially 25 or so players and that then was cut to 15 after training. It's a small squad and when I got called I was over the moon.

"I wasn't expecting it at all. I'm the only one from the West and the first from Sligo to play on the representative squad."

Mark and his team left Ireland yesterday to go to a rather chillier Norway. "The game is on Wednesday afternoon it's only one leg with Norway and if we beat them we then qualify for the European Championships which are in Prague. We know very little about Norway but we expect they are very good.

"They have a couple of lads who play with the lower Norwegian leagues so they are bound to be good."

Mark said the freezing conditions will be a test for the Irish lads.

"It's minus 12 over there at the moment, the weather will be a factor.

"In Ireland, although the weather is bad, it's not as bad as that so it's going to be a test but you're always at a disadvantage when you're away from home."

Mark said coach Aaron Callaghan brings a lot of experience to the side. "Damien is Athlone Town manager this year and played football with Stoke and Alexandra Crewe and he also managed Bohs and Shelbourne.

"He's very good and he's coming in from the outside, he's not in the guards or that, he's completely independent."

He added that he's really looking forward to the game.

"I've been playing soccer all my life and it seemed when I'd an operation three years ago on my knee that I'd never play again.

"I'm happy to play at any level, really enjoy playing with Ballymote and this is great too."

His family and teammates must be proud too. "Noel Kennedy from Sligo Leitrim was one of the first to congratulate me which was nice.

"I'm really looking forward to the game. It's not just about going over and showing up or making up numbers, I want to go there and win," Mark added.

Sligo Champion