IT’S been a proud few weeks for Coolmine RFC as the Ashbrook club have seen their first Olympian followed up by their first player called up to the senior Ireland rugby team.
The club’s progress on the field has seen clubman David Hawkshaw named Ireland under-20s captain, while Connacht centre Tom Farrell was named in Joe Schmidt’s panel for the Six Nations.
Perhaps the most distinguished sporting feat by a club member won’t come on a rugby field, however, but on the basketball courts of Abu Dhabi.
Stephen Lee, from Ashington, just off the Navan Road, has been selected to represent Ireland in basketball at the Special Olympics in the emirates in March.
Lee, who turns 26 on Sunday, was part of the Eastern Region (Dublin and surrounding areas) side that won gold at the national games at the National Sports Campus in June.
He’s a passionate supporter of Coolmine and Leinster Rugby, and is able to don the colours of his club as part of the Coolmine Pumas inclusive tag rugby team, coached by his sister Jennifer.
Stephen wasn’t immediately guaranteed a spot with Team Ireland, as the panel was selected by a draw between the gold medallists.
As time went on, his family prepared themselves for disappointment of missing out on a place but, eventually, he found out the good news.
“His mother is obviously his guardian, so the letter went to the house to her, but she was on holiday at the time,” Jennifer tells the Dublin Gazette.
“No one would have thought to open her mail, so when she came back two weeks later, she was going through the mounds of mail that she got. It wasn’t identified as Special Olympics.
“So there were screams and shouts and phone calls being made. We had to call him because he was out with my dad and his friends. We called him and had him on speakerphone and everything.
“We assumed it had passed and had done the ‘oh, don’t worry, you got to play in the Ireland game.’ We’d played it down, basically, and then he ended up being selected.”
Lee and Farrell were in the same age grade growing up and played rugby for Coolmine together as kids. Remarkably, their stories have once more converged in circumstances unimaginable then.
“Stephen wasn’t always able to play the game due to the opposition deciding maybe he’d get injured.
“Our club always asked were they OK with Stephen playing and sometimes they would say no because they were worried one of their players would hurt him.
“So in games he was allowed play, Tom would look out for him, pass him the ball and make sure he was protected in the ruck.
“It got to the stage where Stephen’s disability really prevented him playing at all, but when they were seven or eight, they played together at that age.
“As he got older his disability got more obvious and my mother looked at the Special Olympics club in the area, and that’s where she came across Cabra Lions and he got playing with them.”
Stephen will link up with the 90 other Irish Olympians ahead of the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi between March 14 and 21.