Northern Ireland’s Powerchair squad are gearing up to take part in the European championships for the first time.
A six-strong panel has been chosen to compete at the European Powerchair Football Association Nations Cup, the sport’s equivalent of the Euros.
This year’s tournament is being staged at Pajulahti Sports Institute in Nastola, Finland, from 21 to 27 May where eight teams will be battling it out to be crowned European champions.
Joining Northern Ireland at the Nations Cup will be Austria, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Republic of Ireland and Switzerland. And the teams finishing in the top five positions will in turn secure a place at the 2021 Federation Internationale de Powerchair Football (PFIPA) World Cup in Sydney, Australia.
Alan Crooks, the Irish FA Foundation’s Disability Football Manager, will manage the team in Finland, with support from coach Michael Hilland and player-coach Jason Browning.
Powerchair football, a four-a-side game which was first played here in 2010 at the Valley Leisure Centre in Newtownabbey, iscurrently developing steadily in Northern Ireland. There are four clubs - Belfast Trailblazers, Lisburn Lightning, Devenish Warriors (Enniskillen) and Hotwheels (Dungannon) - with more than 30 players registered, all playing in specialist powerchairs. The teams compete in an all-Ireland league.
Crooks has chosen Belfast Trailblazers players Patrick Cumisky, Carl McVeigh, Sean McKinney and Scott Hilland along with Lisburn Lightning duo Jamie Rogan and Jason Browning to make the trip to Finland, while Conor O’Kane (Belfast Trailblazers), William Graham and Ben Thompson (both Devenish Warriors) are on the standby list.
The manager explained: “In late 2017 we entered the Home Nations Championships in England and finished in second place. This, however, will be our first major European competition and we are really looking forward to competing in Finland.”
The squad currently train for three hours every fortnight at Avoniel Leisure Centre in Belfast and will host a Nations Cup warm-up event involving Scotland and the Republic of Ireland on Saturday 11 May at Ards Leisure Centre.
Powerchair football provides opportunities for people with a high level of impairment to access the game of football. It is the only active team participation sport for people who use electric wheelchairs.
Players are classified to play in national or international competitions and there are two eligible classes: PF1 (higher-level impairment) and PF2 (lower level of impairment). A team must have a minimum of two PF1s on court at any time.