Exciting times for Irish deaf football stars
FAI.ie caught up with both Laura and Joey on their footballing careers with a busy few months of action on the horizon.
Laura Clarke is the current Irish Women’s Futsal team captain, having risen up through the footballing ranks from grassroots.
‘I have always loved sports like Gaelic, hurling, swimming and basketball but football/futsal has been number one for me. The first club I got involved with was Templeogue United when I was around 12. It came about from watching my older brothers’ games and wanting to join in. From there I moved to Tallaght United and Greenhills United before my current club Terenure Rangers.’ Clarke said.
Going on to represent her country, Laura doesn’t take the honour for granted.
‘My favourite moment is when you put on that Ireland jersey for a game. There is such a huge sense of pride when representing your country. My family came to see us play in Russia and Switzerland. Also the Futsal World Cup in Switzerland (2019) was unreal and it was our first ever appearance in the finals and we finished 9th in the world!
‘It is an honour to be selected as captain of your team but we all work hard as a collective and my teammates help me to be a better captain.’
With indoor sports restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, Laura and the team are looking forward to a busy few months ahead.
‘We have the European Championships coming up in October in Italy and as one of the more experienced members of the squad, I am really looking forward to the finals.
‘After we returned from the Deaf Championships in Milan (2020) we were in lockdown within two weeks. It was hard but we all did some training ourselves at home. When the first lockdown was over, we went back to football and played through the traditional league but then the second lockdown came and the season was halted. Then I got pregnant with my second child and gave birth at end of July 2021 but I was back playing within 4-5 weeks.
‘We are all just delighted to be back to normal it is great to see teams competing again with the social aspect also very important.’ Clarke added.
As one of the more experienced members, Laura had some words of advice for some of the young deaf footballers.
‘Firstly I would encourage them to play. Football is great exercise, enjoyable and a good way of meeting people. You learn key skills such as teamwork, hard work and the need to also listen to your coach.’
Waterford's Joey Watson is one of the leading deaf footballers Ireland has ever produced and is still going strong in a career which has spanned almost three decades.
‘I started playing football at a club level quite late. I was 13 when I joined my first club which was Waterford Bohemians (Bohs). My teacher at a boarding school for Deaf pupils in Dublin nudged my family to get me signed up to a club. Then my grandfather contacted Bohs to take me for a trial for a month but the club decided to take me on after one game.
‘I was 17 when Waterford United signed me up and this was around the time my international career took off. I got selected for Ireland Deaf soccer team for the European Deaf Soccer Championship in Norway. I’m still playing at international level 23 years later and as a 40-year-old.’ Watson added.
Joey has now amassed 85 caps with 63 goals in international football and 20 caps and 41 goals in futsal. The club game has had it’s ups and downs with the communication barrier getting easier with time.
‘I have played with mostly Waterford clubs (Waterford Crystal, Tramore) and Dublin clubs (St Kevin’s, East Wall) and now for Ashbourne Utd in Co. Meath.
‘The club experience through the years has been hard as most clubs didn't know what to do with a deaf player and I had to work harder to prove myself. There’s always been a communication barrier between me and other players and managers but most of the time we adapt.
‘Adapting includes using text messages to share tactics etc. Nowadays, technology makes things much easier and I join in on the banter with the WhatsApp groups with my teammates.’
Watson stepped away to spend time with his young family but got the itch to return to action in 2021.
‘I took a break from football just before the pandemic so I could be around more for my young family but I was desperate to get back to it, especially during lockdown. I really missed being part of a team and having something to work towards. I joined Ashbourne United in summer 2021 and I am delighted to say that we won the league this term and I even managed to bag a hat-trick in my golden years.
‘It's been fantastic getting to know the players who are a great bunch and mentally, it's been great being part of a winning team again after a couple of years off the pitch.’ Watson said.
Watson is now player-manager for the Irish Deaf Futsal team who were tested by the best in the world in recent qualifiers. Despite three defeats, the side were a close match for Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland in a ‘group of death’.
‘It was an experience for the Ireland squad, 6 of whom got their first caps during the campaign. As player manager, I try to bring my international experience to the squad.’
Echoing women’s deaf football star Laura Clarke, Joey had some words of wisdom for the next generation.
‘Listen to your coach! And enjoy yourself. Time goes so quickly and life is too short. As a deaf person there's always going to be communication barriers but try to find ways to adapt, be honest about how your manager can communicate with you and remember, the main thing is that you will play better with good players around you so keep striving to play with the best.
‘Looking ahead, we are in dire need of new talent. If you are deaf or hard of hearing and interested in futsal/football, please do get in touch with Deaf Sports Ireland about how we can support your involvement at international level. It truly is a great experience with lots of travel and you do not need to know sign language to be eligible!’