Ellie Sheehy's 'pure passion' for wheelchair hurling
By John Harrington
The photograph above this article is about as vivid an illustration of the power of sport that you can get.
Ellie Sheehy and Caroline O’Hanlon have just helped Munster to victory over Leinster after a nail-biting 2019 All-Ireland Wheelchair Hurling Final, and the emotion of the moment is just pouring out of them.
They’ve given huge commitment to a sport that has enriched their lives, so the feeling of satisfaction when the final whistle blew was immense.
“Yeah, there was a lot of emotion that day,” recalls Sheehy. “We play three seven-minute periods and we were down by two goals coming into the final third of the match.
“But we kept focused and kept our heads and kept reaching for our goals. Coming into the last two minutes we scored a penalty and there was high tension in the building.
“When the final whistle blew myself and Caroline absolutely let our emotions out. We both have huge passion for it so it meant so much to us both. We were all in tears after it, and that's because we have such a pure passion for the game.
“I had won All-Irelands in 2013 and 2014 but there was a big gap to my third All-Ireland so that made it all the more special. And for a lot of the team, it was their first All-Ireland.”
Sheehy and O’Hanlon were together again in Croke Park yesterday along with fellow wheelchair hurling players Edel Morrissey and Sarah Cregg to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 with Conradh na Gaeilge as part of Seachtain na Gaeilge le Energia.
They treated those in attendance to an exhibition of the skills of wheechair hurling as part of the GAA’s ‘GAA For All’ initiative.
The importance of equality is always a central theme of International Women’s Day, and equality is also part of what makes wheelchair hurling such a great sport as far as Sheehy is concerned.
It’s not divided by gender – men and women play together on the same wheelchair hurling teams.
“It's a good part of the sport that you're not looked at as a girl, you're a team-mate,” says Sheehy.
“It's not a 16-year-old girl versus a 35-year-old man, it's two players fighting for a ball and looking for the next opportunity to win.
“You need to be willing to put yourself out there and be willing to play against fellas that are twice your size. You need to be willing to view everybody as a player rather than the person they are.
“You wouldn't want to be afraid of it! When you see a man who's twice your size coming head on for you then you've no choice but to give as good as you get.
“It's the love of the sport. There's always a small fear of getting injured but we're all probably immune to it really. We already know the worst that could happen and it can't get much worse, like!”
Sheehy, 16, was born with Spina Bifida so has been a wheelchair user all her life.
She’s playing wheelchair hurling for eight years now and loved it from the very first day.
“I was in primary school and my resource teacher had saw an ad for it in the local paper. My father and me decided to take a spin in one night and I've been in there ever since.
“I wouldn't have had very high expectations the first day I went to try it. I was an eight-year-old at the time so I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into either.
“But it was a great experience and for me and everybody else who has been there since Day One has really gotten hooked on the sport.
“Everybody who loves sport has a passion to go and achieve the highest that they can. I was an eight-year-old girl at the time, I was a smallie inside in a small chair who was tapping the ball around.
“But I just had a drive and want to keep going and that made me stick at it. Now I'm playing with older lads who are ten years my senior but I've no fears of going up against them.
“I always had the passion though. Even when I was too small to really get after the ball sometimes I was still always going for it.
“The players who I started with I'm still playing with eight years on. You develop great bonds with people over time like that. We're always texting each other after matches and stuff like that.
“We've developed great friendships. That happens in every sport and wheelchair hurling is no exception.”
Sheehy describes her family as ‘very GAA-oriented’ so her achievements as a wheelchair hurler are a huge source of pride for them all.
It hasn’t just given her the opportunity to excel in sport, it’s enriched her life in all sorts of ways away from the game too and helped make her the person she is today.
“It's been huge in my life,” she says. “I've done interviews for different radio shows and I've won different awards and offered different opportunities that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me.
“I presented the sliotar at the All-Ireland Final replay in 2014 in Croke Park. It's just given me so many opportunities to achieve and set goals for myself.
“It really has improved my general life between school and home and everything and has just really brought me out of my shell.
“I’m the sort of person who'll salute you in the corridor or chat away to you for 20 minutes about whatever is on your mind.
“But being able to say that you play this sport and you've achieved this or that brings a whole new layer to the conversations you can have with people.
“Sport is such a huge part of everyone's life so it just opens up all sorts of doors to conversations you can have and brings something new to your life.
“There's opportunities for everyone out there. You just have to be willing to take that first step to achieve it.”