Airtricity League director Fran Gavin says that he hopes to see the 'More Than A Club' initiative launched by Bohemians on Tuesday extended across the league over the next couple of years if pilot schemes at Dalymount Park and Turner's Cross prove successful over the coming 18 months.
The EU-funded initiative aims to provide support to social projects run by clubs with the intention of making them more active players in their local communities. Cork City and Bohemians secured the initial funding, which will provide for two full-time and one part-time staff at each club, on the basis of the work that they have already done.
“It’s something we’ve been working with the clubs on the back of their strategic plans,” said Gavin at the Dublin club’s launch, “getting more into the community, being seen as a focal point in the community and this helps all the clubs.
“It’s an important initiative and hopefully we’ll be able to extend it out to all the clubs. That’s the plan we’d have long-term. But these two clubs, along with others, have shown they don’t just talk about stuff, they go out and do it.
Bohemians president Chris Brien, who was a founder member of the club's foundation, a charitable organisation that runs football events for local kids, pensioners and those with intellectual disabilities as well football and comedy related projects in the nearby Mountjoy Prison, said that the work is of critical importance to Bohemians.
“We don’t work in the community to tick boxes or feel good about ourselves,” he said. “Bohemian FC is in and of the north inner city of Dublin and it is our duty to work in that community.
That work has, the club believes, played a major part in improving its image in the wider area from which it draws its support and a significant one in boosting attendances at games over the last couple of years.
Several of the first team's players, including goalkeeper Shane Supple and midfielder Oscar Brennan have been particularly involved, with the pair among those to visit schools and oversee sessions of walking and other specialist football.
“The More Than A Club title speaks volumes,” says 21-year-old Brennan, a student at UCD. “It’s more than just the 11 lads who go out and play on a Friday night, it’s everyone involved in the club, which is so tied to the community here in Dublin 7 and the north inner city, giving back to the community as well. Hopefully the programme can make more of a connection with the work that was already going on with the Bohemian Foundation.”
The reaction in schools is hugely positive, he says, with kids getting the opportunity to interact with somebody who has achieved their own goal by playing the game at a high level.
“It’s great, they are delighted to see us; not a lot of them come down to Dalymount Park but it’s great, in their eyes you are a professional footballer and a lot of them have never met a real football professional before so it’s letting them know that it’s not an exclusive club, that anyone can play football, that whatever they put their mind to they can do.”
The association will support the pilot project with Derek O’Neill, who secured the initial funding in conjunction with the Welsh FA, helping the staff to make the positions self-funding. Cork City will launch their side of the scheme next week.
Shane Blaney, meanwhile, has left Finn Harps for League One side Doncaster Rovers. The 18-year-old defender has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with the English club just a few days before his 19th birthday.
Dundalk winger Carlton Ubaezuono, a successful member of the club's under-19 team last season, making a number of appearances for the first team, has moved to Galway United on loan until the end of June.
Shamrock Rovers have signed former Sheffield United and Raith Rovers player Joel Coustrain on a one-year-deal. The 21-year-old winger has been playing junior football with Ballynanty Rovers in his native Limerick since his return from Scotland.