Meet Derry’s freestyle footballer, Stefan Connolly who turned injury into opportunity and will represent Ireland at the European Freestyle Championships in Prague this August.
The former St. Columb’s College pupil started freestyle just two years ago, following a football injury.
And momentum as well as natural talent, certainly seem to be on his side.
Stefan said: “I began because I was fascinated by Ronaldhino and all his tricks. I used to do one of his wee flicks but everyone on the team could do it as well so I began training, just flicking and catching the ball, four hours a day one summer.
“Actually I was injured a lot which is why I kept at the freestyle I suppose. The most enjoyable aspect of it is the sense of self achievement when you do master a trick.”
Last year, the twenty year old finished in the last 64 in the European Freestyle competition: “This summer I aim to go a stage further and reach the last 32,” he told the ‘Journal.’
The former Institute youth player recently signed with the Irish Football Association and is on the verge of turning professional.
“Normally I would have travelled to Belfast to busk with a few other freestyle footballers if I needed money, now I will be working with kids in IFA summer camps across Northern Ireland.
“The aim is to eventually tour professionally with the Freestyle Football Federation, F3. They only invite the top 16 in the world so I have a little work to do first but maybe some day,” mused Stefan.
An avid Arsenal fan, Stefan recently performed at the IFA/UEFA Grassroots day at The Venue, Ebrington, an experience he described as: “class”. “It was a really good day and everyone was up for it. I really enjoy doing shows like that.”
The Culmore Road man was also invited by Predator to help launch its new merchandise earlier this year: “Things are starting to happen now but I’m concentrating on practising and hopefully the bookings will follow,” he said.
Though the popularity of freestyle football is so far limited in Ireland Stefan said: “Everyone is so supportive.”
So much so, Stefan thought nothing of contacting Ireland’s number one freestyler, Daniel Dennehy, for advice, despite the fact he had only been practising freestyle tricks for two years. “He was really helpful and we work together quite a bit now. Hopefully that will help me achieve my short term goal of moving into the top 32 in Europe.”