Wicklow quartet shine for Ireland
Soccer: CP European Championships
With a game to spare, the Republic of Ireland Cerebral Palsy team have already booked their place in the semi-finals of the CP European Championships.
Co. Wicklow has four representatives on the panel - captain Gary Messett, Ryan Nolan and Sam Carroll from Bray with Arklow's Darragh Snell completing the quartet.
They sealed their last four spot on Monday evening and are now just one match away from a medal but still have one more group match to fulfil - a clash with the Netherlands that will decide who tops the group.
Ireland opened their campaign on Wednesday last with an emphatic 8-0 success over Denmark. Messett started the tie with the other Wicklow men called from the bench during the match and both Messett and Nolan found the net.
On Sunday, they again flexed their attacking muscles as they downed Germany 5-1. Messett was on target as the only Wicklow man to start. Carroll and Snell would again be introduced later on.
Monday evening saw Messett and co. take on a stubborn Northern Ireland side but with Messett, Carroll, Nolan and Snell all handed starting berths, the Boys in Green recorded a 4-0 triumph to make it 17 goals in three games. Messett kept up his fantastic form in front of goal with one of the strikes of the tournament to make it 1-0 and Nolan would double the lead early in the second period to set Ireland on their way to victory.
Today (August 1st), Ireland will lock horns with Netherlands. With both sides already guaranteed top two finishes, their meeting will determine who tops the group. Should Ireland pip Netherlands to first, they'll then face the runners-up from Group B on Friday. Both semi-finals will kick off at 7pm.
We had a chat with three of the Wicklow quartet about their hopes for the competition:
Not only is Ryan Nolan looking to add to his medal collection at the CP European Championships, he's also looking to boost his bank balance!
The striker has made a wager with his dad about the number of goals that he'll manage whilst in the Netherlands so he's hoping to return to Bray with a medal and a few extra euro in his back pocket.
The 26-year is no stranger to these big tournaments but this one feels different as he genuinely believes that Ireland should - not could - secure a top three finish at least.
"This is a new team so it's definitely a big one this year and it's probably the best opportunity we've ever had.
"I think we can definitely get a medal but we can win it. There's no reason why we can't win it. If we don't come home with a bronze medal at least then the lads would be very disappointed. We should be getting a bronze medal at least."
Nolan's playing time will be limited. With the lowest grading of cerebral palsy allowed to qualify for CP football, Nolan must split his time with the pitch with fellow striker Dillon Sheridan who qualifies with the same level as Nolan. Even though only one can take to the field at a time, it drives Nolan on rather than discourages him.
"It's good because this time there's only two of us. There used to be three of us. It's between the two of us and having the competition between us, it drives us on. The two of us are fighting for the one spot and we're fighting to get that starting spot. I'm happy. It makes me play better and we're both on form. The two of us will bounce off each other and keep scoring goals and I know that this will be our best tournament."
As for his bet with his dad, with six games guaranteed for the Boys in Green, Ryan's dad is expecting six goals. As for Ryan, he is expecting a medal.
"I've a bet with my ol' lad! There's six games so my dad wants at least six goals out of me. We've a little money wager on it.
"We have to keep our heads and keep focused on what's ahead and if we do that, we can definitely go far.
Ryan sums up his fellow Co. Wicklow men in one word: Sam Carroll: Committed. Gary Messett: Legend. Darragh Snell: Sicknote.
In October 2013, in this very newspaper, there was an article about a baby-faced 13-year old named Sam Carroll. He had a dream to progress through the ranks of CP football and perhaps one day go on to play alongside Gary Messett, the man who made it all possible for Sam.
Today, Sam Carroll is 18 years of age and is about to take on the CP European Championship alongside Messett. The Bray man is living his dream (and is still rather baby-faced) but he has now proved himself at the highest level and wants to show everyone what he's made of despite being the youngest in the group by at least two years.
It will be Carroll's second time away from home with the CP squad. He has already travelled to Argentina - an experience he loved - but with Messett and Ryan Nolan around, Carroll has no fears of homesickness.
"It (Argentina) was great. It was a much different experience than I thought it would be.
"It's great having Ryan there - he takes care of me a good bit."
Despite being fond of Nolan, Carroll will be hoping to get all the game time he can at Nolan's expense. The 18-year old has worked his way up to this stage and he can see the increase in quality between the senior side and the underage ones.
"I just want to play as much as I can and do what the coaches are telling me to do.
"I've been playing with underage CP teams and the step-up in standard is unbelievable. The fitness is so different as well because they're tracking our fitness as well at this level which I find much better. You push yourself more."
Sam sums up his fellow Co. Wicklow men in one word: Ryan Nolan: Workhorse. Gary Messett: Legend. Darragh Snell: Bogger.
Gary Messett is a natural leader and he's hoping to lead CP Ireland to European Championship glory.
Messett is a part of the furniture at this stage and he reckons that this will be his 13th foreign tournament with the Boys in Green but also his best chance of lifting a trophy.
The Bray man, now living in Wexford, makes an extra effort with the younger members of the panel because he can remember what it was like when he first burst onto the scene all those years ago.
"We've got our strongest squad to date and the management have been spectacular. They've given us a new lease of life. We've become a lot more attack-minded and it's really good for us going forward.
"I joined the squad in 2004 and I was only 16 myself so I remember what it was like being a young boy going away from family for a month. I had other people to look up to at the time and now it's nice for me after the career that I've had that I can be captain and reverse the roles."
Although Messett knows the talent is in the squad, he also knows that complacency could ruin their chances so he won't be letting them get ahead of themselves.
"I'm thinking along the lines of taking it game by game. If we do our job and management do their job, then we definitely can win it or get a medal. That's the way I'm viewing it as a captain and as a player.
"In 2010 we came third and I received the player of the tournament that year but from a collective point of view, it'd be great for us to get any kind of medal but again, we want to just try and win every game that we play but even if there is games where we might not win but we still progress as a team, then that's good too. "
Gary sums up his fellow Co. Wicklow men in one word: Ryan: Mr. Happy. Sam: Laid-back. Darragh: Mr. Freeze (always cold).