COUNTY Limerick businessman Pat O’Sullivan has said his decision to invest in Limerick FC was not only motivated by the desire to keep senior soccer in the city at a time when the club was reportedly a week from going out of business.
The summer of 2009 seems like light years ago so soon after Limerick attracted English champions Manchester City for a glamour friendly in Thomond Park.
The Ballylanders man said he knew at the time of the rescue that it wasn’t all going to be about elevating standards on the pitch but that the club, if properly run, could be “a tool to deal with anti-social behaviour and way of using sport to connect with our young people and to help them”.
While Limerick may have had a senior soccer team, it was in many ways disengaged from soccer-mad communities where people were more likely to attend junior club fixtures.
Three years on and the club is putting down roots in the heart of the community and part of that effort is Project Reclaim, where the club is organising young people to clean up their areas.
The initiative involves Limerick FC; family support workers on the southside Mike Crowe and Frank Carmody and John Keyes, a coach and outreach worker with Arsenal FC who Mr O’Sullivan persuaded to call Limerick home for a year.
One Southill resident described the Londoner as “something of a father figure for teenagers in the area and somebody who they have learned to trust, this outsider with the English accent who doesn’t take any nonsense”.
“John came back to us,” explained Mr O’Sullivan, “with what he felt we needed to do in Southill which was to empower the local youth to do things for themselves”.
Project Reclaim then set about getting young people “to go around and to small, practical things to improve their communities.”
The first major job was restoring the derelict and vandalised grotto to Our Lady at O’Malley Park, which was blessed by Fr Pat Hogan at a special ceremony last Thursday. Youngsters have also been hosing down and painting burnt-out houses around Southill as part of Project Reclaim.
“They are very proud of the job they did on the grotto. Even today they are out painting the boarded-up houses with paint Pat O’Sullivan has provided. They are excited about it; one of the funny things is that the teenagers are up to (family support worker) Mike Crowe at 10 in the morning saying ‘where are we going this morning?’ whereas before they might not have been bothered getting out of bed. They are not getting paid for it but they don’t mind and seem to enjoy working together, team-building and having a bit of craic on the job,” one resident told the Leader.
Limerick FC has also been working inside the walls of Limerick Prison - whose inmates appetite for the game is evident from the €10,000 the prison spent on football in 2011! - and has brought 19 prisoners through the Kickstart programme training them how to coach football in their own communities on their release. More inmates are to be reached in this way in the near future, Mr O’Sullivan said.
And the Limerick FC chairman said the club would soon be launching an education and training initiative - in conjunction with the VEC, LIT and LEDP - that would provide, through the club, a pathway to work for “both boys and girls who show they are willing to get involved in their own areas”.
Mr O’Sullivan wished to acknowledge the support the club was getting from the Holy Family parish, from all the educational and training bodies and from Carew Park FC, who he described as key to Limerick FC’s community efforts on the southside.