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MATLOCK'S COWLING WINS EUROPEAN SILVER MEDAL


Matlock's wheelchair rugby supremo Ryan Cowling came agonisingly close to adding a third European Championships gold medal to his collection last month when Great Britain were narrowly beaten 44-43 by hosts France in the final.

Great Britain went into the first major tournament of the year for the sport as favourites after clinching a historic first ever gold medal at last year's Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Despite a hard-fought comeback against their French opposition, Cowling and his team fell just short and had to settle for a silver medal. The British wheelchair rugby team were aiming to win a fourth European Championships title on the trot.

Understandably, Ryan is still gutted about the defeat but concedes that France deserved to win the gold medal:

"It was a very, very close match. We didn't start particularly well in the final. At one stage, we were five or six points down. Nerves might have played a part possibly. But it turned out to be an extremely close match. We got a turnover in the dying seconds which meant we had a chance of bringing the game to level on points. It was a good game and France were the better team on the day. They played really, really well. We missed out by one point in the end, which was unfortunate, but there's even bigger competitions to come later this year that we're really looking forward to. But yeah, the result of the final was disappointing. We had quite a few new members in the squad for this tournament. It was very much a tournament to get them onto the courts and looking at new line-ups. So although we lost in the final, it was still a good experience for those new players. We'll be back!"

The British wheelchair rugby team won every single match on their route to the final in last month's event. This consisted of pool victories over Poland, Germany and The Netherlands plus an excellent performance to defeat Denmark in the semi-final. Overall, Ryan was pleased with the team's performance at their first major tournament since the Tokyo Paralympics:

"I was definitely pleased with how the team performed throughout the European Championships. We won all of our pool games comfortably - it must have sometimes felt to the new players that had come in, that this was all quite easy! We were expecting a tough match in the semi-final against Denmark as they're a quality side but we beat them in the end by five or six points. Throughout the whole tournament, I think we performed pretty well. We had a little blip in the pool game against Germany. Although we ended up winning that comfortably, there were times in that game when we weren't at our best. But there were quite a few changes to the team for this tournament after the success in Tokyo due to a few player retirements and some stepping back from the sport. This European Championships tournament was the first real opportunity to see how we could perform with this new team on the international stage against good quality sides. Despite losing the final to France, it still certainly looks bright for the future."

Ryan was asked whether their opposition at the European Championships appeared to raise their game against them now that they have the status of reigning Paralympic champions:

"Definitely. It comes with the territory. If you've got that title of the best in the world, then every team will want to put one over you. A lot of teams we played certainly raised their games...it was a great tournament overall. I think all eight nations involved performed well."





The recent European Championships was a significant tournament for British wheelchair rugby. Not only was it their first real test since winning gold at last year's Paralympic Games, it was also the first major international competition for a number of players in the squad following a few retirements from the sport since Tokyo:

"This was an extremely important tournament for British wheelchair rugby. It was the first big competition to be involved in after winning at the Paralympic Games last year. There was an expectation on us to perform. Even though there were a few new players in the squad, that expectation on us was still there. It was an important event for these new players to step up to international level. It's an interesting time for British wheelchair rugby. We've got more high-level events coming up: the Canada Cup will be fairly soon as well as the Quad Nations event in Wales. Then of course, we have the World Championships in Denmark later on in the year. So to get a good international tournament under our belts this year already is ideal preparation for what's to come later. Hopefully, we can pick up more confidence leading up to the Worlds once they arrive. The team's main goal right now is to have a good World Championships as we've never medalled at the event before. A medal in this year's Worlds would be a real bonus for us...I'm confident we can go there and do something special."

As Ryan alluded to, the World Championships in October is the really big event for wheelchair rugby in 2022. While he's confident that Britain can do well and secure another historic medal, there's certainly no denying that it will be a very tough and competitive tournament:

"Yes, it will be really tough. The top 12 nations in the world will compete. There might be a couple of games where we're expected to win but then you've also got countries competing such as The United States, Australia, Japan and France. They're all capable of winning the gold medal. We're looking forward to it and I'm confident we can medal in it. It's a great time to be part of the British team and it's exciting."

On a personal note, Ryan secured another award recently. After being awarded an MBE in the New Years Honours List, Ryan was given a Civic Award by the Mayor of Matlock just a few days ago:

"I was invited to Matlock Town Council's Civic Service Awards. That took place on the 13th of March. I picked up a Civic Award there which was presented to me by the Mayor of Matlock. It was great to receive this award - just winning a Paralympics gold medal would have done me for the rest of my life but these local awards and to be recognised locally in some ways is even more special."

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