Limerick's Maurice Noonan is the 'GAA For All' M.Donnelly GAA Wheelchair Hurler of the Year for 2019. The Granagh-Ballingarry native is a very deserving winner after his starring role on the Munster team that defeated Leinster in last year’s Final.
“It’s a nice achievement but the main thing is that we won the All-Ireland as a team,” Noonan told GAA.ie
“It meant a lot to us because we hadn't won it in a while. Leinster had dominated it for the past number of years, they'd won three-in-a-row.”
Munster won the match in dramatic fashion.
They looked in trouble when trailing by two goals in the second-half but scored three on the trot to pull the match out of the fire.
Noonan was the man who hit the winner, holding his nerve to dispatch a penalty in the final minute.
“Yeah, the way we won it made it more special again,” he says. “We were losing but got two quick goals in the last quarter. Luckily enough then we got a penalty in the last minute.
“I asked my coach, 'Who's taking it?' And he said, 'You are'. I was like, 'Oh, God!' Because in the match before it I had taken a penalty and it didn't go in, so I didn't have a great history of taking them.
“I was very nervous taking it, the whole place went absolutely quiet. Lucky enough I got the ball in over the goalie's head. It was some relief.
“From the next puck-out the ball came down to their forwards and one of our defenders, Ellie Sheehy, she knocked one of their players out of their chair and that meant the game had to be paused which gave us a chance to get our breath back and hold out for the remaining 30 seconds.”
Wheelchair hurling has been played in Ireland for over 20 years, but has really gone from strength to strength in the last decade with the advent of the inter-provincial League and Championship.
“The standard has improved over the years,” says Noonan. “The rules have gotten a bit better. Before you couldn't score a point from a sideline cut, but now you can. It used to be strictly ground-hurling but now you can get a point.
“That's something I would have worked on, taking sideline cuts. Sometimes they work, other times they can be a disaster. Thankfully people don't remember the disasters as long as you get a few of them over now and again!”
Noonan himself is one of the most experienced players on the circuit.
He’s been in a wheelchair all his life due to Spina Bifida, and first took up the sport in 2010 at the age of 10 when it was organised on a monthly basis in Old Christinas GAA club in Limerick by the GAA’s Pat Culhane.
Shortly after that, David Fitzgerald set up Treaty Warriors Wheelchair Hurling Team, and Noonan was one of his first recruits.
The Granagh-Ballingarry club-man comes from a hurling family, and took to the sport like a duck to water.
“It's great craic, I'd enjoy it a lot,” he says. “You're flaking away with the hurley and for us in wheelchairs it's as satisfying as it is for anybody hurling.
It's great to have a sporting outlet. I would have started off with basketball when I was younger because there was no hurling. But once the hurling came along I enjoyed that a lot more because I would have had much more interest in the sport in general.
“And then there is the physical aspect of it, that made it a lot more enjoyable that the basketball too. You can flake into it!”