Northern Ireland Powerchair football coach Michael Hilland believes the team will be more competitive on the international stage after receiving new Strikeforce chairs.
Buoyed by a second place finish in the Home Internationals the squad will travel to Finland in May for the Euro’s with the huge incentive of World Cup qualification on the line.
“That’s’ the goal and we have already started and we have another four training sessions before Christmas and then after that on a fortnightly basis and the squad should be well prepared for participation in the European’s and the goal would be qualification for the World’s in Australia,” said Hilland.
“The chairs have been unbelievable, with everybody now playing on the same level it’s now down to ability and awareness, the speed of the game has changed dramatically in the last period of time.”
The 11 top of the range Strikeforce powerchairs which cost over £70,000 came courtesy of funding from the Department for Communities through Sport NI and delivered by Disability Sport NI.
“The amount of fund raising it would have taken to get that money would have taken us years and with the help and support of Disability Sport Northern, Sport NI and the Department for Communities which we fully appreciate and thank them for their donation and contribution to powerchair football in the province,” added Hilland.
The highlight of the Home Internationals was beating the Republic of Ireland with a last minute goal and the squad were awarded caps for the tournament.
“Form a personal point of view it was fantastic for the boys to go away and play in the tournament firstly as a parent and secondly as a coach and now we are working towards the European Championships in May with a group of 10 which will be cut to six for the tournament," continued Hilland.
“They was a lot of joy in that (beating the Republic) and there was a lot of hard work in the six to eight weeks leading up to it to get the squad into some sort of shape for it, it was a great event for the IFA, the parents and the players.
“It was an emotional day at the National Stadium with the president presenting the caps to the players like everything everybody wants to be recognised at a senior level for the international side and that is the first step onto it.”
There are four clubs in Northern Ireland and Hilland also coaches at the Belfast Trailblazers and he would encourage anyone with a disability to give Powerchair football a try.
“I would encourage anyone and we are having a number of taster days to encourage people to come along and try it and see what it is," said Hilland.
“The majority of players that get into the chairs come back because of the speed and excitement it gives them and the positives it brings into their lives.
“Most of the young players are building the social side and the team building, being part of a team with a disability is probably one of the most difficult things they are watching their brother and sisters or friends running around playing and it gives them a great buzz in their lives."