The Bohemian Foundation will lead the Ireland representation at an international 7-a-side football competition for reformed prisoners in the Netherlands next week.
The trip to Veenhuizen is the result of an evolving five-year relationship between Bohemians and Mountjoy Prison organised through the Foundation.
Bohs have been conducting regular training sessions for prisoners in Mountjoy since 2012.
Thomas Hynes, Community Director at Bohemians and co-founder of the Bohemian Foundation, explains how the relationship started.
Hynes said: “I was working with the Simon Community with St Pat’s (Institution for young offenders, which has since been amalgamated into the Mountjoy Prison Complex) in the area of alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
“They found out I was involved with Bohemians and asked if the club could help out with bringing in players.
“I said we would see what we could do and over the last five years, it’s grown and grown. We’re in twice a week now.
“Through sport, they’re all on first-name terms, enjoying each other’s company. They can’t wait for Tuesdays and Thursdays to come.
“It relieves a lot of tension around the place and it helps show them there’s light at 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 – playing and coaching.
“The team that’s representing the Foundation and Ireland at next week’s competition are all people we’ve worked with over the past five years.
“We have nine guys travelling with us to the Netherlands – prisoners who have been released and who have not re-offended for a minimum of two years.”
Donnacha Walsh, Deputy Governor of Mounjoy Prison, adds: “I met Tommy five years ago and told him I’m an avid Cork City supporter.
“He told me about his involvement with Bohs and it started from there.
“It has had a very positive effect. 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.”
This season, it has been the turn of Bohemians first-team players Shane Supple and Oscar Brennan to volunteer their time on behalf of the Foundation.
They have conducted training sessions twice a week – on Tuesdays and Thursdays – for the past 3½ months.
Supple said: “It’s been good craic. We go in every week and we just try to let the lads play.
“They don’t get much time in the yard. They do have other bits to keep them going – work in the kitchen and stuff like that – but the lads say to us that it’s only really when we come in that they get an opportunity to go out and play.
“The more time they have out there is beneficial to them and their mental well-being. It’s a two-way thing too. They’ve taken an interest in us.
“They see our games on the telly, they see us on Soccer Republic.
“Every time time you come in on a Tuesday, they’re either praising you or slagging you: ‘Jaysus Shane, that was some save’ or ‘Oscar, what were you doing there?’
“We all know these lads have done something bad. But maybe they’ve just made mistakes and want to rehabilitate themselves.”
“The dynamic is interesting, there hasn’t been a bad tackle!
“Hopefully we can play a small part in how they view where they want to be when they get out.
“It’s been going for a number of years now – the lads going over to the tournament in Holland haven’t re-offended.
“In two years’ time, if some of the lads we’ve been involved with in training and coaching this year are in the same position, then it’s been a success.
“It’s small margins, but that’s what it’s all about.”
…now the prisoners are looking forward to going one step further – playing under lights at Dalymount Park for the Foundation Cup.
Hynes added: “At the end of Bohs’ season, we bring up about 15 prisoners who are on day-release to play a football game against a Foundation team for the Foundation Cup…
“We play at 5 o’clock so they get to play under the floodlights.
“How that came about was because when I used to come into the prison first, the lads would say to me ‘that sounded like a great match on Friday’ and I couldn’t understand how they knew.
“But from some of the cells, they could see the floodlights on from Dalymount and hear the roar of the crowd.
“It’d nearly break your heart. So I thought we had to do something, so when some of these guys were on day release I said ‘would you like to come up to Dalymount?’
“Through the Prison Service and through Governor Walsh, we organise for the day-release of 15 prisoners, under escort, up to Dalymount.
“Their families aren’t even told when we’re having it.
“It’s fully behind closed doors but we get a Foundation team out to play them and hopefully give them something to aspire to.”