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Soccer club helps break down barriers for disabled players


Nick Harrison, Football For All, and Andy Legge, chairman of Shannon Town United, with powerchair players and members of the Limerick and Clare Sports Partnerships at the official launch of Shannon Town United’s powerchair team at St Patrick’s  Comprehensive School. Photograph by Declan Monaghan

LOCAL soccer club Shannon Town United now have a powerchair team drawing players from throughout the Mid-West.
The team are training at St Patrick’s Comprehensive School and will play their first match under the Shannon Town United banner at UL on Saturday. There are 10 players on the team’s squad and the games are four-aside.
Andy Legge, chairman of Shannon Town United, said he is very pleased with the move. “We were approached by the FAI to help out a group of disabled athletes in the Clare and Limerick region and get involved in powerchair soccer. It was something that was put to the committee and our committee endorsed it wholeheartedly.”
He said the club has received a lot of help from both the FAI and Enable Ireland, while he is eagerly awaiting the first competitive game. “For the club, it’s a phenomenal development, it’s something that hasn’t been done before. On Saturday, we’re in the University of Limerick, we’re in Division 2 and all the teams play each other over a three-hour period. There’s going to be a blitz on every month.
“The determination from the players and the look on their faces when they’re involved in it is incredible.”
John Sweeney of the Clare Sports Partnership attended training at St Patrick’s Comprehensive on Tuesday night.
He said involvement in the game is very good for the players. “The main benefit is the social side of it. They’re entitled to be able to take part in sports and physical activity and it’s the right of everyone to have the opportunity to do that. The other benefit is linking with the mainstream club, so it’s also giving to the able-bodied people. It shows there shouldn’t be barriers to sport and everyone should have the opportunity to participate.”
FAI development officer Pat Halpin said soccer should be accessible to all. “Powerchair has been played for quite a while in Ireland but it’s new to link these disability groups with mainstream clubs. We feel they’re entitled to be seen as genuine athletes, not to be looked at as people that have a disability, the way the FAI sees it they play with a different ability rather than a disability.”
His colleague Conor Nestor said training players isn’t that much different to coaching mainstream footballers. “It’s very, very similar to running a mainstream training session. The games are only slightly altered for the athletes but we do run a disabililty workshop and the hope is to run it with the local coaches in Shannon.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Pádraig Hayes from Cúl na Gréine was training on Tuesday night. A student at Limerick Institute of Technology, he also works part-time in McDonald’s in Ennis and said he really enjoys the game. “I just love the competition and the competitiveness of it. I love it.”

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