Mullingar Rugby Club is to be the first in Ireland to train a tag rugby team for the Special Olympics, it was revealed this week.
The idea for a team stemmed from a conversation “about six weeks ago” between Tullamore rugby referee Martin Nunan who works in the adult resource centre on the Delvin Road, and Barry Coade, Mullingar’s community rugby officer.
The first training session was held on Tuesday, and was attended by 18 participants, both male and female.
Alongside the development of a team for the next Games to be held in Los Angeles in 2015, Barry also hopes to develop the first training manual for this in Ireland, to assist other clubs in the development of tag rugby for Special Olympic hopefuls.
“There’s no training manual for this at all,” explained Barry Coade.
“We went to the HSE and the Westmeath Sports Partnership and we’ve had huge support, so we’re not only going to build a team, but a training manual,” he explained.
Tag rugby is a non-contact variant on the big game which was imported into Ireland from Australia in the early 2000s, and which has exploded in popularity since.
The genius of the game’s inclusivity is that a female try is worth three male tries, thereby guaranteeing the continued involvement of the fairer sex.
Each team consists of up to 12 squad members with seven players on the pitch at any one time. There can only ever be a maximum of four men on the pitch for a team, and rolling substitutions ensure tired legs get a rest whenever they need one.
“We’re a bit of a pilot scheme, so to speak, but everybody has been bending over backwards to give us a dig-out,” said Mr Nunan, who has been working with adults with special needs for the last 16 years.
He revealed that though there is a Special Olympics tag programme for adults in Northern Ireland under the patronage of Isaac Boss, his effort to start a team in Mullingar is the first in the Republic.
“We’re the first centre to integrate adult rugby. I’ve seen many programmes start and go, but never saw anything as good as this for community integration. The same skills of respect and ethics expected on the rugby pitch are a skill set we try to use in community integration programmes,” he said.
Because of the lack of formal opposition at this stage, he explained that the medium-term plan would be to play an exhibition match at the Mullingar tag finals in August.
“I love the job that I do, and I love rugby, and I can’t think of a better way to combine them,” he added.
“All [the initial participants] are very excited after their first session, and that’s a good sign,” he said on Tuesday.