This Saturday (September 14th) will see the Munster round of fixtures in Wheelchair Hurling take place at St Mary’s Secondary School in Newport, County Tipperary.
Every year, each province hosts a round of the League competition and this year’s Munster stop sees all four provincial sides battling it for top spot in Tipperary.
But the Journey ahead of this weekend was a long one in setting up the Sport of Wheelchair Hurling and getting it to the stage it’s at today, for all four provincial teams.
Just over 20 years ago, Kerry native Tim Maher came up with the idea of Wheelchair Hurling while teaching in a residential school for children with disabilities attached to St. Mary’s Hospital in Balydoyle, Dublin at the time.
“It was just from that I got the idea that maybe we could replace the rackets with small hurleys. So I went out and got several 24-inch hurleys which were a suitable length, and it grew from there.”
“It was very much an experiment. Something that I thought might work and thankfully at the time, the staff of the school went with it. I think they thought I was a little bit off my head, to be honest, but they all got behind it, and the benefits were very quickly seen.”
Those benefits in terms of physical fitness and mental wellbeing were so quickly obvious that Maher decided he needed to spread the word as far and wide as possible.
“We started experimenting with it in the school, and it grew from there. I invited other schools in Dublin that had wheelchair users and invited them, and it eventually led into a League in Dublin.”Maher told GAA.ie in 2018.
For UL New Media and English Student Steven Casey, the Wheelchair user set upon a similar path a couple of years ago to bring Munster Wheelchair Hurling to where it is today, in 2019:
“Prior to returning to UL as a mature student I was involved in a social club in Limerick called ‘Wheels in Motion’, we did a couple to things like evenings out to the Cinema, going to resultants, checking wheelchair access around various points around the city, essentially providing a group for wheelchair users.”
Steven would then go on to take a volunteer role with the Limerick City Sports Partnership on their inclusion committee. The group ran and provided local Wheelchair users with several Sports including Bottica and Wheelchair Rugby for many years, but by far, it was Tim Maher’s concept of Wheelchair Hurling that took off for the “Treaty Warriors” Wheelchair Hurling team. Steven was also a sport and social coordinator for Midwest Spina Bifida Association.
To round off the journey, the Limerick Treaty Warriors later became the now Munster Wheelchair Hurling team in an amalgamation, and for the past number of years the four provinces have competed around the country in both League and Championship competitions:
“We have been going from strength to strength, delighted to say that we (The Munster Wheelchair Hurling team) won both the Championship and League in its first two seasons.”
“As of 2019 we have about 16 players in the squad, two coaches and a lot of people working behind the scenes as well”
With two All Ireland League and Championship Medals of his own, Steven is a big admirer of John Kiely’s Limerick side. There was one highlight that stood out in his mind over the seven years he’s been involved in Wheelchair Hurling.
“Last a year a couple of lads from the Limerick Senior Hurling team came out to us with the Liam McCarty Cup.”
“Obviously winning our own Championship was special but to have those lads come out to us as equals and show us the respect that we show them we go to watch them was a personal highlight for me.”
2019 All Ireland Wheelchair Hurling League: Munster blitz
Venue: St Mary’s Secondary School, Newport, County Tipperary
Opening Ceremony: 10:30 am
First Match throw-in time: 11:00 am
The GAA at Croke Park and Munster GAA recognise Wheelchair hurling, which is part of the GAA’s Games for all programme. For more information on the Sport check out GAA.ie
While you’re here, check out our video on the Munster Wheelchair Hurling team below: