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No limits - an evening with the Irish amputee team

This is no ordinary football team.

Marco Tardelli with members of the Ireland amputee football team in 2012.
Marco Tardelli with members of the Ireland amputee football team in 2012.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE IRISH JERSEYS, socks and shorts are hung up; each player designated an individual place in the spacious Aviva Stadium dressing room. The team enters shortly afterwards and begins to get changed; shoes and trousers come off first before the outfield players remove their prosthetic limbs and take out their crutches.

This is football with a difference and this is the team that will represent Ireland at the World Cup in November. Today is another step on that journey as they take on a Granville Rangers under-age side at half-time in the Ireland-Oman match.

The typical dressing room banter is still very present: “you’re not a proper amputee, you’re from below the knee,” is one of the jokes that fly around as the players get changed.

Relentless work done by chairman and founder Simon Baker, team manager Christy McElligott and FAI Football For All National Co-ordinator Oisín Jordan has ensured that this squad of 12 players will fly to Mexico in just under three months’ time becoming the first Irish team ever to compete in an Amputee World Cup.

Watching the team warm-up is certainly an experience. The skill level and athleticism of the players, despite the fact that they are playing on one leg, is amazing. Not a pass goes astray.

The rules are more or less the same as normal football – with the one obvious difference being that outfield players have one leg and play on crutches without their prosthetic limb, while the goalkeeper has one arm.

As well as that the games are seven-a-side, played on a pitch 70 x 60 metres in dimension with two 25 minute halves and no offside rule.

Baker, who also plays for the team, says that this year’s tournament was the primary aim when the project began but he did not foresee everything going so smoothly.

“I didn’t foresee that we’d be going as prepared as we are. When myself and Christy McElligott started this in 2011 this was our goal, there’s not much point in starting something without an aim.”

Baker has a clear vision of where he wants the team to go and of how the general public see the team.

“I want people to look at us and say: ‘wow, I want to play that’, not ‘bless them aren’t they great playing amputee football’,” he says.

“We don’t want people to see us as amputees; we want people to see us as athletes. We don’t want lads getting caps for the sake of getting caps, because they’re sacred, as anyone who has caps knows.”

This is not simply a project to help amputees after they have had accidents, this is serious football in a professional set-up.

Team manager Christy McElligott, a former League of Ireland winner with St Patrick’s Athletic before a road accident resulted in him becoming an amputee, explains this.

“Most people would think that you might sit around the dressing room and discuss what happened to someone or what happened to the new player but it’s not like that, it’s the opposite.

“Every player is there solely to play football, to do something that they thought all those years ago they couldn’t do. Some of the players in there would have come into this having never played the game. Some of them were born with deficiencies and are learning the game now while playing for their country,” says McElligott.

The team’s main sponsor, Paddy Power, makes up most of the financial support that will get the team to Mexico.

“The first time I went down to them [at a training camp in Limerick] I was amazed. I went in goals for a few penalties and they went to town on me. Your natural reaction would be ‘the poor lads they won’t but able to do this because they’re amputees’ but the reality is that they’re bloody good.”

With a planned bid to host the 2016 World Cup as well as an inter-regional league on the horizon amputee football is only going to get bigger and bigger in Ireland and around the world.

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