‘I LOVE MEETING people who don’t know me through sport, because then they’re meeting Tony, not the hurler.
It didn’t bother me that Karl didn’t know who I was when he met me. I had come back to Ireland from Canada in 2008. Here, I found an environment where there was a pervasive negativity, a fear mentality. It came through every time you turned on the radio. I thought, what is this doing to our young people? I put a post-it on my wall that said a mentor, a friend, would come along to work on a project – I didn’t know what – to fight this. And Karl was the person who turned up.
“I’d been asked to give a talk at a sports injury clinic. After talks like that, there’s always some eager person who comes up to you, so I had my doubts when Karl approached me and asked – intensely – to meet. He asked if I’d seen the documentary about the Irish GAA-turned-Aussie Rules footballer Jim Stynes and his work with young people in Australia through his organisation Reach. I had.
“Inspired by Stynes, Karl and I set up Soar, schemed and dreamed for months, wondering were we two deluded men – and then we went to Melbourne, to see how Reach worked. One thing we love is its peer-to-peer activities: it has former Reach participants, working with young people.
“I played hurling for the senior Clare team from 2000 to 2009, and from 2004 to 2008, I studied at university in Halifax, Nova Scotia, commuting home every four/five weeks to play in matches. After my father died in December 2005 from cancer, I moved home for a year and played hurling full-time. Then I went back to university and in 2007, cycled 7,000km across Canada in Dad’s memory to raise money for charities. That cycle taught me that you can create your own destiny, that we are capable of so much, if not held back by fear and self-doubt.
“In December 2011, we went on Tom Dunne’s radio show to talk about our idea – and were inundated with emails and calls. Then two big things happened: I met Keith Molony from Stelfox Recruitment, who became a founding partner. The second was applying for a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland award – and making it to the final eight. As well as that, we funded an award and brought four Irish 15-year-olds to a youth leadership camp in Nova Scotia in August.
“Karl and I have changed and grown with the process of setting up Soar; I’ve learnt a lot from Karl, who’s a bit older, more experienced. We’re honest with each other. There’s no dancing around each other.
“My closest friends have usually been off the sports field. I feel very thankful I met Karl. I had considered leaving Ireland – Halifax is my second home. But with Soar, I decided I couldn’t abandon my country now.”
‘MY WIFE HADheard that Tony Griffin would be speaking at a sports injury clinic and suggested I go. After hearing the end of a radio interview with him, she felt he might be receptive to helping me with something I was trying to do. I’d felt a call when I saw the documentary about Jim Stynes to create something similar to his youth foundation here. I’ve always been interested in young people and was concerned about the effect of the downturn on them. Tony had also seen the documentary and been inspired but hadn’t figured out what to do.