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The Henry County Youth Soccer Association in conjunction with Challenger Sports hosted a soccer camp for local youth last week at the Henry County Recreation and Services Park.
For the fifth year camp organizers brought in a player from the United Kingdom to teach participants soccer fundamentals.
This year, Francis Brennan a professional player for the Dungannon Swifts of the Irish Premier League worked with campers.
“I was offered a chance to play with Toronto FC of the MLS last January but I think I am going to stay in the UK,” Brennan said. “The skill level is still much higher over there. And the fans at home are much more passionate about the game. I am a player that is driven by the passion of the fans.”
Brennan taught the campers about the fundamentals of soccer such as shooting, dribbling, passing, positioning and defense.
But, according to Jennifer Stephens of the Henry County Youth Soccer Association, and Brennan’s host for the week, he taught them much more.
“If I could describe Francis it is as a man of honor and integrity,” Stephens said. “He is super humble and has great leadership skills and he is teaching the kids great life lessons as well as soccer skills. It’s an amazing opportunity for these kids. It’s an athletic experience and a cultural experience.”
Brennan not only shared his soccer expertise with the kids, he also taught them a little geography. He divided the campers into four groups and asked each group to pick a country other than the U.S. or Canada to represent throughout the week. He assigned each team the task of finding out interesting facts about their country and asked them to create a presentation featuring their country’s flag. The four groups chose Afghanistan, the Czech Republic, England and Spain.
Brennan has been in the United Sates for three months, as part of the Challenger Sports program, conducting camps and coaching clinics in Ohio and Kentucky. He has coached players ages 4 to 17. The Henry County camp had players ranging from 6 to 15.
Brennan has been through some tough times in his brief playing career. He was signed by Middlesbrough (pronounced Middlesboro) Football Club as a 15-year old. Middlesbrough is a large club in English football and signing with a team of their caliber at a young age was quite an honor. English professional teams have youth teams and frequently sign top young talent and put them in their ‘football academies’. Middlesbrough is known for having an outstanding youth program.
At 17, Brennan was the victim of a particularly bad tackle that broke his fibula, a growth plate and a metatarsal bone, as well as dislocating his ankle. Over the next three years, he went through three reconstructive surgeries and rehabilitation and was told by doctors that he would never play again.
“I got a random call from an ex-coach and he asked me to come for a tryout to see if the ankle would hold up,” Brennan said. “I went and tried out and my ankle held up, and they signed me last January to a two-year contract. It’s pretty cool. I learned that even when the doctors say you can’t play you can still work at it and get back. Nothing’s impossible.”
“I have a big old tattoo on my back with big wings. The message is that I can fly if I want to. It’s become my personal motto. Nothing is impossible.”