BY JJ HURLEY
BALLINHASSIG'S Conor Coughlan is on a mission as he continues to shine on the wheelchair basketball court for club and country.
His story is of endurance and determination; born with a series of conditions that restricted his growth, Conor has lost count of the number of visits to Crumlin Children's Hospital.
At 13, he had discarded his beloved Ballinhassig career, though not his sense of humour.
'I couldn't keep up with the intensity as everyone was growing,’ he says, ‘and I was ending up getting shouldered in the head rather than the shoulder!'
For any teenager, being unable to line out with your friends is difficult. 'I took a few months out,’ Conor says, ‘I was a bit down, and I didn't know what to do.’
Help arrived from an unlikely source as Ballygarvan's Paul Ryan coaxed him to attend a Rebel Wheelers basketball session.
Taking to the sport instantly, Conor loved it.
'Once I hopped into the chair and even with all the lads' disabilities, it made me fit in and normal in a sense, and I was hooked,’ he says.
Seven years later, he must be doing something right as he picked up a European All-Star Award last summer as he lined out for Ireland in a U23 competition in Finland.
While he was thrilled with his individual award, it is his bronze medal secured in 2019 with Ireland that he treasures most, but Conor is now eyeing up success with Ireland's senior side, where he has already made his debut.
Joining him in the senior ranks are his team-mates from the Rebel Wheelers, Jack Quinn and Dillion McCarthy. In addition, there is another familiar face looking on from the sidelines – his dad, Con, appointed manager of the international side.
The lads will be hoping to replicate their domestic success on the international stage as the Rebel Wheelers close in on their fourth year of success in claiming both national cups and league titles.
For Conor, who is currently studying sports and exercise science at the University of Limerick, balancing his studies with his sporting success is essential.
Having secured a sports scholarship from the centre of learning, Conor is grateful for the support received.
‘The way they look after you is ridiculous,’ he says.
‘Everything is looked after. There is a woman up there, Noreen O'Connor, she is like my mother away from home.’
While Conor – who also finds time to act as stats man for Ballinhassig junior A footballers – can't travel home for training with the Cork outfit during the week, he joins in with league challengers Limerick Celts as he continues to focus on his career in the sport.
Already, there has been interest from the professional game on the continent, but completing his studies and pursuing a master’s degree in occupational therapy is the focus for now.