It was Brazilian sensation Ronaldinho who said he learnt most of his life lessons with a ball at his feet. Football has power beyond mere pastime, a universal language capable of unifying people of all backgrounds. A perfect example can be found in north Dublin.
Every year, the Bridewall Garda Station, Youth Justice Project, Dublin City Council and the MOST project organise an 11 aside football match between officers and local youths in Dublin 7. It is called the Community Confederations Cup and operates as a welcomed opportunity to develop a connection and relationship between both parties. As Garda Sergeant, David Cryan is integral to this programme.
During his youth, Garda Cryan played for the Roscommon minors. In doing so he developed a keen understanding of the harmony sport can forge.
“Sport in general brings people together,” he explains.
“The idea of the entire programme is to build relationships and show a positive side of the guards to young people so we can connect. They love football, all the guards love football. The best way to build us closer together, especially if we might not see from the same point of view, is football because it is a level playing field.
“It happens without even talking. Out on a pitch or even in the training sessions, which I love, you get to know people so much easier.”
He has been in his role for two and a half years. His sole goal is fostering a oneness and bringing people together. That can prove a challenging task in a big city like Dublin. The eternally whirling metropolitan sense can invariably pull people apart, programmes like this bind them together.
The Garda is quick to cite the strong community evident in the north inner city and the connection they have developed with the youth thanks to football.
We wouldn’t get talking to them otherwise. They get to know us. They might have an impression of the uniform, that we only come when something is wrong. That we would be hassling them and they wonder why. But on a football field, we are training together and playing matches together. We are speaking the same language and building an understanding.
“The youths we are involved with could be the youths we are with on Halloween night. When you know them by name it makes things so much easier. Even if you need to pull one aside and say cop on, it is easy when they know you. This way it breaks down the barrier. It is all about breaking down barriers.
“I could be out on the beach late at night and if we come across the lads, they come up talking to you. Four or five years ago, they would be in groups and they wouldn’t talk to you or even engage with you. It has built a trust with them.”
As well as that, by interacting with them every day, suddenly young boys and girls realise the Garda are not an institution but a collection made up of everyday people looking to serve the district. In doing so it humanises the uniform.
When local Smithfield teen Aaron Brady was asked about his own participation in the programme, he said as much: “I’ve actually gotten to know the guards, I don’t really see them as enemies anymore just because of how friendly they are and how nice they are to me and the lads.”
Cryan laughs when he hears that quote. It is clear he is content to shed that old tag and progress as friend rather than foe.
“This brings everyone together. Football does that, it brings us together on a level playing field.”
It includes six weeks of training as well as a final match in the iconic Irish football ground Dalymount Park. The benefits are plentiful. Every neighbourhood needs a focal point and that is what the organised football match offers.
“We get to know each other and build trust between each other. I am in their community as well, I know I am working there, but I am a part of it. I’ve gotten to know them very well.”
“We deal with all different types of kids. Kids we might know and kids we have never seen or never would see, they might be shy and uninvolved in the community and this brings everyone out.”
Garda Cryan is keen to stress it is a mutually beneficial situation. Officers really enjoy doing it, so much so that they even participate on their time off.
As for its legacy, while there is a clear impact on the present it could one day change the future.
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