RUGBY League will always be intrinsically linked with the north of England. That is where the prominent Super League teams are based - a genuine passion exists, but several people of Irish descent are beginning to cause a bit of a stir in Wheelchair Rugby League.
This five a side game played in sports wheelchairs in a sports hall is based on the rules of Rugby League. Last Saturday week Ireland cruised to a convincing victory in the second leg of the inaugural Celtic Cup against Scotland. The win was the latest feel good story for an Irish team, which was cobbled together before the 2013 World Cup.
Team captain Damian McCabe explains how it all transpired. “Wheelchair Rugby League started off being played in France in 2000. It has been played in the UK now for about 10 years and it is a developing sport.
“As regards the start up of an Irish team right before the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup in 2013 a few extra teams were needed.
“With the game not being played in Ireland at the moment there was a bit of a problem initially, but we tracked down people of Irish descent and we also have some Irish born players too.”
McCabe is heartened by the response to the Irish outfit, who defeated Scotland 52-28 in Dundee and then 80-48 in Blackpool. “It is great and we have improved significantly since 2013. Everybody we have involved is Irish. It is the same as all international sports qualification really.
“My father was Irish, we have a couple of Irish born and some with Irish grandparents too. Obviously due to funding it can be difficult for us to arrange training and games. That is something we will have to explore further.
“This year we actually did quite well training wise having sessions in January, February, and March in the lead up to the Celtic Cup. We feel that helped us significantly. Later on in the year there is a European competition which is being staged in Kent and we hope to do well in it.”
Logistically it is tough as members of the Irish squad are based throughout the UK, but McCabe is adamant that the sport can continue to grow. “The bulk of our squad live in the north of England. That is where Rugby League is strong and people became interested in the game. We also have people who travel from down south too.
“The sport has been boosted by Wheelchair Basketball clubs, who also started to play it. There is a national league and this year a Challenge Cup competition is being introduced too. At the moment you have a dozen clubs playing and beneath that a few others are keen to develop more teams in Scotland and Wales too.”