A Limerick team enjoyed the trip of a lifetime wearing the Ireland jersey in this year's Red Bull Neymar Jr 5s tournament in Brazil.
Sligo’s Lorcan Feeney played a pivotal role as his side, ‘WhoYaPlayin’, progressed through the rigorous qualifiers to earn a trip to the Barcelona star’s hometown of Praia Grande in Brazil.
“We started off with two days qualifiers in Limerick that were held at UL. We then went onto the all Ireland final in Belfast, on the Titanic slipway.
“We had some very tough games, drawing two and winning one in the group. However we came out on top in the semi-final and final, finishing up having not conceded a goal at the finals.
“In the weeks leading up to Brazil we met up and trained together, we were all really looking forward to going to the home of football."
Upon arriving in Brazil, the Irish team were placed in a formidable group against Italy, Portugal, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Australia and Hong Kong.
“It was basically a Group of Death that we had feared on the flight over” explained Feeney.
“We started poorly by losing 2-0 to Italy and then lost 5-1 to Portugal, who were just a class above. We caught a second wind after that and we beat Hong Kong 3-0 and we beat Australia 5-1.
“It all came down to the last game if we were to progress. A win or draw would have been enough. We sadly lost 2-0 to Bosnia & Herzegovina. We ended up missing out on the knock-outs by goal difference which was very disappointing.”
Feeney found the overall experience to have been organised to perfection, while also noticing how the depth of Brazil's love affair with the game.
“GAA to Ireland is like soccer to Brazil. Everywhere you go, instead of seeing a gaelic pitch you saw a soccer pitch. On the beach there was so many people playing soccer together and anyone could join in. It was incredible. Soccer is like a religion over there.
“The tournament was organised very professionally. The hotel was brilliant, right beside the beach, and it was a buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.
“Red Bull organised things like volleyball and beach soccer on the first day so all the teams got to know each other and have a laugh. Everyone was just enjoying the experience as much as they could.
“We had transport to and from the stadium. The stadium which was located near where Neymar lived, so when you got off the bus there was barriers holding back all the kids who were going mad when they saw us. It was crazy.
“The place where we played itself was incredible. There were three pitches, a recovery tent with ice baths and physios. Gillette were set up inside giving out free haircuts, they had a PlayStation set up with FIFA and there was free Red bull and food, it was hard to believe this was all happening.”
Feeney was surprised with the standard of players involved, explaining how he expected the competition to be at a semi-pro level.
“Definitely a lot of the teams there play at a high level. Everyone there had topped their own country in order to be there so we knew they would all be good.
The age limit for playing was 25, you were only allowed two players on the team who were over 25. So the average age was probably about 24/25.
Feeney admitted the standout moment for him throughout the trip came before the first match.
“Standing there waiting for kickoff, wearing the Ireland jersey, it was surreal. Bearing your home colours in the home of soccer is an experience I won’t ever forget.
"I would highly recommend anyone to enter next year. If you're good enough and you can make it to Brazil, I promise it will be a trip you'll never forget. Watch out though, because we will be back next year!”
Romania were crowned winners in a tense one-on-one shootout against Britain in the final of the event, going on to play a side boasting the likes of host Neymar Jr and Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus.
Feeney admitted ‘I would have been unable to move my legs’, if he had come up against the Brazilian superstar in a 5 a side.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved