Philly smiling in hospital.

‘It made sense to fill the Aviva in support of his recovery’: Rugby community unites to help severely injured player

38-year-old Philip Caldwell was involved in a freak accident while playing tag rugby over the summer.

IN JULY OF this year — while much of the country was enjoying the lifting of government restrictions — Philip Caldwell took part in a tag rugby match in Dublin. 

The 38-year-old, a keen player and coach, suffered severe spinal injuries in a freak accident, which left him temporarily paralysed from the neck down.

A friend of Philly’s, Andy Tallon, was playing on the next pitch that night and believes he was extremely fortunate that there were a number of doctors present at the time.

“We knew it was serious immediately,” Andy says. “He called looking for me and was physically scared. He told us that he couldn’t feel his legs.”

The following three months were spent in the Spinal Ward Unit of the Mater Hospital, and Philly is currently continuing his recovery in the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dun Laoghaire.

There is a long road ahead and he is slowly regaining movement in his body, but it remains unclear how much permanent damage has been done.

The man nicknamed ‘Flipper’ is lucky enough to have incredible family and friends supporting him. However, they are now calling on the rugby community to do their bit too.

“Philly is self-employed so, as his mates, we were concerned about how he was going to look after himself,” explains Andy, who is one of the founders of The Philip Caldwell Trust.

A couple of us got together over Zoom meetings and decided we’d like to do something for him.

“We came up with the idea of a fundraiser around one of the November internationals and the tagline ‘Fill the Aviva for Philly’ was born out of that.”

“Given so much of Philip’s life centred around his love of rugby, it only made sense that we should fill the Aviva in support of his recovery,” adds Richard Muldowney, another friend and founder of the trust.

The aim is to sell 51,700 tickets for Ireland’s international on Saturday, 5 December (opposition to be confirmed) and virtually ‘fill’ the Aviva Stadium, with fans not permitted to attending matches at present.

Tickets are priced as follows:

  • Singlet ticket – €10
  • Premium ticket – €50
  • 4 Ball – €250
  • Corporate box – €1,000

All money raised goes to The Philip Caldwell Trust to provide financial support for Philly’s recovery (rehab, physio, home adaptations etc), and any excess funds will be donated to the IRFU Charitable Trust, which helps injured people in the rugby community.

Philip Caldwell Trust / YouTube

Philly is a popular character and lined out for a long list of teams down through the years — including local club Barnhall, The Kings Hospital during his school days, Darfield (New Zealand), St Mary’s, Blackrock, Lansdowne, Cottesloe and UWA (both in Australia), Clinchers and Japan 2019 tag teams.

€141,020 has already been raised so far, which is an amazing achievement, but there are still 37,598 tickets available to purchase.

philip-caldwell-2212005 Playing for Blackrock in the AIL in 2005. INPHO INPHO

“We have already received a huge level of support from people across the country, which we are so grateful for,” says Richard. “We are asking that people buy a ticket and share with their friends and family as we aim to sell 57,100 tickets to help Philip on his road to recovery.”

Andy continues: “Every euro will make a big difference to him. He’s in the NRH now and is getting the most incredible care at the moment. However, from chatting to him, he’s thinking three, four, five months down the line when he gets out and has to go home. How will his life have changed and what adaptations will he have to make?

“But Philly has remained positive and that’s his personality shining through. He’s got a great outlook on life. Times are tough with everyone dealing with Covid, but you ring him and realise how lucky we all are. He has been brilliant.”

Fill The Aviva for Philly takes place on Saturday, 5 December. To donate or for more information, visit

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