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Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Wednesday, 18 August 2010 12:36 UK

Roller skate revolution

By Alex Gulrajani
BBC Sport NI

The Belfast Banshees introduce Roller Derby to Belfast and are confident it will become a big hit

Skill and technique mixed with flying elbows and roller skates.

This sums up Roller Derby and in a sports centre in south Belfast, a group of girls have set up Belfast's first side.

But what is it?

A contact sport on skates, teams have a pack of four 'blockers' whose aim is to assist a 'jammer' through the opposition pack.

'Bouts' begin with both teams lined up alongside each other - the blockers move away in one group while the two jammers start skating soon after. Jammers then score points every time they pass a member of the opposition pack.

Blockers - by the nature of their name - have to prevent their opponents jammers from weaving through their pack.

And now, the Belfast Banshees have brought the cult sport to Northern Ireland.

Hannah Whitall formed the side after being inspired by online videos of other clubs.

"I knew a couple of people who were affiliated with teams in England and I was moaning that there was nowhere over here that did it - so I decided to take the initiative," Whittall told BBC Sport.

The idea of getting to push people out the way and getting fit at the same time is all very exciting

Club secretary Joanne Magee

Training sessions have been held with teams from Glasgow and Dublin while a new team has also sprung up in Cork and the team are hopeful of some competitive bouts soon.

"We just hope it can expand throughout the whole of Ireland and get this whole big Derby family going".

Despite the team being newly formed, they have already attracted nearly 500 members to their Facebook page and club secretary Joanne Magee joined the club after finding a flyer at Queen's University.

"I came down to watch the girls when they'd just started and it was fantastic.

"I was just hooked instantly - the idea of getting to push people out the way and getting fit at the same time - it's all very exciting."

The sport's origins are in the USA, with early reports of the game from the 1930's when bouts were broadcast on radio before making its television debut in the following decade.

Sporadic attempts at forming associations continued throughout the 20th Century until the all-women Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) was set up in 2004.

Leagues then popped up all over the world from Australia to Belgium and the success of Drew Barrymore's spring 2010 film 'Whip It' increased interest in the sport, especially in Belfast.

"I watched 'Whip It' and although I'm not a sporty person I thought I'd love to do it so I started looking on the internet and found Hannah's Facebook group," Gemma Maxwell told BBC Sport.

And Gemma is one of a host of girls who pack into a community centre in Belfast every Sunday to hone their skills.

"We were down training in Dublin with the guys there and we would like to get to their standard".

While the team here in Belfast is an all-women outfit, it is a man in the middle of the oval circuit with the whistle.

Coach James Mattocks believes it's only a matter of time before the sport explodes in the UK and Ireland.

"With the film coming out this year, the interest in the mainland has really taken off with teams cropping up everywhere.

"Having a team now up in Belfast as well as down in Dublin is a major breakthrough for the sport".



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