It doesn’t seem all that long ago that 13-year-old Makar Marynoshenko was living a comfortable life along with his family in the village of Moshchun in Bucha district, Ukraine.
Like many boys his age, Makar had his friends, went to school, and dreamt of one day growing up to become a professional footballer. However, while teenage dreams of success and superstardom can often be put down as flights of juvenile fantasy, Makar’s ambitions were not beyond the realms of possibility.
Because before the Russian invasion forced him and his family to flee their home, Makar was a signed and active player with Dynamo Kyiv, the top team in Ukraine, and one with a reputation that precedes it the world around.
But, unfortunately, the blades of Makar’s boots have not graced Ukrainian grass since before the war. Along with his mother, Kristina, and brother, Diomid (16), Makar fled to Poland for refuge shortly after the conflict broke out. His father, Roman, stayed in Ukraine to fight. He is still there fighting.
Then, a few months after first leaving his homeland for Poland, Makar and his family found themselves in Tyrone, living under the roof of a generous and kindly woman, Una Armstrong.
Makar, along with his brother, now attends Omagh Integrated College, where they are both viewed as exemplary students. But, as well as excelling at school, Makar has signed for Ballinamallard United FC, where he is seen as one of the fastest rising stars among their ranks.
Current circumstances appear hopeful for Makar, but even the last portion of his voyage, signing for Ballinamallard, was not without its difficulties. We spoke to Una, Makar’s coach, Daryl, and the man himself, to find out about his fight to play football here in Ireland.
“As soon as Makar landed in my house, I soon found out how big a part football played in his life,” began Una.
“I’m a lifelong Liverpool fan myself, and I know what it means to be a signed player for Dynamo Kyiv, and how sad it would be to allow a talented boy like Makar to fall away from the sport he loves,” she added.
Along with Makar’s mother, Kristina, Una was determined to get Makar affiliated with a quality club with whom he could continue to pursue his love of football.
“I decided I would take him to Ballinamallard,” said Una.
After seeing him play, the coaches expressed a keen interest in making Makar an officially registered Ballinamallard United player. However, they soon found that things were not going to be as straightforward as they had imagined.
“It turned out that the Home Office had given him the wrong sort of visa. Basically, despite Makar being 13, this visa permitted him to work, but did not allow him to play sports at a professional or semi-professional level,” said Una with amused bewilderment.
“While myself and Whitey (Ballinamallard director of youth football) started working on paperwork for the IFA, FIFA and the Home Office, Makar kept training away with Ballinamallard, and, in the meantime, played in the Foyle Cup with Maidan City (who, unlike Ballinamallard, are listed as an academy, not a semi-professional team).
“After playing for Maidan City, they wanted to sign him too,” laughed Una. “The coach, a man named Sean Curran, said that he never gave the ball away once.”
But, to Sean’s envy and consternation, Makar was destined for Fermanagh.
“First, we had to get the Home Office to admit that they had made an error with Makar’s visa. Once we had done that, then we could go to FIFA,” said Una.
As this battle waged on in the background, Makar kept training hard. Football. Circuits. A measured and goal-orientated diet.
“His dedication and discipline is beyond anything I’ve ever seen,” said Una, still slightly in awe of the 13-year-old who has been living with her since May.
“When he is not on the pitch, he is training in a wee gym we have at the house. He is a great cook, and he gets up before school and makes himself avocado and poached eggs. A packet of strawberry bon bons lasts him a week. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen!” remarked Una.
But it isn’t only Makar’s fixation with making himself the best footballer he can that bowls Una over. It’s other aspects of his character.
During the time that he was being denied competitive football because of a bureaucratic blunder, Makar never lost patience.
“He knew that we were trying our best to get the situation sorted and that was good enough for him,” said Una. “I would say to him for a laugh, ‘Being your agent isn’t easy, you know’, and he would play along and say, ‘Una, you’re the best agent I’ve ever had’.”
Eventually, the Home Office acknowledged their mistake and changed Makar’s visa. The dotted line was signed. He was officially a Ballinamallard player, and one who Daryl Molloy, recently appointed under-14 coach, was delighted to inherit from his predecessor.
“Makar has played five games for us now and his attitude is second-to-none. Both in training and during matches, he gives everything at every opportunity,” said Daryl, as we watched Makar glide around the training pitch.
“On the football side of it, he just picks everything up so quick. Nothing is ever a bother.
“Plus, he is a really determined player, but a bit of a joker in the dressing room. He has a healthy balance of ambition and humour. All the lads really love him, and they’ve really taken him under their wing. He is totally a part of the group now.” said Daryl.
Makar is now in a position to keep pushing forward in his footballing journey, but like all wise men, Una assured me that he has a contingent plan.
“I asked him, ‘Makar, what if the football doesn’t work out?’, and he replied, ‘Easy, Una, I’ll just become a chef.”
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