Ireland's first mixed ability rugby team

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Ireland's first mixed ability rugby team

Postby All Blacks nil » May 14th, 2015, 10:44 am

Proud to be a part of the Irish rugby community. Hopefully the IRFU might come on board. Well done to COPE and fair play to the Well.

PLEASE READ ... 27434.html

Munster and Ireland legend Paul O’Connell is Danny Lynch’s favourite player, writes Sam Boland.

At 6’7” and god knows how many stone, the Sunday’s Well Rebels captain would probably be Paul O’Connell’s favourite player too.

The Sunday’s Well Rebels are Ireland’s first — and currently only — Mixed Ability Rugby team. Operating from the same clubhouse as the storied Cork team, The Rebels are the brainchild of Cope day manager Alan Craughwell.

“The idea came from people with disabilities wanting the choice to play full-contact rugby, just like their sporting heroes,” says Alan. “Sunday’s Well RFC took the leap of faith with this unique team and their support has been invaluable to giving people this chance — to play rugby where before they never had the chance.”

Mixed Ability Rugby is 15-a-side rugby union played by players with intellectual disabilities and players without disabilities on the same team. It is a full-contact game played with a handful of minor rule adaptations. Alan, a Sunday’s Well member who is also involved in Togher Boxing Club, set up The Rebels in January 2014.

Ray Dennehy, a psychiatric nurse who doubles as The Rebels’ physio, is full of praise for the initiative. “What Alan has achieved — for the players, for their parents — is fantastic, and it’s a model that can be extended to GAA, soccer, any contact sport,”

On Saturday, The Rebels played their first game against another Mixed Ability Rugby team, contesting the Celtic Cup with holders The Clan, from Kilmarnock RFC in Scotland. With dark rainclouds looming above Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa’s GAA pitch, about 200 family, friends, and Sunday’s Well members gather on the sideline.

As St Patrick’s Pipe Band pumps out ‘Flower of Scotland’, followed by ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’, Danny’s parents, Martin and Ann Lynch from Macroom, Co Cork, reveal the difference the Rebels have made to Danny’s life — and their own. “We’re fierce proud of him,” says Ann. “Very proud.”

“It’s made a huge difference to his life,” says Martin. “Danny has dyspraxia and ADHD, so he wouldn’t be able to socialise by going to discos like other fellas. But here he’s able to be independent. It’s a huge boost to his confidence. He’s very outgoing, very funny. Sure he’d talk to the Pope.

“And it’s great for his fitness as well. He’s a big lad, so without this he might be in a bit of trouble. And only for Cope we would have been lost over the years.”

Out on the pitch, The Rebels fly into a two-try lead, the second scored by diminutive 18-year-old Luke Lane, who darts through Clan players like a gyroscope in a skull cap. His gleeful celebrations include flexing his biceps at the spectators, and pointing to his back where, in his daydreams at least, his name must appear on his shirt.

“He was packed and ready to go for this yesterday afternoon,” says his father, Bill Lane, from Lehenaghmore on the outskirts of Cork City. “I can’t believe his enthusiasm. He lives for Friday night’s training.”

Luke’s mother is full of praise for Sunday’s Well, especially the player-facilitators who line up alongside the likes of Luke and Danny and who give each game a structure. “As a parent of a child with a disability, you’re always looking for an outlet for them, but the world often isn’t very interested,” she says. “We’re really grateful to Sunday’s Well for taking this on. The social aspect and the discipline aspect are just what Luke needs. He won a gold and a bronze medal for swimming with Down Syndrome Ireland at the European Championship recently, but this is different, the way they learn from the facilitators next to them.”

“Being in a club is a huge dimension,” adds Gemma O’Flynn, from Bishopstown, whose son Patrick leapt at the chance to play for the Rebels and emulate his older brothers, both of whom played for Highfield. “It’s sociable, there are fewer rules and regulations than some other organisations. These are all young men in their 20s, and Sunday’s Well treat them like anyone else. Sunday’s Well deserve great credit, because they’re the only ones who were willing to take it on.”

The intensity of the hits rises as the game goes on, but Gemma says she doesn’t fear for her son. “It’s a man’s game, what can you do?”

From the exposed pitch at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, the giant floodlights of nearby Musgrave Park are clearly visible, and are something of a sore point with some parents. The Rebels’ clash with The Clan was initially slated for Musgrave Park but was moved to accommodate Munster’s Pro12 game against Treviso. An alternative rugby pitch could not be found in time, a hurdle some on the sideline interpret as the IRFU’s opposition to Mixed Ability Rugby or, as Martin Lynch puts it: “The IRFU are playing hard to get.”

Sunday’s Well president Alec Rose, looking every inch the rugby politician in his club blazer, is naturally more diplomatic. “The IRFU are reluctant to accept the structure of the game, but we’re working closely with them and hope we will resolve any problems shortly,” he says. “The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly. Look at how long it took for the women’s game to be accepted. But this really is a win-win situation for us. In this day and age, anything that brings new members, new revenue, to a club is to be welcomed.

“I didn’t know anything about these lads to begin with, but they’re full members of the club, just like anyone else, they wear the same jersey as anyone else. And they’re gas tickets, full of characters, just like on any team.”

A torrential downpour at the start of the second half prevents much more sideline talk, but at a reception at The Evergreen bar, the gas tickets of the Sunday’s Well Rebels gravitate to their captain and his newly acquired Celtic Cup until he shoos them away so he can “deal with the press”.

“Media duty is all part of the captain’s responsibilities,” Danny laughs. “I’m very proud, because all the lads voted for me to be captain. It was a great game with The Clan and now we’re looking forward to the World Cup.”

Indeed, with summer just around the corner, and the hype machines just warming up, soon everyone will be looking forward to the Rugby World Cup, but Danny is referring to the first ever Mixed Ability Rugby world tournament, which will be held in Bradford in August as a precursor to the main event.

In Bradford, The Rebels will renew their rivalry with The Clan, and face teams from Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, and Serbia, and several teams from England and Wales. National unions’ support for Mixed Ability Rugby across the water has developed rapidly under the auspices of Trust Rugby International (TRI), says Clan coach Stevie Main.

“The Clan started out as an NHS initiative three years ago,” says Stevie. “The Scottish union didn’t recognise us at first, until they appointed an equal opportunities manager. Now we’re in partnership with them to design an educational programme and we’re looking at starting a Clan club in Edinburgh as well.”

Rebels coach Maeve Darcy, who plays with UL Bohemians and Munster, is philosophical about the IRFU’s seeming reluctance to engage with Mixed Ability Rugby.

“There’s always resistance to something new,” she says, “especially when it’s something high-risk and full-contact like this. I mean, there are still people who think women shouldn’t be playing rugby, and look at the success of Ireland’s women’s team now. But to be the first is always going to be a challenge.

“But for me, The Rebels are what rugby is all about. There’s a job on the team for everyone, whether you’re big or small, whether you’re fast or slow. You won’t get picked last just because of who you are.”

Contact the Sunday’s Well Rebels via Facebook or Twitter.
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Re: Ireland's first mixed ability rugby team

Postby Grumpy Old Man » May 14th, 2015, 6:25 pm

That's fantastic. Best of luck to them.
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Re: Ireland's first mixed ability rugby team

Postby All Blacks nil » February 9th, 2017, 9:58 am

Worthy of a bump as they defend their World Cup title.
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Re: Ireland's first mixed ability rugby team

Postby Hippo » February 19th, 2017, 9:19 pm

It's a brilliant idea, delighted to see it. All the best to the team!
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