Sean Bennett testifies to the power of inclusivity in sport
By John Harrington
Next Wednesday, GAA clubs around the country will make a special effort to open their doors to the wider community for the inaugural GAA National Inclusive Fitness Day.
Inclusivity is already at the heart of the GAA’s ethos, but it’s not something that should ever be taken for granted.
Only good things can come from extending the hand of friendship and gently encouraging people to get involved who might otherwise have been reluctant or not realised there was a place for them in the GAA too.
Sean Bennett is a good example of the positive impact an inclusive approach can have.
The Laois native can’t speak positively enough about how his life has changed for the better since he took up wheelchair hurling.
“Being involved in sport is just unbelievable,” Bennett told GAA.ie. “The amount of people that I've met since I took up wheelchair hurling from the four provinces has been incredible, and we've become great friends.
“Last year I had the honour of representing my country in Breda in Holland. To get three caps for my country at 60 years of age just beggars belief and means an awful lot to me.
“Wheelchair hurling has just had a hugely positive impact in my life. To feel like you're included is something special.
“Inclusivity is very powerful. You don't realise how powerful it is. It's basically about being recognised as a person, that's why it means so much.”
The tournament in Holland that Bennett refers to was the 2019 European Para Games Floorball International event that took place last June.
Floorball is a game that is being considered for addition to the list of sports in the Paralympics and differs chiefly from wheelchair hurling in that players cannot rise the ball.
The sticks and balls used in the sport are different to hurleys and sliotars, and, unlike in wheelchair hurling when you can contest for the ball in the air and palm it down with your hand, in Floorball you can’t bring the stick above the height of the wheel.
The required a step learning curve for the Irish team but they more than held their own against nations far more experienced in the sport and upset the odds by beating the USA team in a play-off.
“It was just absolutely chuffed,” says Bennett of the experience. “£I got an All-Star for 2018 so that's why I was picked to go.
“To be in a goals in a wheelchair representing your country and get three caps and a medal a the end of it was just unbelievable.
“Ten years ago I would never have dreamt anything like that would be possible. I've said it to several people, 'Me, in Holland, representing my country?!' It's more than I ever imagined.”
Wheelchair hurling has gone from strength to strength in recent years and the four provincial teams are always
“Wheelchair hurling for me has been life-changing without a shadow of a doubt.
“I would say to anyone who is taking about maybe trying to get involved in the GAA to do it. Get involved at some level if at all possible no matter what your disability is.”
For more information on wheelchair hurling and national inclusion day, contact the GAA’s Diversity and Inclusion officer, Ger McTavish – Geraldine.firstname.lastname@example.org