Ballybrack Bulls relish final underdog status

by James Hendicott
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IWA National Cup final preview

Ballybrack Bulls will face Cork Rebel Wheelers for the Hula Hoops IWA National Cup wheelchair basketball final at the NBA in Tallaght this Friday evening (6.30pm).

They go in, in the opinion of founder and player Graham Merrigan, as firm underdogs.

Wheelchair basketball takes most of its cues from its better-known equivalent, but there are some notable adaptations that impact on the game.

Players must bounce the ball once for every two times they push their chair, for example, and teams are given a maximum ‘score’ for the players they choose to field, with players individual tallies aligning with their level of disability.

Each team can have a “score” of no more than 15 in court at any one time (with a higher score representing more able bodied), in an attempt to equalise competition and ensure the less able get court time.

This is where Ballybrack fall down as they head into their final. The south Dubliners squad make up means they can field a team with a maximum total of 13, lower than most sides, including their Cork opponents, which puts them up against the wall in Friday’s final.

The Bulls side have developed a reputation as a cup team, however. While sitting consistently in the middle of the ten-team national league throughout their five-year existence, they’ve regularly outshone opponents in knock out competition.

Merrigan explains that the team he founded, together with Development Officer Mark Barry, four or five years ago is largely a “development team”.

“We take people who have injuries or disabilities and help introduce them to the sport,” he explains. “I’d been playing with Killester before. Their squad was getting quite big while there was no team on the south side, so we decided to start one up.

“We have players with a background in other sports, but also players who aren’t sporty types. It just takes them a little longer.”

Merrigan is familiar with opponents Cork’s style from their league encounters. “They’re a high press team,” he explains. “It’s a lot of pressure on the way you play.

“We lost to them earlier this year but we’ve been working on it. We played Belfast Knights at the weekend, and they play a similar game, very organised, so we learnt a lot from that going into the final.”

The road to the final has become a familiar one for the Bulls, though, and wins over Dundalk in the quarter final and Shannonside in the semis have the side dreaming of a repeat of their shock win over local rivals Killester last time around.

“We went in as similar underdogs in that game, too,” Merrigan recalls.

“We’d never beaten Killester before that final, and we won every quarter of that game. It just goes to show, in cup competition absolutely anything can happen. It’s just who brings it on the day.”

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