STORY OF THE GAELIC WARRIORS
Wheelchair Rugby was introduced to Ireland back in 1997 thanks mainly to the efforts of Garrett Culliton. Garrett comes from a strong rugby background and after seeing the game being played while he was in the United States, was adamant that Ireland would have their own Wheelchair Rugby team. So he rang around all the quads he could think of and convinced them that this was the sport for them. Picture it! A group of people in a sports hall, trying to get to grips with a new sport and everyone is sitting in their own ordinary, everyday chairs. We didn’t have a proper rugby chair between us.
It wasn’t long before Garrett had the IRFU roped in and they provided the funds for us to purchase six official rugby chairs. It was important in those early stages that we had someone in the know to turn to and we can’t acknowledge enough the support we got from Great Britain Wheelchair Rugby. They gave us every support with rules, game plays and they even provided us with some chairs that were no longer being used by their players.
Training took place in the IWA Sports Hall in Clontarf and in the Community Hall in Garrett’s home town of Clonaslee. It was great to have a venue outside of Dublin to train in because it was central for those travelling from places like Galway and Cork as well as the Capital. To this day, these two venues continue to be our main training venues for the Irish Wheelchair Rugby National Team. We attended our first ever tournament when we were given a special invitation to compete at the Europa Cup in Leeds in 1998. Needless to say, we didn’t win a single game. The following year we competed in the Great Britain League for the first time, where we played in the second division. A couple of seasons had passed before we managed to get our first win, a close match against the Yorkshire Lions.
Our First Tournament Win
Our first trophy win came in 2002 when we travelled to Ulm in Germany to compete for the Schwaben Cup. This was our first time competing at this tournament and the last thing we expected was to win the competition. It seems that the Germans weren’t expecting that either but win we did and it was a great feeling to be bringing home a trophy after so many disappointments and big losses. We have tasted success again since the initial breakthrough in 2002. We won our qualifying group for the 2005 European Championships when we beat off the challenge of Norway, the Czech Republic and France in Neerphelt, Belgium in October 2004. Then we won the Advanced League at the Bernd Best in Cologne in 2005. Our first major event as an Irish National Team was at the 2003 European Championships in Lommel, Belgium, where we finished 11th. We competed again at the 2005 European Championships in Middlefart, Denmark, where we finished 12th and in the 2007 European Championships in Finland, where we finished 12th. In February this year we again qualified as the top team from the European Qualifiers and will once again be going to represent Ireland in Denmark in October in the European Championships.