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Fairway to heaven for Co Antrim man Gareth McNeilly and his jubilant Irish golf team

A Co Antrim golfer has told of his pride at leading a European Championship winning team.

areth McNeilly captained the Irish side that were crowned European Team Champions for Golfers with a Disability at the weekend.

Mr McNeilly, who lost his leg in a motorbike accident, said the team was “elated”, adding: “We knew we had a good team going into it, we had left good players at home, but to win it was above expectations. ”

He was joined by Ballinasloe’s Aidan Grenham, Sligo’s Alan Gaynor, Dundalk’s Brendan Lawlor and Carton House’s Conor Stone at the event.

This is the first year Ireland have sent a team to the championship. The three-day event took place at Belgium’s Koksjide Golf Ter Hille and saw the Irish team face seasoned competition from 13 other European countries.

Starting on Saturday 16 strokes clear after a strong opening two days of Foursomes and Greensomes, the team ended up winning the championship by an impressive 25 shots.

Mr McNeilly has played golf since a young age, joining Massereene Golf Club at 15.

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Captain Gareth McNeilly with the trophy

In 2004, aged 28, he was out with three friends enjoying a motorbike ride around Newcastle, Co Down, when his bike’s throttle jammed. He leapt from the bike, colliding with metal barriers at the side of the road.

Suffering broken thigh bones and a shattered knee, doctors at the Ulster Hospital decided to amputate his right leg above the knee.

With support from staff at Musgrave Park, he soon learned to walk again using a prosthetic. His second computerized prosthetic leg of him, made available from funding in 2008, enabled Mr McNeilly to play golf again with the help of sensors.

Six years ago, I saw the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) advertising tournaments on Twitter and decided to get involved.

His first tournament was at the Scottish Open in August 2017, finishing ninth and finding a renewed love for the sport.

What followed was several meetings with Golf Ireland, looking to develop the disabled golf scene here. Joined by Brendan Lawlor, the world’s number one disabled golfer, the pair began assembling a team.

At the start of 2022, Golf Ireland produced a strategic plan which included a high-performance strategy for golfers with a disability, creating a pathway for golfers to represent Ireland on the international stage.

By the end of February this year, they had nine players of world ranking and held trials at Carton House before embarking on the European Championship.

Mr McNeilly added: “I thought at the start of the year, I’d have a chance of making the team. Conor, Alan and Aidan have come on leaps and bounds this year, and we all know that Brendan is a superstar. This country produces brilliant golfers.

“The four lads gelled well together. There has been a strong bond with the four and their families. They played their best this week, and thankfully their best was more than good enough.”

Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly added: “This team has represented Irish golf with distinction in Belgium. We are delighted and proud of their achievement in winning this title at the first attempt. The result is a testament to their talent, determination and diligent preparation.”

The team are now set to play the inaugural Irish Open for Golfers with a Disability in Roganstown, Co Dublin, on July 5 and 6. The event allows golfers to compete on home soil with 25 Irish players confirmed.

Mr McNeilly urged others to take up the sport, which he says is gaining popularity.”

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