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Meet the young footballers who no longer want to be in a league of their own

By Donna Deeney

A football team like no other has been formed in Londonderry. Every player in the Oxford Bulls has a strong passion for the beautiful game - and also has Down's Syndrome.

The team was set up to give them a chance to take part in a sport they love.

But the young footballers, who take to the field every Sunday with great gusto, need competition to keep them in top form.

They meet up at the Foyle Futsal Centre, where their "star player", Keigan Taylor, bursts through the door each time, impatient for the kick-off.

His mum Serena explains: "Keigan loves football but there was never anywhere we felt was safe for him to play, until now.

"The transformation in him because of the Oxford Bulls cannot be over-estimated - not just in his ability to play but also in his confidence.

"At the start, Keigan's enthusiasm used to get the better of him and he would lift the ball as soon as it came near him, run with it to the goal and try to score a goal.

"Now he understands he can't do that, he knows he is part of a team and he shares the ball with the other children.

"They have formed such a bond, there are high-fives and hugs all over the place. Playing on the team is the thing he looks forward to most all week.

"He enjoys watching football on the television more now too. He even shouts at the screen along with his daddy."

The idea for the team came from Kevin Morrison. His son Adam (11) loves football, but was too shy and wasn't keen on loud noises so never took part in a game.

That was until his dad came up with the idea of forming a team with other Down's children.

With help from parents contacted through Foyle Down's Syndrome Trust, they booked some time at Foyle Futsal Centre at Skeoge Industrial Estate. and the training began.

Kevin said: "My son Adam loves being outside, he loves football and seems to have taken after his grandfather Vinny, who played for Derry City and Belfast Celtic in his day.

"I suppose this really began after Philip Devlin, the under-10 team coach with Oxford United, made Adam a mascot for their team during the Foyle Cup.

"They were brilliant and brought Adam into the changing rooms for team talks and even called him onto the pitch to play for a few minutes at the end of one of their games.

"I could see how t his made Adam's confidence grow, so I spoke with a few other parents through Foyle Down's Syndrome Trust about the idea of taking our children to train.

"They were really keen so that is really where it all began," added Kevin.

"The training sessions at the start were all over the place because we didn't really know what we were doing and the children were so shy. It was a struggle but then the senior players with Oxford United came to the Futsal Centre to help, and that was a big breakthrough.

"Our boys were impressed with the way the Oxford team turned up looking really professional in the team tracksuits - they started to pay attention.

"Philip Devlin was amazing - he applied for funding and sponsorship for us and the boys got the rigs and footballs, but the biggest thing of all has been the transformation in the boys themselves.

"One of our players, Shaun McCaul, used to take about 20 minutes to get through the door because he was so shy, but now he lets go of his daddy's hand and runs straight to his teammates."

The team divide themselves into two and play against each other because, despite Kevin's best efforts, they can't find another team to play against.

Kevin continued: "What the boys really need is a few games against similar teams but I cannot find any anywhere.

"Michael Hutton, the organiser of the Foyle Cup, is looking to include the boys in the cup but really they need teams at their level.

"So if there are other teams like the Oxford Bulls out there, we would really like them to get in touch."

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