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Wheelchair rugby: Rugby stars have a ball!

WHEELCHAIR RUGBY: Strictly Come Dancing fever took over the old Irene Ballroom in Dublin's Parnell Square last Thursday -- for a very good cause.

Next February, the Gaelic Warriors Irish wheelchair rugby team face the huge task of hosting a European Championship qualifier and they need every cent they can get.

"We'll be hosting teams from the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Italy, with the tournament taking place in Gormanston. It's a first for us -- and we hope to do well," says chief fundraiser Conor Galvin.

Already the team holds monthly squad sessions, while Leinster-based players gathering in the IWA Clontarf every Wednesday.

Most recently, the team finished fifth at the Rugby Mania tournament in Prague, Hungary.

"We punch above our weight -- we'd be ranked 11th in Europe and 16th or 17th in the world," says Garrett Culliton, the man who started it all back in 1997.

Back then, five lads turned out. Now the squad can call on about 40 players, both men and women, from all corners of the country.

Because the sport is supremely tactical, women can hold their own.

"It's like American football -- you can have three players on the court and their job is to find a way through for the fourth player, an attacker, to score," says Culliton.

Not even the big hits typical of this very noisy sport worry a player such as Deirdre Mongan. "You're very well strapped in to the chair, so when you fall over, the chair comes with you," she says cheerfully.

Hopes are high that the Irish team will finish top of the table in Gormanston and qualify for the European Championships in Belgium next summer.

"Our biggest rivals could be the Dutch -- they're ranked just one place behind us. But you never know what will happen," says Culliton.

Watch this space!

3Details www.gaelicwarriors.com or call Conor 087 1267357.

BADMINTON: For the first time ever, home players are the top seeds for men and women's singles at the Carlton Irish Open, starting in Baldoyle Badminton Centre, Dublin, on Thursday. Scott Evans, top seed for the men's singles, will play Maxime Michele of France in his opening match and then either Flemming Quach of Denmark or a qualifier who could turn out to be Ireland's Tony Stephenson.

Chloe Magee, the top women's seed, could play qualifiers in her first two matches before facing Dutch player Patty Stolzenbach in the quarter-finals and Maja Tvrdy (Tvrdy) of Slovenia in the semis.

No 2 seed is Lianne Tan from Belgium, with Ireland's Sinead Chambers in her half of the draw.

For the mixed doubles, Chloe and Sam Magee are seeded at No 2 behind the strong Dutch pairing of Jorrit de Ruiter and Samantha Barning. The Magees play Floris Oleffe and Steffi Annys of Belgium in their opening match and possibly their brother Josh and cousin Rachael Darragh in round two.

Sinead Chambers and Jennie King, who lead the home entry for women's doubles, have a first-round bye and then play Anna Rankin and Madeleine Stapleton of New Zealand in round two.

3A warm-up match between Ireland and the Rest of the World takes place in Baldoyle on Wednesday evening (6pm).

3Among the winners at the Leinster Veteran Badminton Championships in Baldoyle were long-time coach Pat Marron (M55) and former Irish international Pam Peard (W45).

Badminton Ireland president Breda Connolly paired up with Jim Morgan to win the over-65 mixed doubles.

VOLLEYBALL: UCD took a record ninth women's title at the annual Irish Volleyball Intervarsities in Jordanstown, near Belfast. It didn't come easy -- in the final they faced a strong team from DCU and just about won the opening set 25-19.

DCU came back fighting and with Irish international Edel Nolan in the line-up, blitzed UCD 25-16 to force a tie-breaking third set. This proved a step too far for DCU, with a run of points from wing player Lara Pes helping UCD pile on the pressure and close out the set 15-6 to take the title.

In the men's final, a strong side from Queen's took their first title since 2004, beating DCU 25-17, 25-17.

CANOEING: Irish international canoeist Peter Egan of Salmon Leap has won a Siamsa Garda Sports Award for his achievements on the water this year.

Egan finished a best ever 17th K1 at the World Marathon Canoe Championships, missing out on a top 10 place in the final sprint. In K2, he paired up with Neil Fleming to win the national K2 title and finish third in the Liffey Descent.