AT the end of what has been a momentous season both in a sporting and social context, Limerick FC chairman, Pat O’Sullivan, has been honoured with the Limerick Person of the Month award.
Just last month Limerick FC were crowned Airtricity League Division 1 champions resulting in the club’s promotion to the Premier Division after 19 seasons. And the club has also spearheaded a number of initiatives to boost the profile of the city and to improve life for its citizens.
“I’m delighted to accept this on behalf of everybody – particularly the people who have kept the club going when they literally put their hand in their own pocket to do so,” said Pat on being presented with the award at the Clarion Hotel.
“After 19 seasons it [the promotion] was terrific. For the players and management and all the backroom people and the staff, it is fantastic for them. What we are now going to find out is, does Limerick really want Premiership football, and if it does, let’s see that manifest itself through the sport and through sponsorship.”
In what was a major coup for the football club, in July of this year they secured a glamour friendly with Premier League champions, Manchester City which took place at Thomond Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend.
The high profile visit marked the 75th anniversary celebrations for Limerick FC.
As part of their on-going progress, Limerick soccer is also looking forward to a return to its ‘spiritual home’ at the Markets Field in the near future thanks to a generous €1.5 million donation by JP McManus to purchase the grounds .
The development of the stadium, Pat said will “brighten up that whole area of the city” and he paid tribute to Mr McManus for his support and generosity.
“Where would lots of people who are badly in need on the medical side of things, and others areas, be if they didn’t have his generosity?” he noted.
While he may hail from the heart of the county – he is a native of Ballylanders – Pat feels a deep sense of affiliation to the city and is keen to see it reach its true potential. He decided to invest in Limerick FC because, he says, soccer and indeed sport in general, is the key to Limerick tackling its anti-social problems and to shaking off its bad image in the press.
“It is a very strong view I have that if sport is utilised properly within communities it would be a great tool to deal with anti-social behaviour. So one reason was to make sure the city didn’t get kicked any more.”
In an effort to engage with communities, Limerick FC got involved in a joint venture with Carew Park facilitating schoolboy and schoolgirl football on the southside of the city. They also decided they wanted to do something positive in Southill to empower the people to make decisions for themselves and to help themselves.
The first project they did was to clean the grotto in Southill. Then they started on improving the appearance of the houses, under the Reclaim project.
The project also involves improving numeracy and literacy levels in schools in disadvantaged areas. “When you look at helping under-deprived people, there are two things you give them – an opportunity to work and to get education, and we need to provide employment in those areas,” Pat explained.
“Part of the Reclaim project has been to create a bridge for these people. For example Fetac 3 level was their limit in the schools. Now we have created a situation through the cooperation of other people whereby we can now take Fetac 3 level up to Fetac 4. We have another college that has agreed to provide a bridge between that and the Fetac 6 level which they normally start off at.”
Much of the work in the schools is done by John Keyes who works with Arsenal Football Club in the community, and Barry Lynch who is involved in Limerick FC and the schools completion programme.
Pat now “expects, hopes and believes” that the new management in the city “will piggyback on what we are at and I think we could make an awful difference in solving antisocial behaviour.
“I have asked more than once that somebody take hold of sport in this city and use it to the maximum for social change. We have the personalities. We have brilliant Thomond Park, the greyhound track, the race track… and we have the personalities in different sports who could walk into any community and get respect.
The Limerick Person of the Month award is sponsored by the Clarion, the Limerick Leader and media agency Southern.