Ireland’s Cheer team defies the odds to make it to the Orlando ‘worlds’

Eat Sleep Cheer Repeat

Source: Marmalade Films


Dir. Tanya Doyle. Ireland. 2024. 87 mins.

The Cheer cottage industry gets a charming new chant from Ireland in Tanya Doyle’s documentary Eat/Sleep/Cheer/Repeat. A decidedly green flavour distinguishes this admittedly formulaic story of twisting and twirling triumph, but just because it travels a well-worn path - of a a rag-tag team of underdogs to the ‘worlds’, or World Championships of Cheer, in Orlando - doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining along the way.

An appealing testament of youth

A slow-to-start but smoothly-watchable package - with lensing from Daniel Hegarty and in particular editing from School Life’s Mirjam Strugalla and veteran John Murphy - this Covid-19-set story should play well domestically in Ireland (where it has a terrestrial TV pre-sale) and perhaps beyond on specialist streamer for those still mourning the loss of Netflix’s hit show Cheer, with which it shares similarities beyond the sport at its core.

Namely, it’s the personalities at play which break East/Sleep out of the west coast city of Galway where the Irish Cheer team assembles. A little sleepier than its athletes at times, the film eventually draws its energy from the force of the characters involved and the very specific hurdles in their way. As with Cheer, the team is under-funded,  but it’s also not recognised - Cheer is new to Ireland (where there is a tradition of majorettes). The cheerleaders appear to come from mostly lower socio-economic groups, and the dedication required to compete involves a huge sacrifice — which all comes to nothing when one family’s anti-vaccine stance heartbreakingly comes between Jayleesa and the Worlds.

Eat/Sleep, which is Tanya Doyle’s second documentary after The House, is not always precise. Reference is made to long journeys to training which aren’t visually pinpointed, a problem when one of the film’s more lovable characters, the tattooed Rickie, skips a session and is canned from the team (leading to a gift of a Hollywood ending for the film-makers). We’re never really sure where he’s coming from during the time of Covid-19 and lockdowns when the athletes suddenly have to wear masks and the Worlds are thrown into confusion. (An issue this 2021/2022-shot documentary also shares with the Netflix series).

Another gift to the production is the character of team coach Hilton, so anxiety-ridden you wonder if he’s in the right profession (he is). With his partner’s patient support, and perennially dancing a line between coach and friend, he’s constantly declaring this Worlds to be his last. Proud gay athlete Dean, meanwhile, is quick to spoty failure to apply bronzer (there is a lot of make-up application in this film, and the team even manages to fit a spray-tan tent into a hotel room in Orlando). Blathnaid, another appealing character, struggles with dyslexia at school but is a natural on the mat.

Tanya Doyle has a sympathy and understanding for her subjects and their young lives, and her camera is placed right at the crossroads of their future. In that way, it’s about more than Cheer, and the classical structure of an underdog sports doc, but a generation facing into the future, and it takes its motion from them. The film may fall off in its last frames, but Eat/Sleep/Cheer/Repeat is still an appealing testament of youth.

Production company/international sales: Marmalade Films,

Producers: Daniel Hegarty, Sinéad Ní Bhroin

Cinematography: Eleanor Bowman

Editing: Mirjam Strugalla, John Murphy

Music: Stephen Rennicks, Hugh Drumm