Sinead McNicholl meets the inspirational sportsman with a will to win
As inspirational sporting personalities go, Moy Tir na nOg's Michael 'Mickey' McCullough has few peers. Born with only one fully formed hand, McCullough has not let this get in the way of a professional sporting career, working around his disability to make a name for himself in the world of Gaelic games.
McCullough grew up on the Falls Road, Belfast, and from a very young age had an affection for Gaelic games. Now plying his trade in Co Tyrone, McCullough is setting out to confound expectations once again.
Despite his disability he says he has never felt at a disadvantage playing Gaelic football and hurling, and this attitude has paid dividends. As well as winning many honours for his club Rossa and being named a college All-Star in 1998, he has also lined out for the under-age Antrim county hurling and football sides.
McCullough recently joined Moy Tir na nOg Gaelic football team after taking up the post of Hurling Development Officer in Tyrone and makes time to tog out for the Tyrone seniors. Fitting in hasn't been a problem for the 28-year-old, having already made appearances at senior level for Moy alongside Tir na nOg county stars Philip Jordan and Ryan Mellon.
'Playing for Moy is something new to me, because I grew up with Rossa,' says McCullough. 'But the lads have been brilliant. If you go into any male dressing room the banter and the craic is always the same, you just have to try and fit in. I’m enjoying playing down here and there are some great players. It is a higher intensity of football than I’m used to but it’s enjoyable.'
McCullough has also found time to play handball, receiving two Ulster handball medals. He jokes, though, that 'my doubles partner would say he won them for me'.
Although Gaelic football comes a close second, hurling is McCullough's first sport - described by many as the jewel in the crown of the GAA - and he believes that his new home of Tyrone could yet become a force to be reckoned with in the hurling league.
'Hurling in Tyrone may not be of the quality practised in counties such as Kilkenny or Cork,' McCullough argues. 'But if the Tyrone boys believe in themselves a bit more they would be surprised at how much they could actually achieve.'
McCullough is now teaching and passing on his skills to the next generation of potential gaelic and hurling greats. A humble soul, he says that he finds it hard to see himself as inspirational because, as he concedes, 'I know all my bad habits.' But who inspires him?
'I've been very fortunate with coaches,' he admits. 'Eddie McToal from St Mary’s would have spent an awful lot of time with me when some other people thought I didn't have a prayer. I was lucky enough to play with Aiden Hamill and Brian White at Rossa, two fantastic coaches, and not just for me. So many other people will tell you the same. Now that I have moved into coaching, it's those type of people I would try and emulate.'