It was a glorious autumn afternoon in Cork when Sunday’s Well Rebels stepped out onto Irish Independent Park to play their first match officially sanctioned by the IRFU. It was fitting that their opponents were Bradford’s Bumble Bees, England’s first Mixed Ability (MA) team, and trailblazers in their own right, whom they last faced in 2015 at the final of the International Mixed Ability Rugby World Tournament in Bradford in 2015. The Rebels won out again over the Bumbles, this time beating them 31 – 22.
Anyone watching the match would be hard-pressed to find a reason why MA rugby should not be supported under the banner of community rugby in Ireland. Players, coaches, parents and supporters alike were treated to a competitive, physical and technical match, which still managed to keep participation and fun at its core.
But this weekend is just the latest chapter in a phenomenal year for the Rebels and for MA rugby in Ireland. Eleven years after signing the protocol, Ireland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2018. Meanwhile the Rebels were carrying out their own brand of advocacy: playing local and international matches throughout the season with MA and community teams; spreading the word about MA rugby through schools, the Cork Sports Ability Day, training sessions with organisations, and their first disability rugby tag tournament (where the Rebels nailed a victory despite the unfamiliar format).
The Rebels even had the honour of meeting Ian McKinley – formerly in the Irish U20s and now an Italian international – when they travelled to Italy to play MA side Chivasso Rugby Onlus. Could there be a better role model for MA rugby?
But the real ‘corker’ came in May when IMAS announced the Rebels had been chosen to host IMART 2020. The announcement was live-streamed to a delighted club and, once the rugby season ended, the serious planning of IMART 2020 began with the IMAS team heading to Cork in June.
So, are the Rebels taking a well-earned rest for the remainder of the year? Of course not. In early November they will host the third transnational MIXAR meeting with IMAS, the Italian, Spanish and Flemish Rugby Unions and the University of Salamanca. Amongst the many representatives in attendance will be folk from the IRFU and the Lord Mayor of Cork. And, of course, before 2018 is out, they need to squeeze in their annual fixture with the Sunday’s Well 3rd team.
The Rebels are now playing MA rugby with provisional IRFU support so perhaps they aren’t as rebellious as they once were. But given what they’ve achieved in their short history so far, it’s hard to believe they won’t carry on pushing boundaries, breaking down barriers, being fantastic advocates for MA, playing exceptional rugby and transforming the lives of those involved. They are definitely still Rebels at heart.
Dr. Jen Dyer, member of the IMAS Mixed Ability Forum.