But Ref, what if you’ve only one arm?
Updated: Sep 25, 2021
Back in 2017, Jamie Caul stood with his Innisfails GAA team mates, moments away from starting the match. The referee had taken some time to explain a newly introduced rule called ‘The Mark’. As he listened, Jamie had just one question: “But ref, what if you’ve only one arm?”
His team mates erupted in laughter but as Jamie says “you just had to be there”, because Jamie Caul, long time member and player for Innisfails GAA club, Balgriffin, was born with just one arm.
However, Jamie does not consider himself a para-athlete. He is simply a football player whose job it is to put the ball in the back of the net.
Playing for Innisfails GAA club is a legacy that Jamie carries as the great grandson of Frank Caul who founded the club, son of Sam Caul, former legendary player not to mention his uncles, including Scotchie, who we all know and love.
In the wake of a series of significant global achievements for Irish para-athletes, namely the successes of the Irish Amputee soccer team and Ellen Keane, Jamie explains what it is to be an athlete with a difference growing up and playing ball in Dublin.
“Mam and dad never treated me any different so I didn't know any different,” he says. “They had the same expectations of me as they had of my three younger brothers.”
Jamie was born with a medical condition that he doesn’t know the name of. The name signifies a label and to Jamie, the labels never mattered. They simply don't define him. When he was six months old, Jamie began the bi-yearly trek to Edinburgh to have a prosthetic arm fitted. This lasted until his early teens when he felt comfortable and resourceful enough to choose to stop using it altogether.
From sporty beginnings to an American scholarship
Always sporty, Jamie grew up playing basketball, cricket and tennis; anything, by his own admission, he was good at. When he decided to try GAA, he was eight years old. His home town GAA club in Lusk did not have a juvenile section and there was only one place else to go. Innisfails. And he has been the only player with such a physical difference on the team ever since.
“The team has a lot of the same players now as we had then” he recalls. “They never made an issue about my arm. I was just expected to do what everybody else was doing.”
After playing for a few years, Jamie was aware of his advanced skill and knew that if people disregarded him, as many did at first sight, they wouldn’t for long.
“Personally speaking, people who didn’t know me would discount me straight away, so I felt I had a point to prove,” he says.
“I knew I was well capable of doing whatever the lads were able to do, and proving that has motivated me through my career. I was always showing people that I was just as capable and this drove me to another level of skill.”
The course offered opportunities far beyond that of others, and Jamie travelled to America to play in tournaments hoping to secure a coveted sports scholarship. Not only did Jamie secure a place at Mississippi’s Belhaven University and on the Belhaven football team, he completed the course, proudly graduating with a Sports Administration degree. Throughout his time at Belhaven, Jamie was, again, the only player on the team to have a visible physical difference and expectations of him were no less than other players.
After his five year degree finished, Jamie found that he missed Dublin and he came back home, back to Lusk, and back to Innisfails.
For the love of the club
In Ireland, Jamie’s soccer career continued and was driven by his ambition to play at the best level he could which meant he moved from team to team to progress his career. However, his Gaelic career, equally as impressive, was always guided by the love of the sport and Innisfails GAA club.
“Once you are in the club, you don’t want to leave,” he explains. “The lads will always have a laugh and they will have your back. Where else would you get a team that takes the mick out of you for not being able to tie your laces, at the same time as helping you tie your laces. That’s what is amazing about the team - it’s close knit.”
Jamie also plays for Rush Athletic FC. With his experience of many different teams in many different disciplines, both at home and abroad, he explains what it is about Innisfails that means players for the club are players for life.
“Every team has had its ups and downs, and it could be easy to pack it in at a low point but the closeness keeps you coming back,” he explains. “With Innisfails, you leave your baggage at the gate and clear your head. The team at Innisfails is different, it’s fun but it’s still serious sport.
Jamie’s experience and physicality also means he has a unique understanding and insight into how joining in team sports can be difficult for people, in particular children with disabilities. He has one piece of advice:
“If you enjoy something, don’t let anyone stop you from doing it,” he says. “It’s not always about being good. Once you enjoy it, your ability doesn't matter. Your teammates are your friends and they won’t care.”
Although he has never met any unpleasantness, he is aware that not everyone is as lucky as he has been.
“If you meet people who have issues with you, always remember it is their issue. Not yours. Find what you enjoy and go and do it. Give it your best. Let everyone else worry about themselves.”
If you or someone you know would like to try training with Innisfails GAA Club, a club where you can truly be yourself, visit us at Carrs Lane, Balgriffin or get in touch for more information. We’d love to hear from you.
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