Barry Ferguson admits that Ireland's Paralympic football team face a tough group at Rio 2016 but they are eager to get started.
The Ireland manager, whose playing career included time at Longford Town, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians and Sporting Fingal sees his side face Ukraine in their opening game of the seven-a-side Paralympic football tournament.
“We expect three of the hardest games I think we’ll ever have,” explains Ferguson whose side will also face hosts Brazil and Great Britain.
“The group draw really wasn’t very kind to us,” Ferguson added, “We’ve got probably three of the best teams in the world, Ukraine taking over from Russia as number one.
“Brazil being host nation are probably ranked number two seed now and obviously Great Britain, who have come together with Northern Ireland.
“They have taken on some players from Northern Ireland and Scotland, three very strong teams and we know we have to work very hard to just be in a position to compete with them.”
Ferguson however is in a very positive frame of mind when his team get their campaign underway against Ukraine, kicking off at 6pm Irish time on Thursday.
“With tournament football you want to get off to a good start, but we do understand we’re playing the best team in the World.
“Ukraine are a really good team. They are full time, it’s going to be tough to compete against. We understand what we’re getting into and we’ll compete as best as we can.
“The first game is more for our performance and our attitude more than anything else. Obviously we would like to get a result out of it, but it is massively important for us that we compete and we work really hard with a good approach to the game.”
One concern for the Irish team is the Rio weather. Weather conditions can change dramatically in the Brazilian winter, Ferguson believes his team have prepared as best they can.
“We don’t know what to expect,” Ferguson smiled. “We trained at seven o’clock last night and it was perfect, it was really like a nice day at home.
“We trained at two o’clock the day before and it was really baking. Where we come from it is not very hot,” joked the Irish boss.
“We have tried different things when we were training at home the lads were wearing extra-gear, but nothing replicates it.
“We were lucky enough to have a training camp down in Umberlandia for seven days. It’s not an excuse, we have a couple of practice matches and it’s gone well, but we are praying for clouds."
The football team arrived in Rio on Friday having prepared at the Team Ireland training camp in Uberlandia which hosted both Ireland’s Olympic and Paralympic teams.
Ferguson a member of the Brian Kerr’s Under-20 World Cup team in 1999 admitted the Rio 2016 experience has been something very special.
“As an experience I have gone to an Under-20 World Cup, the scale of this is just a million times more.
“Everyone here is in the one place, when you are at a World Cup people are in different hotel’s and stuff like that, to have the guts of 15,000 athlete’s here and then support staff is just amazing.”
Ferguson has a full panel of 14 players available.
Ukraine v Ireland
Rio 2016 Paralympic Games
Thursday September 8 – Kick off 6pm (2pm local time)
Paralympic Football – as explained by Barry Ferguson
Paralympic football is mainly players with cerebral palsy (CP) and some that have acquired brain injuries.
Players are set into different classifications, these are classifications eight down to five.
Classification five is explained as sufficiently effected with CP and limited mobility compared to classification eight who to the naked eye do not look like they have CP.
You have to have one classification five and six on the pitch at all times and you can only have one classification eight on the pitch at all times.
From a technical and tactical point of view you have to be on your toes especially when substitutions are to be made.
When you have to take a classification five or six off they have to be replaced with a five or six if you have only one of those classifications on the pitch.
Similar to a classification eight, so you cannot take a five off and put an eight on otherwise the game is lost.
It’s very competitive seven-a-side football. It’s probably the size of a full size pitch, penalty area to penalty area, nearly the full width of a full size pitch.
There’s not that much space missing from a full size pitch when you take away four players. So physically it’s very demanding.
The games are 60 minutes long, 30 minutes each half and again from a physical point of view we play every two days, which is very demanding on the players.