Chris McElligott tells his story of overcoming extraordinary challenges

FAI coach discusses his work within Irish Amputee Football and taking part in Operation Transformation

Chris McElligott, FAI

Chris McElligott

YouTube is a treasure trove for wonder goals and if you type in the name Chris McElligott, you’ll find an absolute rocket of a strike from miles out.

The former St Patrick’s Athletic league winner was at Monaghan United at the time when he lashed in from all of 40 yards in an 1994 match against Shelbourne.

Straight into the top corner it flies and speaking to Newstalk.com, the former League of Ireland midfielder recalls: “It was one of those shots at goal that you take that could hit the top of Row Z in the stand or into the river behind it. But it just so happens that it hit the top corner and I never even knew it went in until Mick Byrne, who was the centre forward for Monaghan, came over to me and said ‘That was in!’”

Seven years after scoring that goal for Monaghan, McElligott’s life would change forever.

While driving to a friendly match in Wexford, McElligott, who was with Ballymun United at the time was involved in a road accident involving an articulated lorry which had jack-knifed and then collided head on with his vehicle.

The accident resulted in his right leg being amputated.

“I suppose in terms of registering it inside me, the fact that I couldn’t play football, I think that was easy,” McElligott reflects.

“Because it was automatic. The moment I lost the leg, I knew straight away. The first thing I said was ‘How am I going to be able to play this match tonight?’ And that’s probably a strange thing to say to yourself in the process, especially when it’s just come off you. So in them terms I think I dealt with it well. But long term, I don’t think I dealt with it in the right way.”

As the 47 year old explains in terms of the tos and fros of daily life, “everything becomes a little bit harder” in those early days of adjusting to a new way of life.

“People were doing things for me all the time which was great. Anybody who has a cup of tea handed to them knows how good it feels for example. I was getting everything handed to me and people were so nice to me. But also it was damaging in the meantime,” he says.

The team with Chris far left

But while he appreciated the kindness of those around him, that had a detrimental effect in terms of health as his weight increased from 12 stone at the time of his accident to 18 and a half stone.

And that is what prompted him to take part in RTE TV Show Operation Transformation where the Fit For All Patron was picked as one of the leaders.

“The thing that prompted me the most to go on the show is the fact that I was 18 and a half stone. And being an amputee, 18 and a half stone is not something you want to be carrying around only having one leg so that was probably the main reason,” he explains, adding that it has “changed my life”.

In 2011, McElligott began to get involved in the Irish amputee football and is now an FAI coach with the Football For All initiative.

“Oisin Jordan, who is the co-ordinator for the Football For All programme, rang me up and asked would I be interested in coming and having a look at a demonstration game,” says Chris.

“I didn’t know what to expect from amputee football until I went there and saw it. I wore my leg there and there were 2-3 guys who came over from England to give the demonstration and Simon Baker, who was a founding member of the Irish Amputee Football Association, and he just said, ‘Do you want to have a go at it?’ And I said,

Oh, no it’s not for me’. But he said, ‘Look, you won’t know until you have a go at it.’ So I went onto the pitch and I had the crutches with me and the leg on me and they just said, ‘Why don’t you just take the prosthetic leg off and have a go with the leg off?’ So I did.”

The team with Chris back row, second from the right

And McElligott hasn’t looked back since and describes it as the “closest thing to having that bond with the players again and that camaraderie and it’s the closest that I’ve come to having that same sensation of playing the game as when I played it with two legs.”

Competitively, he is now back as a player with tne UL Sport team and takes part in a league in England against the likes of Everton, Manchester City and Arsenal.

At the moment, there is no league set up as of yet in Ireland but it is on the agenda. But there is a youth academy for emerging players and in partnership with the European Amputee Football Federation, a junior camp was held here last year for the first time which saw 17 young players participate.

In terms of how well, amputee football associations are organised structurally, McElligott points to Poland as an example and globally there are World Cups for national teams to take part in.

“There are 52 countries involved in amputee football and the European Amputee Football Federation was only set up two years ago and already they’re having their first European Championships this year and made more progress in the two years than the World Amputee Football Federation has made in 25 years,” he says.

The last World Cup took place in Mexico in 2014 with Ireland ranking 18th overall and the team will go to the inaugural European Championships in Turkey later this year. The Top 6 European teams will then automatically qualify for the ensuing World Cup in 2018.

“We were unsuccessful ourselves in putting a bid together to host it here for 2018 but we’re hopeful that we’ll qualify and make the one in 2018 in Mexico,” says McElligott.

As for the long term, within Ireland, McElligott is hopeful that teams, their youth academies and a domestic league can be set up here in a link up with League of Ireland clubs.

For more information on the amputee football in Ireland and the national team, visit http://www.fai.ie/domestic/football-for-all/amputee-football.

The Football For All Programme also caters for Cerebral Palsy Sport Ireland’s football programmes and anyone who wishes to get involved can find more information on the FAI website: http://www.fai.ie/domestic/football-for-all/cerebral-palsy-sport-ireland

Eligibility is open to players with cerebral palsy as well as those with neurological disorders as a result of stroke and acquired brain injury.  Presently, the Ireland team is preparing for the IFCPF World Championships in Argentina which will take place this September and are currently on the lookout for players who would be interested in getting involved and representing their country. You can find more information right here: http://www.fai.ie/ireland/irelands-next-paralympic-football-star/who-qualifies