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Monday 20 May 2024
Walking football team shine in Algarve

Northern Ireland’s Over-60s walking football team picked up the silver medal at a major tournament in Portugal.

They finished runners-up at the EuroCopa, which was staged at Estadio Nora - Futebol Clube Ferreiras in Albufeira and featured more than 600 players from across Europe.

Northern Ireland played 11 games in total in the Algarve and were only defeated once. They also kept nine clean sheets.

Placed in a seven-team group that included last year's winners East Algarve, Scottish champions Pollock WFC, Walking Lions (Athletico Bilbao) and last year's runners-up, Sheffield Wednesday, it was a tough ask to finish in the top two to qualify for the quarter-finals. But they managed it in style.

On day one they enjoyed four wins and a draw. They defeated Pollock 1-0, with Anthony Cafolla scoring the goal. Then they drew 0-0 with Walking Lions before Cafolla was on target again in a 1-0 win over East Algarve.

In their fourth group game Northern Ireland defeated Real Calahonda 2-0 (Cafolla, Gary McKeown) before goals from Cafolla and Keith Campbell saw them edge past Silver Coast Strollers by the same scoreline.

On day two Northern Ireland won the group with a 0-0 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, thus knocking them out and allowing Pollock to qualify for the last eight.

The quarter-finals phase consisted of two groups of four teams, with the top two in each group going forward to the semi-finals.

Up first was a game against a well organised Gibraltar team and the game ended goalless.

Next came West Hartlepool Strollers and Northern Ireland went 3-1 up with two goals from Cafolla and one from Michael Haddock. However, with only two minutes to go, West Hartlepool mounted a great comeback and it ended 3-3.

Culcheth from the south of England provided the opposition in their final round two encounter, and Northern Ireland progressed to the last four thanks to a goal from Haddock.

In their semi-final, against Corinthians from London, Northern Ireland controlled most of the game and a super goal from Michael Mahood settled the contest.

In the decider Northern Ireland met West Hartlepool once again. West Hartlepool struck first and it proved to be the winner despite several attempts from Northern Ireland to get back on level terms.

Afterwards manager Gary Barclay said the team had exceeded all expectations in the tournament, which was organised by Algarve Football Tours, and had shown all-round improvement.

Image: The Northern Ireland Over-60s walking football team which competed at the EuroCopa in Portugal: (back) Gary Barclay (manager), Jackie Fenton, Ray Hunter, Ray Ritchie, Ken Armstrong, Keith Campbell; (front) Anthony Cafolla, Gary McKeown, Michael Mahood, Francesco D'Arco, Michael Haddock.