Chris McDermott

‘It isn’t a coffee morning for amputees’

Considering he has worked in football, plays it, and is currently studying it in college, it’s fair to say that the beautiful game has had a major impact on the life of Chris McDermott.

The Cootehill man suffers from Erbs Palsy, a condition that affects the main group of nerves supplying the arm, causing paralysis.

Chris hasn’t let that stand in his way.

He plays in goals for the Cork City FC amputee team and acts as a coach/stand-in goalie for the Irish amputee team. They have participated in the European Championships and World Cup. While the players may get a lot out of being involved in the team, sympathy isn’t one of them.

“It’s not somewhere to come if you’re feeling sorry for yourself,” said Chris. “All of the players here have lost limbs through different circumstances, whether it’s a workplace accident, a birth defect, or cancer, they’ve all been through a lot so if you’re looking for sympathy you won’t get it.

“One of our players from Kerry who lost his leg to cancer as a child and sadly passed away earlier this year when his cancer came back used to say: ‘It isn’t a coffee morning for amputees’. He was right.”

Chris is keen to spread awareness of amputee football, which he says has given him a renewed sense of self-esteem. He hopes others can share in this.

“It is seven-a-side and played over two 25-minute halves. Outfield players are lower limb amputees and people with lower limb disabilities/limb differences. Goalkeepers are upper limb amputees or people with upper limb disabilities/differences. So that’s how I qualify myself. I’m not an amputee, but I qualify through that essentially.

“I played all sports growing up but was always very conscious of my arm. Playing GAA required too much physicality, so I decided to stick to soccer.

“I only started playing amputee football as an adult but it has undoubtedly changed my life. Being involved in the sport has helped me see more of my own potential as opposed to the perceived limitations of my disability. It has also helped develop emotional awareness and empathy for others.”

World stage

He says that the Irish team has gone from strength to strength recently and is punching above its weight on the world stage.

“I joined the Amputee National Team in 2021 just after the pandemic as the assistant manager and have been in the role since. There I support manager Christy McElligott, who himself is an amputee and former League of Ireland star. In recent years we have competed at a European Championship in 2021, hosted in Krakow, Poland and subsequently qualified for last year’s 2022 Amputee World Cup in Istanbul, Turkey (where a final was played in front of 20,000 spectators) and this year, we finished second in a Nations League tournament that included - France, Italy and Germany, finishing second to Italy and qualifying for the European championships next year.”

Ireland also has a junior academy which meets twice a month in Dublin.

“Any player under 18 who wants to play can join. It’s also a great social network and support for parents of children who have undergone amputations as well,” Chris explains.

While a lot of people associate football with the bright lights of the Premier League and elite international tournaments, in his professional life Chris has worked to make it a more inclusive game.

“I moved to Wales and did my Undergrad degree in Cardiff in Sports Development and subsequently took on the role of managing Cardiff City FC’s Disability Football provision for five years. There I worked with teams with different disabilities such as deaf football, cerebral palsy football, Downs syndrome football, powerchair football, and others.”

Upon moving home to Ireland Chris began to work for the FAI in Cork delivering on the ‘More than a Club’ project. It organises socially focussed programmes through Cork City FC.

“These included a literacy and numeracy programme in schools, walking football, football memories - a programme to support people with dementia through memories of significant sports events,” Chris explained.

“I also managed Cork City FC’s amputee team, coaching them in the inaugural year of the national league in 2018, which is made up of three teams - Cork City, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers.

“We won the league that year and represented Ireland in the inaugural Amputee Football Champions League, which is made up of the winners of eight nations who host national domestic competitions.”

Recreational football

After a brief foray into tennis, Chris is back doing a PhD in football, studying how increased participation can improve men’s health.

“I did a Masters in Coaching Science in UCD while working for Tennis Ireland in the competition department and coaching locally with the Cavan Monaghan Underage League. Now I’m a PhD student in South East Technological University (SETU) Waterford where I’m working on a research project on recreational football.

“As part of the course, I’m looking at strategies to scale up a men’s health intervention through an existing project called Football Cooperative. It is held in Malahide and Limerick currently, but there are hopes of scaling up nationally and internationally.”

Chris believes it can play a part in providing access to physical activity and growing men’s health projects beyond competitive sport.

“Men aren’t likely to do things like a spin class, so football is a good way to get them out,” he says. “We have between 40 and 60 men out every week from all different backgrounds, ranging in age from late teens to late 50s with all different levels of ability.

“Everyone gets a game, and gets the chance to socialise so there are lots of different benefits.”