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  • Northside West

A League of their own

Wednesday, 17th January, 2018 8:00am

Story by Jack Gleeson
A League of their own

Christy McElligott, Mandy King, Jack Conroy and Dublin Lord Mayor, Michael Mac Donncha, at Dalymount Park last week. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

A League of their own

Christy McElligott, Mandy King, Jack Conroy and Dublin Lord Mayor, Michael Mac Donncha, at Dalymount Park last week. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

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SOME of Ireland’s most talented amputee footballers will be lining up for Bohemian FC later this month in a pilot league taking place in Cork.

The team was officially launched at Dalymount Park last week and is being run by Ballymun man, Christy McElligott, who was part of the St Patrick’s Athletic 1995/96 league winning side and a leader in last year’s Operation Transformation on RTÉ.

McElligott, is a key driver behind the Irish Amputee Football Association’s (IAFA) goal of establishing a national football league for its players.

Encouraged by Simon Baker and Oisin Jordan of the IAFA, McElligott admits he was initially reluctant to get involved in the project but eventually came on board and is now fully committed to the cause.

“It’s at its early stages but we have three clubs and maybe four before the league even starts,” he told Northside People.

“I believe by the end of the year we’ll have lots of clubs that want to jump on board.”

The pilot tournament is due to take place in Cork with Shamrock Rovers and Cork City making up the trio of debutant clubs.

The initiative is gathering pace, with a fully-fledged amputee league running alongside the League of Ireland the ultimate aim.

Amputee football is a developing sport and McElligott points to the national team’s performance at last year’s European Championships, where Ireland reached the quarter finals, and a crowd of 42,000 for the final as evidence of progress.

“Even the Aviva has struggled to get crowds that size,” he said. 

“I’d like to think the game is going in the right direction.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the world. It’s a no-brainer for any League of Ireland club to get involved.”

McElligott’s love and belief of the sport stretches as far as reaching out to fellow amputees and encouraging them to get involved.

The Bohs’ amputee team includes ‘keeper Jack Conroy who got involved with McElligott almost by accident.

“I was standing a bus stop heading to Croke Park in 2013 when a car pulled up,” said Jack, who has one arm. “I thought it was somebody looking for directions but it was Christy McElligott.”

The pair got chatting about amputee football and with a little encouragement, Jack decided to get involved. 

He’s now ‘keeper for the national side as well as the new Bohs team and is looking forward to the pilot tournament in Cork.

“I’m from Co Meath and there’s no team where I’m from so I was always a Bohs fan. So I’ll definitely be looking forward to beating Rovers,” he laughed.

Amputee football is now an integral part of life for Jack who also plays regular 11-a-side soccer at home.

“It’s massive for me. The level of coaching we get is phenomenal.

“We’re training in Abbotstown and I’ve started doing my coaching badges on the back of it.

“I love the game so much and I just want other people to get involved in it.”

McElligott was also instrumental in getting Mandy King from Ballymun involved in the game.

The pair met by chance at Cappagh Hospital when Mandy was having a fitting for a prosthetic leg.

“He asked me did I want to play football,” recalled Mandy.

“I thought he was having a laugh. I mean football? I was after losing my leg so I thought he was joking or something.”

Mandy is one of only four women involved in the IAFA, and the only one playing the game. And she’s thrilled to be lining out for the Bohs.

“My uncle Joe King used to play for them years ago,” she said. “He’s 82 now and he’s only delighted.”

Mandy is one of the more experienced players in the Bohs squad and was one of the only females to play at the 2014 Amputee Football World Cup in Mexico.

“It’s after opening my mind to loads of things,” she told us. “It gave me confidence. I’m a different person since I started playing football.”

Having an amputee team fits in perfectly with the Bohs ethos of being an inclusive, community club. And first team manager, Keith Long, is more than happy to back the project.

“It’s a great initiative,” he said. “We played the Irish amputee team last summer and everybody involved was taken aback at the way the players were able to manoeuvre themselves around the pitch.

“My lads came away with a great regard for the people involved and were inspired by their skill level.

“It’s brilliant for the players to bounce back from the adversity of losing a limb. It’s testament to the human spirit really.

“Everybody can identify with sport. Having a disadvantage or a disability shouldn’t prevent you with playing the sport you love.

“It’s a great opportunity for us as a club to be involved in this. Obviously the first team is the pillar but there are lots of layers to the club and having an amputee team fits perfectly into Bohs’ philosophy. I’ve no doubt it will enrich the club and make us better.”

Christy McElligott with Jack Conroy and Dublin Lord Mayor Michael Mac Donncha at Dalymount Park for the launch. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

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