Wheelchair Rugby: Ireland's Wheels in Green

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Determined Doggart's Paralympic dream

Will Doggart had never considered himself much of an athlete until after he broke his neck.

In 2009, the Bangor man broke three vertebrae when he dived into a sandbank while on holiday in Spain.

This week he is in Australia as part of Ireland's wheelchair rugby team.

The 'Wheels in Green' are competing at the World Championship for the first time after upsetting the likes of New Zealand, Brazil and Poland to win a qualification tournament in April.

"We were actually the lowest ranked [team] going into the tournament," said Doggart.

"Everyone we spoke to wrote us off but we won it really well, we played really good rugby, and I think people are now starting to take a little more notice of us."

Will Doggart (far left) with the rest of Ireland's Wheelchair Rugby squad
Will Doggart (far left) with the rest of Ireland's wheelchair rugby squad

The reward for winning the qualifying tournament was a spot in Pool A where they will face Australia, Japan, Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark.

Securing qualification was only the beginning of the battle for the Irish team, who have been on a fundraising drive ever since as they attempt to cover the £4,000 per player cost required to pay for their trip to Sydney.

Doggart, 27, and his family took part in a sponsored abseil of the Europa Hotel in Belfast earlier this year as part of his efforts to contribute to the team's expenses but for him the constant search for sponsorship and new sources of funding is worth the effort.

"Eight years ago, I broke my neck and afterwards in rehab there was a documentary called 'Murderball' that they used to show me to motivate me," he said.

"I was a very competitive sportsperson before, I wasn't always the best sportsperson, but I loved sport.

"So I just felt that that was something missing in my life and when they showed me the documentary I made it my mission to go and find a team near me.

"I was travelling down to Dublin once a week out of rehab and just trying to get into the sport, get into the chair and just get pushing.

"It made me feel so alive and from then on I didn't really look back, just travelled the world for the last eight years playing rugby."

Rugby on wheels

Wheelchair rugby features teams of four competing on an indoor court the same size as a basketball court.

The object is for players to avoid opposition blockers and get the ball between the pylons at the end of the court during the allotted 40 seconds on the game clock.

Every player has some form of disability in both their upper and lower limbs and they are given a classification score ranging from 0.5 points for the lowest functional level to 3.5 for the highest with the combined total of the four players on court at any given time restricted to eight points.

"Sometimes after my injury I just felt very slow, very overlooked and when you get on that court everyone's even, you've got an even playing field, disability has nothing to do with it," added Doggart.

"You can smash the hell out of each other, it doesn't matter what's happened to you the rest of the week but when you get on that court you just forget about everything and just focus on the game itself.

"I'm one of the slower players, I mainly get hit rather than do the hitting. I more just stick it all at the back of my head and when you come off it's just like a shower of relief because nothing else matters."

Will Doggart
Will Doggart also plays with the Ulster Barbarians Wheelchair Rugby club

The sport of 'murderball' transformed into wheelchair rugby not only because of the high-speed hits that occur during the game as opposition players crash their battered chairs into each other but also because of the range of differing abilities on each team.

As a sport that is played by people with a range of disabilities that include amputations, cerebral palsy, polio and spinal injuries, wheelchair rugby is one of the most inclusive disability sports in the world.

"Because I'm so slow compared a lot of the other players I play with my brain and that's maybe why I've got this far because it takes my athleticism out of it," said Doggart.

"I wasn't great at any sport before my injury but I loved sport, I was very knowledgeable about sport, so now I can actually use all of the things that I was good at in sport and in my life and suddenly there's a sport that fits me, which I never thought would be possible when I broke my neck."

Ireland will play Japan in their opening game at the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship on Sunday, 5 August.

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