#SameGameSeries - Brian McCabrey

​An untimely accident, involving a knee to his forehead during a GAA match, resulted in Brian losing sight in his right eye, which put an end to his football playing days. ​

  • 15 September 2020

Brian McCabrey first swung a golf club when he began playing with the St. Peter’s Golf Society in Lurgan, Co. Armagh. Although he would have preferred to be instead kicking points and catching passes on the football pitch.

An untimely accident, involving a knee to his forehead during a GAA match, resulted in Brian losing sight in his right eye, which put an end to his football playing days. 

‘Over the years after the accident the eye itself got worse and I had to get it removed on Christmas Eve one year,’ he explains. ‘I had quite a few operations, seven in total over the years. I had to get an artificial implant put in and it turned my life upside down. The accident happened the year I was getting married and it was a very difficult time, as we had the sadness of losing my 4-year-old nephew at the same time.’

A few close friends of Brian suggested he join them on a golf society outing and while Brian began enjoying his monthly game, life was still very difficult off the course. 

‘I was going through a lot of depression and low moods for quite some years,’ he explains. ‘I was a Contracts Manager working all over the UK, overseeing the construction of schools and hotels and I found it hard meeting new people, in site meetings etc. I was always very conscience about my eye and people staring, so I got really low about it.’

When he hadn’t touched a club for over a year, his kids decided to buy him a special Father’s Day gift of 6 months membership at Lurgan Golf Club.  

‘It’s probably one of the best Father’s Day presents I’ll ever get. It’s allowed me to experience something that I thought I wasn’t able to do.’

Growing up, he felt golf was for the select few whose families played the game and could afford to play.

‘Activity for us growing up was just football or running around the streets, but I have to say golf feels very inclusive now.’

Having been guided and introduced to the club by PGA Professional Peter Hanna, Brian purchased his own set of clubs after a few lessons at the club, gained a handicap and even enticed some of his friends to join with him, who played at other golf clubs. 

‘We started a fourball and played each week, it gave me something to look forward to, a chance for me to be out even on my own to practice. When I was low or I felt things were getting on top of me, I went around to the golf course and I just forgot everything.’ 

The golf club became an escape for Brian, a place to relax and meet new people, a place where he didn’t have to worry. He has reduced his handicap to 13 and is a regular member of the Club All-Ireland Fourball team and was asked to manage the team in 2020 by Captain Eugene Maguire.

‘Playing golf meant I had four or five hours where I could forget about everyone and everything. Golf is my outlet, my way to forget about my disability and forget about what others think of me, a place where I’m not judged.

‘It’s one of those sports that no matter how bad the day or how bad the week was, when I tee off on the first I am in a different place, I can breathe, relax and enjoy my golf.’ 

Brian finds that, whether his playing partners know about his disability or not, they are very encouraging and he isn’t treated with any difference. While out practicing, resident Professionals Hanna and Zoe Allen regularly ask how he was playing and take a few minutes to give some positive pointers, which have been paying off.

‘I won about four or five sweeps and vouchers for different things to begin with and it spurred me on.

‘When I won my first club trophy last year, I was playing with a guy off 5 handicap, he knew nothing about me and my disability and came up, patted me on the shoulder and said ‘very well done you played some great golf today’. That gave me an incentive to keep going. 

‘When I went to the presentation that night to receive my trophy, when my name was called out, I was applauded by everyone, it felt great and gave me a new lease of life.’

The dream is to reach a single-figure handicap, to maybe win another club trophy but also to inspire others to pick up the game. When attending a Disability Golf Day organised at Donaghadee Golf Club by Trevor Hillen last year, Brian was amazed by the range of great golfers involved and their own unique ways in which they adapted, so that they could continue to play golf. Twelve golfers including Gareth McNeilly and Brendan Lawlor, attended for a round of golf, a meal and to deliver some golf activities for a local special needs school. 

‘I felt I could contribute by maybe lifting someone else’s spirits and learning from others,’ he recalls. ‘The day really spurred me on and for me to be able to help other people, after others helping me, was a big thing. I’d love to see more of those days happening around the country and introducing kids to golf at such a young age regardless of their ability”.

The main difficulty with playing golf with an artificial glass eye according to Brian is club coordination. 

‘Playing out of bunkers is tough because you can’t touch the sand. It’s probably my weakest point because I am guessing where the ball is. 

‘Most shots around the course are grand as long as I can touch the ground. My eye to club coordination is my biggest problem other than that I just get on with it as normal.’ 

Although, to begin with, losing his sight seemed like the end of his world, Brian is dedicated to improving and inspiring others, whether they have a disability or not. 

‘Golf is a sport where people think because of your disability you won’t be able to play but when I was in Donaghadee watching the others playing, going around in their specially adapted buggy’s or watching Cian Arthur play golf with his one arm, that showed me that they are just as good as the people who are able-bodied. There are some great golfers with disabilities who would put anyone to shame.’