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13 March 2013

Wheelchair Rugby - is it just a Game?

Ireland recently hosted the Wheelchair Rugby European Qualifiers in Gormanstown College, Co. Meath. It’s likely to be the biggest Paralympic event on these shores in 2013. The tournament saw four European teams ranked outside the top ten, Ireland, Holland, Czech Republic and Italy, battle it out for the last two places available at the European Championship in Antwerp, Belgium in August 2013.


Ireland applied to host this event in an attempt to raise the profile of Wheelchair Rugby and indeed disability sport in general across the country. While results didn’t go the way of the Irish team the crowd were treated to a number of highly entertaining close fought games. A heart breaking one point loss to the Czech Republic was what inevitably sealed Ireland’s faith as regards to not qualifying for the Europeans.


After the game Conor Galvin, team support, had this to say, ‘Absolutely gutted tonight but delighted I feel gutted. Started out with the Wheelchair Rugby team as a volunteer helping to carry the gear around and fix chairs and tyres but over time I've forged an extraordinary bond with all the crew. Tonight was a case of bleeding on the battlefield together. So proud of everyone for their sacrifices, their effort and for doing the nation proud. Throughbred heroes! We may have lost on the scoreboard but we've come a long way and achieved so many great things. Thanks to everyone for the unbelievable support.’

Without a doubt the event has helped to raise the awareness of Wheelchair Rugby in Ireland and will be talked about for many years to come. It demonstrated that Wheelchair rugby has every component of true athleticism, combining speed, strength, strategy, and endurance. But much deeper than that, it has the ability to evoke ambition and the power to heal what science cannot.


Laois was well represented on the Irish team with two of it’s own, Garrett Culliton and Ger Scully. While very disappointed that Ireland hadn’t achieve their goal of qualifying for the European championship both were philosophical in their view that rugby is more than just about attending tournaments.


Garrett who helped to introduce Wheelchair Rugby to Ireland back in 1997 commented ‘Wheelchair Rugby has open doors for many people here in Ireland. First and foremost it has helped all players to improve their strength, fitness, balance and general wellbeing. It has given many a new lease of life, when they may have felt there wasn’t much else in life left for them. As a team sport, great friendships have been formed and of course the competitive spirit of the majority has driven everybody on, both players and helpers, to get the very best out of themselves and the team’.


Ger, who had a car accident in December 2008 and became paralysed from below his shoulders and also lost the use of his hands, talks about what rugby means to him.


'At the very early stage of my rehabilitation I quickly realised that sports would play a key role in my recovery. There are huge health and psychological benefits from participation in sports at any level. I began playing wheelchair rugby almost immediately after I was discharged from the NRH in August 2009. At that time I could not drive, transfer into a car, push on rough ground, I was still out sick from work. I needed to surround myself with people who could empathise with me, who would not patronise me, who would push me harder but above all would help and support me. While of course the support of my wife Frances, daughter Ellen and all my family has been huge these guys have also played an important part in my life over the past 4 years. These are people from all walks of life with different levels of ability from paralympians like John McCarthy and Gar Culliton "the godfathers of the sport" to other members who are content with playing the game once a week.

Watching these guys compete at international level is not just inspirational but hair raising. Every young boy wants to be a Pele or Maradona. Every young girl wants to be a Katie Taylor or a Sonia O’Sullivan. To us in the disabled world, these guys give us the same dreams and goals even at 39 years old. So three years on and I drive on my own car, work and have represented Ireland in the Wheelchair Rugby European Qualifiers. I know team sports or sports in general isn't for everyone, however exercise is a must. Prior to my accident I worked from 7 to 7, 6 days a week, then suddenly I returned home from hospital with a huge 12 hour gap in my day. An idle mind can be a very dangerous thing. That's where the wheelchair rugby helped me to fill that gap. Filling your day with balanced activities like family, work, exercise and sports will keep the mind and body in good shape’

For the Irish Team now it’s a case of getting straight back on the horse and start building towards the Europeans in 2015. We wish them well!

To answer the question – Yes, Wheelchair Rugby is definitely more than just a game!


Article written by and courtesy of Garret Culliton (#4 below)