A full week in, it appears as if the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is going to be one to remember. There have been loads of great games, lots of high drama and dozens of great goals. It is a bitter sweet time for Irish soccer fans, as, of course, Robbie Keane and the boys didn’t quite make the cut. Fear not however, the influence of the Irish on this great World Cup is strong, Very strong.
And, we’re not just talking about the incredible headline the Irish Examiner came up with after Wednesday night’s stunning Spain v Chile encounter; ‘’Chile con carnage’’. We’re also not just talking about the Moy Park Chicken advertisements some of the eagle eyed amongst you would have spotted!
The Irish influence is all around this World Cup, you barely have to scratch the surface to find it.
Historically Ireland is deeply embedded in this tournament. Pele is probably still the most famous name in World Football. Do you know where he got his name? It is said he got it from an Irish priest who noticed how good the lad was at ‘Peil’ (the Irish for football) and dubbed the most famous footballer of all time, Pele.
Delving deeper into history, you can thank (or curse!) an Irish man every time there’s a penalty awarded in this World Cup. The inventor of the penalty kick is widely accredited as Irish businessman William McCrum, who came up with the idea in 1890. McCrum, from Milford, County Armagh, brought his idea to the Irish Football Association who in turn presented the idea to the International Football Association Board. Eventually, after much debate, the board approved the idea on the 2nd June 1891 and the penalty kick was born, via an Irish man, no less.
One the more heart-warming stories involving the Irish at the big tournament is that of 10 year old Dublin charmer Ciaran Duffy, who fulfilled many a young soccer fan’s fantasy by walking out as a mascot alongside Spanish legend Iker Casillas prior to the big Spain v Chile clash. The popular young Dublin lad is nicknamed ‘The Irish Mini-Messi’ because of his swashbuckling skills. Ciaran made his fans at home cheer by winking at the camera as it panned past him pre-game. Ciaran potentially has a big future ahead of him, he already plays for the Shamrock Rovers under-11s is a member of the Manchester United centre of excellence. What a night for the lad from Saggart.
Whatever about 10 year olds with bright futures, a somewhat more established player, Diego Forlan, has Irish roots. FIFA declared him eligible to play for Ireland, however he, perhaps wisely, chose to play for Uruguay.
There is one Irish man definitely on a team bench during the cup. Former Louth under-21 player Barry Hamilton is with the Croatian management team in a statistical role, monitoring player performance through the tournament. Barry works for STATSports and describes his journey to the World Cup as such;
"I suppose it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. The Croats were looking to get a demonstration of our STATSports Viper tracking system before the World Cup so [STATSports] decided that I should go to their ten-day training base in Zagreb and Austria. I flew out on May 20th. The players and the manager, Niko Kovac, really liked the system and I got on well with everybody but I was due to come home on June 1. I never expected to be going to the World Cup at all. The players held a meeting and the captain, Darijo Srna, stood up and told me to give him my passport as I was going to Brazil with the squad.’’
Incredible story for the Louth man. Apparently the Croatian players bought into the system so much they voted to take Hamilton with them. Now that’s what you call making a big impression.
The best part of the story? Croatia is playing some great football, no doubt in small part thanks to an Irishman!
The Irish are also involved in other means of support for other team’s players. Antrim born Irish model Zoe Robb is in Brazil with her boyfriend, none other than Javier Aquino, one of Mexico’s stars. The 22 years old travelled to Brazil to support her man, and has not been disappointed so far, thanks to Mexico’s flying start. Aquino plays for Villarreal in Spain.
The Irish are also behind getting people’s ‘behinds’ comfortable at the games themselves. A small Irish company in Castlepollard, Co Westmeath made the majority of the seats in the majestic Rio's Maracana stadium in Brazil. Mergon’s small team of 15 staff made almost 70% of the seats that the fans are sitting on. The vice-president or Mergon, Caolan Bushel, had a great quote about the seating; "Most of what we make goes inside of other products like cars and medical devices, so it will be great to see 79,000 Brazilians jumping up and down on a product that we can see, and say: 'we made that in Castlepollard'."