Ireland's first transplant soccer team ‘thinking of donors’ ahead of debut match

“Heart transplants, lung transplants, liver & kidney transplants – our team is full of a lot of hardship...”

The Irish transplant team at training in Portlaoise

The players are preparing to play Northern Ireland

Alan SherrySunday World

Members of Ireland’s first transplant soccer team say the people who donated their organs will be at the forefront of their minds during their debut match against Northern Ireland on Saturday.

The transplant team first formed in 2020 after double lung transplant recipient Lar Brennan and other organ recipients got a team together ahead of a World Cup due to take place in Italy.

Covid put a temporary halt to their plans but the team is set to take on Northern Ireland at the AUL complex in Clonshaugh, Dublin at 1.30pm this Saturday, and they’ve asked for fans to come out to support them.

“It’s free, so everyone can just come along and support which would be great,” Lar said.

The team plans to play a number of friendlies over the next few months ahead of representing Ireland in the British Transplant Games in Coventry next year and the Transplant World Cup in Italy the following year. And Lar wants more players to join up ahead of those tournaments.

“You have lads who had heart transplants, lung transplants, liver transplants, kidneys. We have one guy who had a bone marrow transplant,” Lar said.

“The teams in the UK, Italy or France, most of them would be bone marrow or kidney transplants so they would be healthier whereas our team has been full of people who had a lot of hardship.”

The players are preparing to play Northern Ireland

Lar said the team have been organising things themselves and he and heart transplant recipient John Brennan have been arranging friendlies and coaching the team, but they’d appreciate help from former players or coaches who read this and are willing to lend a hand.

“John had a heart transplant, he lost his brother during Covid, his mam passed a few years previous with her heart as well.

“John’s kidneys are failing now with the anti-rejection drugs so he’s starting dialysis soon. He’s doing a great job but any help we can get from anyone in football world would be fantastic.”

Lar (39) suffers with Cystic Fibrosis and received a double lung transplant in November 2013.

The week before the transplant, he was in hospital in very bad health and he had been offered morphine to ease his suffering as doctors feared he would die unless he got a transplant and his time was running out.

Thankfully, with no time to spare, he got news the transplant was going ahead and the operation proved to be a massive success.

While it is not normally supposed to happen, Lar ended up meeting the family of his donor as he had done an interview on TV about his story and another person who knew him and the donor’s family pieced things together.

“I consider them friends now. I haven’t spoken publicly about it before because it’s not supposed to happen. You’re not told [who the donor is].

“We touched base with them. For his mam, she was saying it was great to see where the donations went to and that I was someone who worked so hard, like I’m sure all the recipients did, to keep themselves well.”

He said meeting for the first time was a highly emotional experience for everyone involved.

“The emotions were unbelievable. I felt like it needed to be done. I think they found comfort as well by what I was told by one of the surgeons. A lovely woman came into me after my transplant and she had the job of retrieval.

“She came back into me a few days after the transplant and said ‘these lungs are very precious from a beautiful young man so look after them’. When I told his mam that it was obviously really emotional but I think she probably knew he was being really cared for in those last few hours and it wasn’t a brutal process.”

Lar said there isn’t enough discussion around organ donation.

“I believe that the reason that she [the donor’s mother] gave up the organs was because her own dad was on dialysis and would have seen young people needing transplants.

“We don’t have the conversations enough in this country. If there’s a couple of people who have that conversation after reading this article then that would be great.”

He said all the players on the team will be thinking of their donors on Saturday.

“These people are always thinking of their donor. It’s never forgotten. They might not know their donors but that person is very much a part of them still and that’s what drives them to these games and these training sessions.”

Lar has encouraged anyone who wants to join the team to get in touch and appealed for people who feel they can help to get in contact. They can been be reached on social media by searching for Soccer Transplant Team Ireland.

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