Neil Hoey on the Hell & Back course

NEIL HOEY is a star of the Ireland international and Bohemians amputee football teams, both of whom had a big 2018.

The Irish national team finished thirteenth at the Amputee World Cup in Mexico late last year, while Bohemians were runners up in the marquee, inaugural National Amputee League season, just missing out to Cork City in a stunningly tight league.

This week, 18-year-old from Beaumont was on the shortlist for the Outsider Olly O’Neill Award for Most Inspiring Person, and not, primarily, for his soccer exploits.

Hoey’s nomination comes in large part thanks to his efforts in completing the off road Hell and Back race on crutches, as well as outright winning the event’s side contest, a “hang tough” event in which he clung hanging to a bar for over eight minutes.

Hoey lost his leg at the age of 11, having initially suffered a break when sliding down a waterslide on a friend’s back. The break ultimately revealed a weakened bone, and osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that led to the leg having to be removed entirely.

Not that it’s slowed down the Dubliner, who’s competing at Hell and Back was a fundraising exercise for the Amputee World Cup.

“People tell me it’s an amazing achievement but I don’t really see it that way,” Hoey tells the Dublin Gazette.

“I’m very proud to be nominated for the Outsider Award but my family have always been an outdoors kind of family, into scouting and GAA. I was getting ready to go to the World Cup at the time, and I figured if I wasn’t fit enough to get around Hell and Back, I certainly wasn’t fit enough for a World Cup.”

Most of Hoey’s international team mates had been looking at more straightforward fundraising efforts – areas such as pub quizzes and the like – but the youngster had concluded it wasn’t quite for him, being the youngest on the team, and that something more physically challenging would be a better fit.

“Someone asked me recently what it’s like to walk as there are a few people on our team that have never had that chance,” Hoey recalls. “I don’t remember what it felt like, to be honest.

“I remember the time when I could, of course, but I don’t remember the feeling of walking, so I guess this is just my normal.

“I got on with life. My mum and dad have been a huge help to me, really supportive. They got it into my head very early on that no amount of crying was going to bring my leg back, so I just got on with things. It’s not like breaking your leg, where it’ll eventually recover. It’s just gone, and nothing will change that.

“At first, I didn’t know anyone similar, but the team has people who are married, have good jobs and children, and it shows you life can be really good for us.

“The Outsider Award means a lot, the fundraising for the international games is a lot of pressure, it’s a big commitment. We’re grateful for the help of the FAI, but they have a lot of teams to support, and we can be left with some big bills. We’re always looking for sponsorship.

NEIL HOEY is a star of the Ireland international and Bohemians amputee football teams, both of whom had a big 2018. “I did the Hell and Back as a challenge, and to raise that money to travel to Mexico. But if I can inspire some young people in a similar situation doing this kind of thing, I’d feel very proud of that.”