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Remembering The Ireland Team Who Won The Amateur Elephant Polo World Cup In 2005

Remembering The Ireland Team Who Won The Amateur Elephant Polo World Cup In 2005
By Gavan Casey

Some of the greatest days in Irish sport have arrived on foreign soil. Jimmy McLarnin defeating Barney Ross in America to become World welterweight champion in 1934. Cavan beating Kerry in the 1947 All-Ireland football final in New York. The national football team at Italia 90. The national amateur elephant polo team at Nepal 2005.

It was just 11 years after Ireland's famous Quidditch World Cup triumph, except it actually happened. On the 5th of December 2005, an Ireland side joined the pantheon of amateur elephant polo greats. They came into their match with the International Tigresses team as no-hopers and left as world champions, following a thrilling victory over an experienced international entry consisting of players from Nepal, Sweden and Britain .

Colm O'Connor of the Examiner wrote at the time:

Irish spirits were roused before the final by a rendition of Danny Boy by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas in a tribute to the memory of George Best.

According to O'Connor's report from 2005, the Ireland team was captained by Graham Little - yes, as in Sky Sports News presenter Graham Little from Enniskillen.

Riding alongside Little were his brother, Warren, Justin ‘The Scoop’ Woods, Michael Loughman, Colin Carroll and Graham ‘Slippy’ Smith.

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Little met Carroll - an adventurer who once broke his back in a surfing accident and made a full recovery - in Zagreb in 2004. Carroll's website states that the pair shared a unique desire to be Irish champions in just about anything, and they adopted the motto “No Prior Experience”.  Their mission statement was simple – think of something they hadn’t done before, pronounce themselves experts, and go somewhere they hadn't previously been to become the champion of it.

The lads have since recorded a single in Poland under the guise of an Irish boy band, raced bobsleighs alongside the Russian and Latvian Olympic teams, taken on a select Riga team in full-contact ice hockey and, most notably, competed in the 24th world Elephant Polo Championships.

Under the auspices of the World Elephant Polo Association (WEPA), the Irish side were granted a four-goal advantage due to the handicap system - similar to the one which exists in normal polo - and they therefore set out to defend the lead at all costs. You simply cannot give 'Slippy' Smith and the boys a four-goal advantage and expect to win a game.

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However, no elephant is permitted to lay down in the goalmouth, so parking the bus was not an option for the lads. Indeed, according to Colm O'Connor, they did the opposite; striker Warren Little was unleashed on the Tigresses' defence, with his tidy finish against the run of play putting Ireland into a 5-0 lead after just four minutes of play.

A goal from Sweden’s Lars Lofgren and a spectacular volley from Celia Temple brought the international outfit back into the tie, but a dogged Ireland held out for a historic 6-2 victory, landing the world title in their first ever tournament.

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As per ECS NEPAL, the format to elephant polo is similar to horse polo, but players just use longer sticks. Yeah, no shit.

Four-elephant teams compete over two 10-minute chukkas on a pitch one-third the size of a horse polo pitch (roughly the size of a football pitch).

Elephants are even swapped at half time to even out any perceived advantage, and no elephant may pick up the ball with its trunk. WEPA are obviously well aware of what happened during the All-Priests Over-75s Five-A-Side Football Challenge.

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It's widely accepted that Ireland's Colin Carroll is the first left-handed player in the sport's history. Like horse polo, all players in the elephant code are supposed be right-handed, but Carroll supposedly spotted an oversight in the rulebook and confronted Jim Edwards, the founder of elephant polo, and asserted his right to play.

According to one former player, the all-conquering Ireland side of 2005 used to train atop Land Rovers to simulate the match day experience, with one man driving the vehicle and the other swinging wildly from the roof.

The tournament saw eight teams - and players from 11 countries - taking part beneath the Himalayas. But the stunning backdrop wasn't the only cause for distraction; the competition was played in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal - one of the world's most densely populated areas for Bengal tigers.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXfpWXy-dEE

Images via ColinCarroll.ie

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