Fans brave the ice for charity hockey challenge

Liam McSharry and Joel Neill, pictured on the Belfast Giants' home bench at the SSE Arena. Credit: UTV

By Victoria Steveley

Ice hockey is one of the toughest sports to learn from scratch, but some Belfast Giants fans are doing just that and all for a good cause.

Regulars at Giants games will have heard of the Boomerang Corner section, and that is where Liam McSharry and Joel Neill can often be found with the rest of the die-hards.

They will be the ones leading the often creative chants in support of their favourite players – or maybe getting under the skin of an opposition netminder or two, as the likes of the Coventry Blaze’s Brian Stewart or the Fife Flyers’ Shane Owen could probably confirm.

Now though, some of them are getting out of the stands and onto the ice – not just to do their best Bambi impressions at an open skate, but to play in an actual hockey tournament in Wales.

It sounds like the sort of thing you might just have to be a little bit crazy to undertake.

“We’re definitely not hockey players,” Joel Neill told UTV, which doesn’t exactly sound like the best start.

“But we are definitely very, very good at making idiots of ourselves all for a good cause.”

Glutton for punishment that he is, it is actually Joel’s second year taking part in the UK Charity All-Stars tournament at Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff after appointing himself as “party captain” last year.

However, Liam McSharry is the newbie this time around and he has already been discovering what he’s up against.

“I sort of did some public skates myself, tried to get skating a little bit, and was kind of pleased with my progress,” Liam said.

So far, so good.

“And then I went on the ice with a stick in my hand, there was a puck flying around, there were other people … My brain just went into meltdown," he added.

"I still literally fall over 100 times every session.”


“You keep getting back up though, man” Joel added, in true supportive teammate fashion.

“Just a little slower every time …”

Liam and Joel ready to hit the ice.

Most professional players will practically grow up on skates, first learning at a very early age.

And those at home on their blades make it all look easy when they take to the ice, albeit not for the faint-hearted - given the bone-crunching, plexi-rattling hits that can be part and parcel of hockey.

But, as anyone who has tentatively wobbled their way around the edge of the rink at Dundonald Ice Bowl or at the SSE Arena home of the Giants will know, it is harder than it looks.

And that’s without adding a stick, a puck, and opponents into the mix …

Nevertheless, the guys are determined to go through with the challenge ahead and take to the ice as part of the Dreams Come True hockey team which backs the children’s charity of the same name.

Dreams Come True tries to bring some comfort and joy to children across the UK who are living with life-limiting or terminal illnesses.

For all the joking about their on-ice abilities, the fledgling players are clearly serious about supporting such a worthwhile cause and trying to raise as much as possible in vital funds.

And Joel has seen first-hand the difference Dreams Come True can make, having met a little Welsh girl supported by the charity when he took part in last year’s tournament.

Even aged just nine and living with cerebral palsy, having once been told she may never walk, Mia Thorne vowed she would learn to skate too and score a goal at the UK All-Stars event.

So Liam and Joel have a lot to live up to!

  • WATCH: Liam and Joel on inspirational kids like Mia Thorne, and having the support of the hockey family

While the team are hoping for support from the tight-knit hockey community to boost their fundraising efforts, they have also been looking for some words of wisdom to help them on the ice.

And as long-time Belfast Giants fans, they’re not short on inspiration - and who better to hit up for some tips than all-time leading goal scorer and Team GB international Colin Shields?

“Colin Shields tells us we need to work on our feet first and then the hands will come. Obviously, it’s as simple as that,” Joel said, not exactly sounding convinced.

“We’ll take any advice that we get, but I think at the end of the day, it’s going to end one way …

“And it’s probably going to be with us flat on our backs."

It will remain to be seen if the guys can live up to their self-proclaimed billing as “the new Colin Shields and Matt Nickerson”, but they do at least have the beards for it. For now …

For Joel, the stakes are even higher as he has promised to shave off the beard he has been cultivating for many years if he reaches his fundraising target.

“I was hoping you wouldn’t mention that,” he said.

“I’m already probably more terrified about that than I am about the hockey!”

UTV did check in on the progress being made on the ice, asking Colin Shields himself what he thought of Liam and Joel as hockey players.

“I saw them out there a few weeks ago trying to test their skills,” he smiled.

“You know, they’ll do okay ...

"It’s for a great cause and it’s great to see them getting out of their comfort zone and trying something a little bit different and trying to raise some money for charity.

“So hopefully everyone else, the other fans, and the rest of Boomerang Corner gets behind them and they can raise as much as possible.”