Daniel Dennehy like most suburban football fans views a deserted car park as a temporary pitch and it’s here in Portmarnock, North County Dublin that he spends most of his evenings, occasionally playing late into the night with lamposts for floodlights.
The difference with this 21 year old though, is that he is always alone; but it’s worth it.
Dennehy is the Ireland’s number one freestyle footballer and was last Sunday fought through 5,000 players to become the world number two at the Red Bull Street Style World Final in Italy.
Sportsnewsireland talks exclusively to the man himself about training, about competitions and about the future of freestyle football.
Congratulations on a great performance and a great result. How does it feel to be ranked number two in the world?
It hasn’t sunk in yet, it’s just unbelievable… I’m over the moon and incredibly happy with myself after everything I’ve been through to get to this point.
Most people will be fairly unfamiliar with your sport. Tell us a little bit about what you do? How are competitions structured?
Freestyle Football is still a very young sport, so there is a lot of work to do in order to give a perfect working structure to our competitions. There is no official governing body as of yet, so the rules and criteria vary for each competition. In Red Bull Street Style there were five criteria: Control, Creativity, Style, Best Trick and Overall. The “battles” are one-on-one and the two freestylers display their best tricks in three 30-second rounds each, alternating back and forth until the three minutes are up.
The next question on everyone’s lips… do you make any money?
Haha, yeah I make money from performing at all types of events and doing workshops etc. It’s hard to rely solely on freestyle for making a living, but hopefully after coming second in the world final I can attract some big opportunities and get work more frequently.
You’re also Irish champion, did you receive any support locally or nationally from the FAI or any such governing body?
No, I don’t receive financial support from anybody. I don’t even have an indoor facility to train if it’s dark or raining, and I do all of my training in a carpark – it can get annoying when there are lots of people coming to park and I need to keep moving out of the way.
What do you feel the future for freestyle football holds? Do you think it could become mainstream, or would you even prefer, to an extent, if it stayed underground?
That’s a good question, I wouldn’t like it to become so mainstream that it loses it’s realness and underground appeal, but at the same time it would be great to see our sport gain more and more recognition. The amount of training and dedication some freestylers put in is equivalent to pretty much any sport out there.
Right now the freestyle community is fairly international, what’s the Irish community like?
The community interact with each other through the internet and sites such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. The Irish community is quite small but getting better and better every year. I would say there are about eight active freestylers in Ireland and we meet up about once a month to jam and just train together.
What does your training regime involve?
In the lead-up to a big competition such as Red Bull Street Style or the Prague Super Ball, it can get pretty intense. I will probably go for a two hour session in the afternoon, and then have a break before another 2 hour session in the evening. Sometimes if the weather is nice and I feel like it, I’ll even throw another session in the morning or late at night under a lampost so I can see the ball. In terms of nutrition I take a protein supplement after all my training for the day is done, this helps my muscles to recover and stay fresh for the next day. I can’t train if I dont have any music, so I need to make sure my iPod is charged and ready to go.
For any athlete the road to success is long and arduous. What was yours like?
Instead of long and arduous I would say long and enjoyable. I’ve learned so much since I started freestyle at the start of 2008, and I have seen places and met people I never could have imagined. When I really sit back and look at how far I’ve come, I get overwhelmed by what I have been able to achieve in a relatively short time. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, I just mean that I have been blessed with incredible opportunities because of my dedication and putting all of my positive energy into something I love.
How did you first become interested in freestyle football?
I saw a video by Dutch legend Soufiane Touzani on Youtube and then through that, I found out that there was a whole online community and hundreds of tricks with their own names etc. I started watching lots of videos and trying to copy the tricks…at first it was just to show off to my friends or whatever, but then I realized it was a completely separate sport and had no similarities with normal football except for the ball itself. Once I started I got addicted and here I am.
You also moonlight as an amateur hip-hop artist. Does that play a part in your sport or do you keep both pursuits separate?
Haha I do indeed… It doesn’t really play a part in my freestyle, but the experiences that I’ve been able to have thanks to freestyle have definitely inspired a lot of my music. Also, freestyle has shown me that any success takes a lot of patience and time, so I never worry about that aspect of my musical career. I know it will come when the time is right!
Technically your performances are very impressive but visual performance plays a part too, or does it?
Yeah for sure. There are always some freestylers who chose to do more technically difficult tricks during competitions and then there are those who know how to connect with the crowd and be more entertaining. I try to mix both of these styles and create a good show while at the same time staying true to my sport and to the freestyle community because that’s always the most important. If you can do the hardcore tricks while also showing some creativity and originality then you are going to be hard to beat.
Any good at the old fashioned 11-aside football?
I was pretty decent, but nothing more. I guess I’ve always had good technique and I used to have a very good reading of the game, but I was never close to becoming a professional or anything. I always loved to play football for fun and I still do, especially street football or futsal where you get more time on the ball and the games are more technical.
Fabio Cannavaro handed you your trophy, what was it like to meet him?
To be honest I didn’t really care too much! I was getting mentally prepared for my battles and my only focus was to give my best performances… Red Bull always have a famous footballer as one of the judges to attract media attention – despite their lack of knowledge about freestyle – but don’t get me wrong though, Cannavaro has lifted a World Cup trophy and that is a very inspirational achievement. When I was a young kid, my dream was to score a goal in a World Cup final so definitely it was cool to meet Cannavaro but like I said my focus was only on the competition.