BY GER McCARTHY
TWO former Clonakilty AFC stalwarts played important roles in helping the Republic of Ireland International Amputee squad finish sixth at the 2017 European Championship finals in Turkey.
Nick Harrison and Martin White represented West Cork League club Clonakilty AFC for many years and got together once again to make their mark at international level this past October.
Irish Amputee international manger Harrison and sports physiotherapist White helped guide the national side to a marvellous sixth overall finish.
Set-up in 2011, the Irish Amputee Football Association aims to develop a national Irish amputee football league, promote and develop the sport of amputee football in Ireland and help towards the further development of persons interested in amputee football across the country.
According to the IAFA website, it operates under the FAI’s ‘Football For All’ programme and will provide any person with an amputation, congenital deficiency, or other limb affecting disorder with the opportunity to access amputee football at grassroots, club and national level. Training sessions are open to both male and female amputees of all ages.
This year’s European Championship tournament drew huge TV ratings across Europe and the final was played in front of over 40,000 supporters at Besiktas’ Vodafone Stadium in Istanbul.
‘The 2017 European Amputee Championships in Turkey was an unforgettable experience,’ Nick Harrison said.
‘Amputee football’s format is seven-a-side with all the rules of mainstream association football apart from offside and the fact goalkeepers are limited in their movement inside smaller penalty areas.
‘I’m delighted to get the opportunity to continue on as Irish amputee international manager in a sport that is growing quickly across the world and also at home. Just this week, Cork City FC has agreed to support a group of local amputee footballers and allow them to train at their facility.
‘Dublin clubs, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, have followed suit so we will shortly start a new domestic league with three teams and grow it from there. I can’t speak highly enough of Cork City and how much they have helped us.
‘Even closer to home, I’m thrilled that West Cork League Skibbereen AFC has an FAI ‘Football for All’ programme set-up for children with disabilities. Tony Walsh has been absolutely brilliant behind the scenes in keeping that going for the past few years and my old club, Clonakilty AFC, are hopefully planning to do something similar in the New Year.’
Harrison has a long association with West Cork League soccer, playing an integral role in helping Clonakilty AFC to successive promotions and a Beamish Cup final success back in 2008. Since then, Harrison has worked for the FAI all over the country, focussing on the association’s ‘Football for All’ development programme.
‘I first became involved with the Irish Amputees through my role with the FAI,’ commented 45-year-old Harrison.
‘I’d previously managed the Irish international power-chair team and been assistant manager plus coach to the Irish team for the blind. Chris McElligott, who appeared on this year’s RTÉ Operation Transformation programme, was previously in charge. A former League of Ireland player, Chris went back playing football and asked myself and Declan Considine, another FAI Development Officer, if we would be interested in taking over.
‘We took part in a friendly tournament in Poland where the Irish team played three games over a weekend and came fourth out of the six competing teams. That gave us a platform to prepare properly for the European Championships which took place in Turkey at the start of October.
‘Martin (White) came in as physiotherapist for the tournament as our regular physio was unable to attend the championships due to work commitments. I knew Martin was available, would be able to fulfil the physio’s role as well as helping me out with our warm-ups and warm downs due to his experience and football background.’
The draw for the tournament was far from kind to the Republic of Ireland, placing them in a proverbial ‘group of death’ against some of amputee international footballs best teams.
‘First up were Russia, the reigning world champions, and we did really well against them, keeping it tight and giving them a tough time,’ said Harrison.
‘We were on the back foot for much of the Russia game but the lads did really well before a showdown with England. The English have always given Ireland a bit of a trouncing at this particular level but our lads ran them very close that day and should have taken a point until they snatched a late winner.
‘Thankfully, we played superbly to beat Greece in our final group game and that took us through to the quarter-finals and a game with Poland. It is worth noting that Poland have put a huge amount of time and effort into amputee football over the last few years, they have a domestic league and a lot of funding behind them.
‘Poland were really strong but we had put such an effort into the previous three games that the lads were tired and couldn’t press the Polish the way we would have liked. We finished sixth overall which is a great achievement but, for the lads, the best memory of that tournament was being present at the European Championship final itself.
‘The Irish team were invited guests at the final between England and Turkey, a game that was played in front of over 40,000 fans at Beskitas’ Vodafone Stadium in Istanbul. The atmosphere was something else, flags everywhere and people hanging off the stands as they do over there. The game itself was superb with Turkey coming out on top.
‘The Turks are very strong at this level, have a full-time professional amputee league which is beamed out live on TV every Friday night over there.’
Former Clonakilty AFC centre-back Nick Harrison will continue as Irish international manager next year as amputee football looks set to become even more popular both at home and abroad.