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  • Northside West

Soccer success is an inside job

Wednesday, 29th August, 2018 1:00pm
Soccer success is an inside job

Lord Mayor Nial RIng presents the Conway Cup to captain of the Bohemian Foundation team, Jeff Conway, in Mountjoy Prison. PHOTO: STEPHEN BURKE

Soccer success is an inside job

Lord Mayor Nial RIng presents the Conway Cup to captain of the Bohemian Foundation team, Jeff Conway, in Mountjoy Prison. PHOTO: STEPHEN BURKE

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THERE may have been no love lost in a hotly contested soccer match that took place in Mountjoy Prison earlier this month, but there were certainly plenty of lasting benefits for those who played.

The annual contest between a team of inmates and players representing the Bohemian Foundation is a key component in Mountjoy’s rehabilitation programme that prepares offenders for a productive, fulfilling life on the outside.

It all began five years ago when Bohemian Foundation President, Thomas Hynes, was visiting the prison while working in the homelessness sector.

"I was working in the area of alcohol and drug rehabilitation,” the Bohemian Foundation co-founder said.

"They found out I was involved with Bohs and asked if the club could help out with bringing in players.”

With the support of Deputy Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Donnacha Walsh, Hynes convinced the club to back the idea and since then players from Bohs, including Oscar Brennan and Shane Supple, have helped coach prisoners in the beautiful game.

One of the biggest supporters of the project has been the Conway family, who donated a trophy in honour of their father Jimmy Conway Snr, to add a competitive element to the project.

The inmates now have something to train for, and have improved every year.

The early Conway Cup matches were one-sided affairs with the visitors usually winning comprehensively.

However, the coaching programme is now reaping benefits and this year’s game was the closest yet, with inmates taking a 3-1 lead before running out of steam and falling to a 3-5 defeat.

The game threatened to boil over as passion and desire to win began to get the better of frustrated players on both sides.

It’s an indication of how seriously they now take their training but as Hynes points out everything is left on the pitch and besides, it’s not all about the soccer.

"It relieves a lot of tension around the place,” he says. “At the end of the game everybhody shakes hands and has a laugh.

“It’s normal football and it helps show the inmates there's light of the end of the tunnel for them when they get out.

"We don't just play football in the prison and leave it at that.

“We try to get them involved in local football when they are released - both playing and coaching.”

Last year, some of the inmates played with a Bohemian Foundation team that was representing Ireland at Euro Football Norgerhaven - a unique 7-a-side tournament that took place at an open prison in the Dutch village of Veenhuizen.

The Irish team had the smallest squad, but ended up winning the tournament.

This year, the team returned to defend the trophy and won four of its five games before losing out.

The Bohemian Foundation has built on its soccer work in the prison and, introducing fitness workouts and comedy workshops to Mountjoy. Poetry and 5km runs are next on the agenda.

Governor Walsh is a keen supporter of the initiative and sees the positive impact it has on the inmates.

"It has had a very positive effect,” he said. “Lads have left here and taken up playing football when they leave and have reintegrated into the community.

"Most importantly, they haven't returned here. Anybody who doesn't return to Mountjoy is a job well done."

The work is also backed by Lord Mayor Nial Ring who was at the Conway Cup final to see for himself how the prison is benefitting.

“Obviously I’m very aware of the fantastic work being done by the Bohemian Foundation, which culminated in a Lord Mayor’s award during the summer,” he said.

“To have that sort of connection with the prison can only be good for society.

“It’s good for the guys in there, and good for the guys volunteering to go in to help them.

“Society obviosly has to benefit because the guys in there will come out with a greater connection with the outside.”

The Lord Mayor is a great believer in sport and says it’s a great a way to relax, get rid of stress and get fit.

“We saw how the hockey team captured the public imagination so sport has a special place in Irish people’s psyche,” he adds.

“For these guys in Mountjoy to have an opportunity to be involved in sporting competition is very progressive.

“It gives the prisoners some sense of normality for when they come out. It’s proven that peace and reconciliation and restorative justice works.

“Hopefully they’ll come out as productive members of society and that’s what everybody wants.”

Deputy Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Donnacha Walsh, Bohemian Foundation President, Thomas Hynes and Ron Conway whose family sponsor the Conway Cup.

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