Ireland Amputee Team to compete at the Home of Irish Football this weekend


International football returns to the Home of Irish Football this Friday when the Ireland Amputee team host neighbours England at Dalymount Park in the first game of a three-team tournament at 7.45pm.

On Saturday, the tournament continues as Poland play England at noon followed by Ireland taking on Poland at 4pm.

Admission to all three games is FREE.

It caps a breakthrough year for the sport in Ireland following the establishment of the Irish Amputee Football Association National League.

A veteran of the game, Chris McElligott has been a leading light behind the growth of amputee football in Ireland – as both a player and a coach – and was the key man behind the establishment of the league.

He said: “This year has been fantastic. I couldn’t have dreamed of where amputee football is going at the moment.

“The three clubs involved in the league – Bohs, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers – have been brilliant.

“They have all shown they want to be inclusive in their community. They want football available to everyone. Not just the mainstream game, but to everybody.

“They’ve all welcomed us with open arms.

“The backing Bohemians have given to the players for this weekend’s tournament, they’ve pulled out all the stops. They’re only short of putting the red carpet out for us.”

McElligott lost his leg in a road traffic accident 16 years ago.

He said: “I was heading to work, doing a delivery to Wexford. I left early because I wanted to play a friendly match with my local club Ballymun United that night.

“Unfortunately I came out the wrong end of a head-on collision with another artic truck and it took the leg right off me.

“The first thing that came into my head was how was I going to play the match that night!

“I was 13 days in hospital but I got through that. I was determined to get on with life. I adapted to things like driving with one leg quite quickly.

“I never thought I would get the opportunity to play football again. Football was my life.

“But once I got the prosthetic leg, the whole world opened up for me again.

“And football is the best medicine, which is why amputee football is so important.”

The sense of not allowing a disability hold yourself back is a consistent trait throughout this Ireland set-up.

No more so than with Neil Hoey. At 18 and studying for his leaving cert this summer, he is the youngest member of the national squad.

His social media handle of ‘hopalonghoey’ tells you all you need to know about his self-deprecating sense of humour.

He said: “I lost my leg in 2011 due to cancer.

“It was a freak thing. I broke it originally and it wasn’t healing. Through tests they found I had cancer and I lost my leg the following month.

“I just turned 11. It was a set-back but I was young enough that it hasn’t impacted my life drastically.

“I barely know any different now and football is still my go-to thing.”

Asked about his social media handle, Neil, who plays for Bohs said: “Throughout school, one of my friends used to keep saying to me ‘hop along, hop along, come on’.

“Between him and my mam, there was never a sympathy card there for me to play with!

“You were never given that chance of thinking ‘awh, I’ve only got one leg’. It was always a case of ‘yeah, so what?’

“There was never any case of me not being able to do stuff, there was always a way. Even if it meant my mate had to drag me out of school to go out the yard, he’d do it.

“He was there for me. He’d make it a laughing matter and reinforce that it’s not the end of the world.

“Between him, my mam and dad, it was never a case of ‘oh this is the end for me’, it was always ‘what else can we do’ or ‘how can we do it?’”

To that end, he got involved in amputee football.

He said: “I got involved through a fella who lived on my road, Kevin Brady, who used to manage the team with Christy.

“Kevin found out I lost my leg. We only live a few doors up from each other so he told my mam to get me down and give it a go.

“I went down and from the moment I went down I just loved it. You’re on the crutches running around and there was no disability related to it.

“It was just football like it should be – they don’t go easy on you!”

Not all of the team are in fact amputees.

Goalkeeper James Conroy explains: “I’m a bit different to a lot of the lads. I was born missing my right hand. I’ve never known any other way.

“You just get on with it. It’s only on days like today when you’re promoting the sport that you actually stop to think about it.

“But I’ve never been through the trauma of having four limbs and losing one. The lads sometimes slag me because I’m not a real amputee!”

Conroy got involved in the sport after a chance meeting with McElligott.

He said: “I’ve been involved since 2013. It was just pure chance meeting with Christy. I’m from out in Navan and he lives in Dunshaughlin.

“I was at the bus stop one day and he saw me. He was driving by and pulled over. I was in my Meath jersey on my way to Croker.

“He saw my arm and started chatting and asked would I be interested in getting involved.

“I eventually came down and gave it a go and I haven’t looked back since.”

Conroy is also delighted with the recent growth of the sport. He too lines out for Bohs and said: “The league was badly needed.

“We’ve been travelling over to England to compete in their league. Lads weren’t getting enough game-time. Now we have our own league and we are in control of our own destiny.

“We are reaching out to more local players. You’ve Bohs and Shamrock Rovers training every week in Dublin and it’s the same down with Cork City.

“It’s a lot easier now for players. Traditionally we were training in Limerick and that’s a long way for people to go try out a sport. It’s much more accessible now.

“It’s on people’s doorstep now and people are out playing every week which is how it should be.”

While younger players like Hoey will not remember Dalymount in it’s heyday of hosting internationals, the older players certainly do.

Conroy added: “It’s incredible. There’s so much history in Dalymount.

“We’re sitting in the dressing rooms here where all these great players have sat. That means a lot.

“There is great character around the place and I’m really looking forward to it.

“Older lads like myself, we’re well aware of its history.

“Now we’re getting our own piece of Dalymount Park history for ourselves and that’s just brilliant.”

McElligott agrees, adding: “It’s great to have international football in Dalymount Park. It’s a long time coming and we’re delighted it’s us that’s bringing it.

“Ireland v England, Friday night at Dalymount Park – we hope that can bring supporters out of their homes to watch our game.”

Friday May 4: Ireland v England (Dalymount Park, 7.45pm)
Saturday May 5: Poland v England (Dalymount Park, 12pm), Ireland v Poland (Dalymount Park, 4pm).

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