Wheels in Green rolling on to world stage

by James Hendicott

Ireland’s ‘Wheels In Green’ are set to travel to their first ever Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Sydney, Australia in the coming week, where they’ll attempt to overcome the odds and match their better-funded and more experienced opponents.

Ireland go into the tournament ranked ninth of 12, having won a qualifying contest in Switzerland that saw them claim one of the final four places available in the competition earlier this year.

Dubliner John McCarthy has been involved in the sport since it first started in Ireland back in 1997, and has seen it grow locally from a sport in which the players competed in their normal wheelchairs to its current status at world level.

As well as their qualification success, Ireland currently has a four-team local league, and Team Ireland compete in the British league to develop their top-class experience.

For McCarthy, then, the event is a bit of a dream come true, as he’s seen the team progress from infancy and regular defeats, to getting the better of some of Europe’s more established outfits.

“We’ve qualified for the Europeans a few times,” McCarthy, who plays in a blocking role for the team, told the Dublin Gazette ahead of the Championship.

“It’s a bit of everything that’s got us here this time. The numbers are going up. There’s a core team now at international level. For some of the players it’s big, but maybe not as big as it is for me, having seen it grow over two decades.”

The team have had some help getting to the tournament, in funding from the national lottery through their Good Causes funding, which has paid for both chairs and a little travel. “It’s expensive, and finances are always the biggest problem,” McCarthy said.

“It’s about €50,000 for us all to travel out and stay for the tournament, and it comes together through little bits of individual fundraising. The system gives everyone a chance, as the team can carry a certain number of points, which are allocated to players with a score of 0.5 to 3.5, according to their capabilities. That means everyone can take part.

“We’re probably not going out to win. I think we’d probably be pretty happy to come back with the same ranking, ninth. Some of the teams, like GB, Canada and Australia, get really substantial funding and are almost full time professional athletes.

“We all have jobs. We’re playing two of the best teams in the world in our group, Australia and Japan. There are other teams that we like to think we could beat on our day, though. We’re hoping to get some wins.”

The Wheelchair Rugby World Championship gets underway on Sunday, August 5 for the ‘Wheels in Green’. They play Australia, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark in Pool A, with all games streamed via the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship Facebook page.

Sponsorship of the team is still available, and individuals can donate via the iwasport.com website.

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