WHEN Noel O’Donnell was just six months old, he contracted meningitis and his hearing began to gradually deteriorate.
Even when he was tested at four years of age, although his condition was severe one of his ears was still operating at full capacity.
Two years later, the difficulties began to unfold and when he was nine his parents, Columba and Brigid, decided to send their son off to Cabra in Dublin to attend St Joseph’s School For The Deaf.
O’Donnell is now a 56-times capped international football and last Saturday evening was one of Termon’s heroes in their Donegal SFC draw against Naomh Muire.
Picture caption: Noel O’Donnell is second from right in the back row with the Irish Deaf Team.
The early years were difficult, but they’ve shaped a man whose sporting achievements have defied those challenges.
“It was hard when I had to move away, but there weren’t many options at the time,” O’Donnell told Donegal Sport Hub this week.
“At the time, I couldn’t keep up with the work at our local school.
In Dublin, the classroom was geared towards children who were deaf. In a way it gave me a lot of opportunities.
“It made me a lot more independent and it was there that I began playing football. I got to come home at the weekends too, which was a huge help.”
In March 2014, O’Donnell was the recipient of the Football For All International player of the year award at the FAI’s annual awards night. He was presented with his award by Irish international Shane Long.
O’Donnell was 18 when he first played at the Deaflympics, held in Rome in 2001.
He has 56 caps and 12 goals – not too shabby for a man who calls centre-back home.
He’s one of the mainstays on the Irish Deaf team and accepting the player of the year trophy is the proudest moment of his career.
“It definitely was,” he said.
“It’s a prestigious award so I was in total shock when I was even nominated. I was honoured to accept the award, especially considering there isn’t much recognition for Deaf Football in Ireland.
“I’m very proud to say I have 56 caps and have scored 12 goals for Ireland.”
In October 2012, O’Donnell – who hails from Killea – showed nerves of steel in Hannover as Ireland defeated the fancied Germans to qualify for the Deaflympics.
He said: “There was a lot of pressure taking that penalty, but I knew I could do it. It was another very proud moment.”
O’Donnell plays for Bonagee United in the Ulster Senior League and has been with the Dry Arch Park side since 2005.
The Irish Deaf Team are next in action when they face Great Britain in October, a qualifier for the 2017 Deaflympics.
In the lead-up to the 2013 Games, he had keyhole surgery on both of his knees after tearing ligaments with one operation at the end of 2012 and the other in May 2013.
He said: “It was really tough because I didn’t have a lot of time to get back to full fitness for the 2013 Deaflympics at the end of July.
“A really big aim is to win gold at the next Deaflympics. It’s something the team and I are working really hard at. Anything else is a bonus.”
The interview is conducted via email and O’Donnell gives an insight into the differences and potential difficulties he encounters between his games with Bonagee or Termon and the Deaf Team.
He said: “There is a really big difference between hearing and deaf football.
“In hearing teams, all communication is spoken. Sometimes, we use flip-charts to talk about upcoming matches, which is useful for me.
“In deaf teams, we use sign language, which is a great benefit. I do enjoy both equally.
“It’s tough, though. I don’t usually hear my team-mates unless I happen to look at them. I have to keep looking around me to see if players are going to tell me something. It’s probably tougher on the others seeing as I’m not listening to them.
“It’s much handier with the Deaf Team because of the sign language, but I love playing both.”
This summer, Termon have lost both of their regular goalkeepers with Michael Boyle and Conor Tinney taking up stations in America.
O’Donnell couldn’t remember the last time he’d played for Termon, but muses that it was ‘around 2004’.
While staying with relatives in Kilmacrennan in previous summers he’d donned the maroon and it was to him that Paddy McDaid, the Termon player-manager, turned when he was in search of a goalkeeper.
O’Donnell didn’t let the side down with two superb saves in the first half, both from Shaun ‘Yank’ Boyle, helping his side to a draw that keeps their hopes of making the quarter-finals alive.
He said: “I was pretty excited to get the call from Paddy. It had been so long since I’d played GAA that I was really looking forward to getting back into it.
“I was delighted with how I played. I was disappointed that we didn’t win the match, but I have to say a draw was a fair result after both teams played a great game.”
He goes into the white heat of Championship again on Sunday when Termon head for Towney to face Kilcar.Tags: