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Commonwealth Games 2022: Nathan McCabe reveling in the moment after Euro heroics

Nathan McCabe may be only 18 years old, but he has already written his name into the annals of Northern Ireland Wheelchair Basketball history.

The Castlewellan teenager sunk the winning basket in extra time of the European qualifiers against Scotland to send Team NI to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this summer.

In the final, with the winner going to Birmingham and the loser going home, Team NI went 4-1 down against the hosts Scotland.

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The sides were tied on nine points each at the end of regulation time, the game went into extra time with the first to two points winning. Team NI conceded the first score but Con Nagle leveled for the men in green before McCabe scored to win the game.

“It feels still surreal, it is unbelievable what the team has achieved,” reflected McCabe.

“We knew Scotland were going to be hard opponents as they are such an amazing team to play against.

“The first game we played against them we went down straight away. They had a three point lead and we pulled it back because we work really well as a team.

“Scotland’s outside shots are unbelievable but we just picked up on the defence.

“Wales have some fantastic players, but we just had that edge. Our team gels very well together and we just bounce off one another.

“No matter who subs or who is on court we are a very good collective.”

McCabe and his teammates had to show great resolve and character in the final.

“Time ran out and we were in a tie, we went straight into over time, and it was the first to two points,” he added.

“We thought straight away they were going to go for the two pointers, but they didn’t and our defense helped us and we got the two points. I think that was the best we had played all tournament.”

In the heat of the tense battle McCabe didn’t know his basket had sent Team NI to the Commonwealth Games.

“It was an amazing feeling but to be honest I didn’t realize it,” he said.

“I thought you had to win by two clear points, I thought we needed another point. I get the rebound of a shot from James (MacSorley) and I thought we still had to go at it but we when they said game over it just all just came at once and I was overwhelmed by emotion and it was one of the best feelings I ever had.

“Scotland had their supporters and we had ours and it was so amazing just to experience that at the age of 18.”

McCabe started playing the sport at an early age and all the hard work he has put in has taken him onto the world stage as 3X3 Wheelchair Basketball makes its debut at the Commonwealth Games.

“I started wheelchair basketball when I was seven playing for the Belfast Knights at the Antrim Forum on a Tuesday night,” he explained.

“A lot of the guys were absolute monsters the way they were going up and down the court and then they were the juniors.

“I started off as a junior then worked my way up and got into the seniors at 14 which was a year early, that was when I started getting into the big game and that’s when I felt this is the sport for me, basketball is now a way of life.”

There was a lot of preparation needed before the qualifiers.

“Monday I’d be on court with Phil Robinson (Disability Sport NI Wheelchair Basketball Performance Officer), Tuesday in the gym for strength and conditioning, Wednesday on court with Matt Rolleston (part of the squad), Thursday training then on a Friday and Saturday we’d go to Silent Valley just outside Annalong and do a six-and-a-half-mile push nearly every weekend for fitness,” he said.

“On a Friday afternoon I’d have a one-on-one session with Phil, we’d be doing drills, taking shots and outside shots.

“The work that I have put in has really paid off as we can from the results.

“There were selects and backs and I was working really hard to be on the reserves, Phil phoned me to say you have made the team.

“I said to him a delighted to be a reserved and Phil was like knowing you are going to be one of the four on court.

“I was like right I need to work harder and in the qualifier I could see that work had paid off.”

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