Bowled over by a whole new ball game

Some years ago, my good friend and multi-discipline wheelchair sportsman James McCarthy represented Ireland for the second time at the Paralympic Games. London 2012 being the most recent where he threw the Shot Putt. He has also pulled on the green jersey in Wheelchair Rugby as well as being to the forefront of the Wheelchair Hurling Interprovincial Series, which is backed by another gent I am blessed to be well acquainted with, Mr Sponsorship himself, Martin Donnelly.

At the time, while obviously delighted for and rooting for my Limerick friend, it was openly admitted that sports for people with disabilities weren’t the easiest watch for me. Partly out of a feeling that there wasn’t anything I could could participate in myself but, more to the point (at that stage) the disabled person who was admired most, Oscar Pistorious, sullied his own reputation, to put it as mildly as is humanely possible.

However, it is indeed a long road which has no turning. I’ve written previously, though perhaps not enough, about the life-changing experience securing a place in the local RehabCare centre in October of 2018. Whatever about having a routine again, making new friends, re-connecting with some old ones, brushing up on my I.T. skills and fulfilling a long held ambition to acquire a new skill – namely photography – what wasn’t envisaged was getting hooked on a new sport that one could not only observe but actually partake in.

Doing it for Donie

Mention was made earlier about how watching sports for the disabled had germinated very mixed emotions. Now, prior to my Occupational Therapist eventually persuading me to go over to the centre, I’d seen photos of others, including another great friend of mine, Joe Duff from Syddan, partaking in – and seemingly being very successful at – a game called Boccia.

Our dear departed friend Donie Fitzpatrick quickly showed me the ropes thereof though. Equally as fast, mind you, it became abundantly apparent how competitive participants, and Donie in particular, were. In many ways, Donie was the father of all of us and of the actual building itself.

There are poignant reminders of him everywhere around the place. For me, however, recollections of a very special person who is so much missed, but, personally speaking, emotions have been most stirred in the last few weeks as Boccia training has begun. Even though I’d known a team from the centre had been competing – usually in Simonstown Gaels GAA Club – for as long as I’d been attending.

A cursory glance around the cabinets told the story of them doing so very successfully too. Even though I’d seen the photographs of the aftermath of plenty of success, there wasn’t much of an idea about the nuts and bolts of the game. Very quickly though it became apparent that it looked very like Road Bowls, something which is very ‘big’ in the south of Ireland in particular.

For those not au fait with either (And remember, I numbered among your ilk until most recently), teams are usually made up of four players aside. The game is played with balls which are very similar to those used in Olympic Handball. A white ball, known as the Jack, is rolled to a particular point – usually on a wooden floor – with the object of the exercise to get as many of a team’s attempts as close to the Jack as possible.

The team which gets nearest to the Jack is deemed to be ‘Holding’ and they must attempt to close off all avenues to the white ball while, yes you’ve guessed it, their opponents try to attempt to dislodge it and put their own in the most advantageous position.

While this corner may have got a better grasp of the ins and outs of the craft, never was it considered that these wheels would be parking up in a row of four and pegging either a red or blue ball. My doing so is very much a case of doing it for Donie. Judging by my formative attempts, mind you, I’ve absolutely no doubt that I’d do well to make the bench were he still overseeing operations!

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