Ireland turning up the power in search of Nations Cup glory

For any football fans suffering withdrawal symptoms after the World Cup wondering what they will do for their fix, here’s the answer.

There’s an international tournament kicking off today in Ireland and, best of all, we’re in it. The European Powerchair Football Association’s Nations Cup takes place this week at the UL Arena, Limerick. Six European nations will compete in this tournament with England, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark joining Ireland in the inaugural event. Adding bite to the occasion is that the tournament is also a qualifier for next year’s FIPFA World Cup.

Those who do not know powerchair football are advised to experience the fast-paced, high-intensity game. Like most sports, it is a simple game — two teams, two goals, two halves, one winner. It’s played indoors, usually on a standard sized basketball court. Players can be male or female and play in teams of four, trying to outscore the opposition over a 40-minute game.

Using their wheelchairs and specialist foot guards and bumpers, players pass and shoot using push, reverse and spin techniques.

The Nations Cup will mark the introduction of new ‘elite’ wheelchairs — Strike Forces — that will elevate the speed, skill and quality of play to a new level in Europe.

And what of the teams? France and England will offer a high pedigree of talent, both having experienced World Cup finals in 2007 and 2011 respectively, while their club teams have so far dominated a developing European club scene. Denmark and Belgium will hope their experience will serve them well.

That should give the four nations a distinct advantage over their two less experienced opponents. Switzerland have only been developing the game since 2008 and Ireland still have a lot to prove.

Powerchair football began in Ireland in 2003 and only developed official structures in 2009.

As a player taking part in the very first session 11 years ago I thought to myself, “Imagine if I could play this for Ireland!” and at the 2011 FIPFA World Cup in Paris that dream was realised.

Unfortunately, the experience was not as sweet as envisaged eight years previous as Ireland wasn’t ready for the pace and skill of the international game. Failing to score in the competition proper, our only reprieve was a ninth-place play-off victory over Switzerland.

This week is an opportunity to change that. This evening’s curtain raiser will be a repeat of that 2011 play-off and both sides believe it to be an opportunity to make a statement.

Our Irish team will be the youngest at the competition with five of our eight players under 20 while four had only begun to play the game in 2011. We are more skilful, better equipped and have received the best of support from everyone inside and outside of the Irish football family.

This week, one of the most promising new branches of Irish football has the opportunity to put itself on the international map as a major player in the future of powerchair football. We hold aspirations of European, world and, hopefully, Olympic glory one day.

Where Ireland already dominates is in its supporters, who are consistently the best in the world. We hope that one institution of Irish football — it’s fans — can come out in numbers this week and lay the foundations for the building of another.


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