The Odessa trial. Futsal kings Rosario prepare for Champions League test in Ukraine

Rosario won the Northern Ireland Championship with a 4-1 win over Belfast United
Rosario won the Northern Ireland Championship with a 4-1 win over Belfast United

IT’S fair to say that the odds are stacked against Northern Ireland futsal champions Rosario wholeave for Ukraine tomorrow where they’ll take on Kherson in the first round of the Champions League on Saturday.

The south Belfast side have been unable to train fully because of Covid-19 restrictions and can only take a squad of 10 because of quarantine protocols on their return. Add in a two-day journey of over 2000-miles (Belfast to London, London to Istanbul and Istanbul to Odessa) and the fact that they’re playing a full-time outfit ranked eighth in Europe and you get the picture – they’re up against it.

Joint manager Barry Bagley says “David versus Goliath doesn’t do it justice” but last weekend was littered with sporting shocks so why not another on Saturday?

“They had a game last Saturday which was streamed live and we were able to watch them,” said Bagley.

“They’ve been able to train and play as normal and they are a good outfit. If I said this was David versus Goliath, I probably wouldn’t be doing them justice.

“They are ranked eighth in Europe and last year Barcelona beat 4-2 and went on to win the competition. That shows you the level we’re playing at here but we’ve nothing to lose.

“We’ll go and enjoy it. We’ve over-achieved already so anything now is a bonus so we’ll go and give a good account of ourselves and hopefully do the club proud.”

Rosario depart on Wednesday, stay over-night in London and hope to arrive in Odessa on Thursday night. Originally the club hoped to send a 16-man squad along with support staff but they were not granted elite status meaning that only 10 people (who can all work from home on their return) will make the trip.

Futsal is an indoor, five-a-side soccer hybrid which uses a ball that is heavier and smaller ball than a conventional football and Barry and his brother Christopher are Rosario’s joint player/managers. Barry has Irish League experience with Carrick Rangers as does Aaron Smith, who also played for Cliftonville and Glentoran and Johnny Gowdy. Youngsters Ronan Hamill and Carlos Sanha add energy to their experience and “Rosaria legends” Colin McGarry and Joe Watson are also in the squad.

“We started the team when me, Colin, Joe and our Christopher retired from playing 11-a-side on Saturday,” Barry explained.

“Futsol was an opportunity for us to get a kickabout on a Sunday and, lo and behold, we’ve gone on to do really well in it. We set out with no aspirations of even challenging but as the season went on we got stronger and stronger and we won eight games in-a-row before Covid hit. We were second when the break hit and when it started again we finished in the top four. We played a semi-final and a final and, lucky enough, we won it.”

Rosario clinched the Northern Ireland Championship in August thanks to a 4-1 win over Belfast United – Christopher Bagley, Gowdy, Watson and Christopher Conlan (who, like former Clotonville star Conor Downey, cannot make the trip because of work commitments) got the goals.

“It’s unfortunate with the timing but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we’re looking forward to it despite all the obstacles,” added Barry.

“We’re massive underdogs but we’re not going as a ‘jolly boys’ outing. We’re taking it seriously. It’s not a holiday, we’ve prepared as well as we can and we want to give a real good account of ourselves.”

Rosario Football and Youth Club is one of the largest sports clubs in Northern Ireland with well over 1000 members from all sections of the local community and teams from U5 to senior level.

The huge success of the club has been rewarded recently with their home ground, off the Ormeau Road, getting a new 3G pitch with further development plans for a clubhouse in the works. Rosairo was part of a successful food bank collection and distribution initiative to the local community in partnership with close neighbours and sporting friends Bredagh GAC and Ormeau Road Boxing Club.