Paul McManus says the toughest time to keep kids playing sports is when they’re in their teens. It smarts when they drop out.
“That’s the biggest kick in the teeth that we ever get,” said McManus, the games-promotion officer for Kevin’s Hurling and Camogie Club.
“We find that the kids who do leave us end up in crime and corruption,” said McManus. He repeats the phrase a few times. “Crime and corruption. There’s as much of an organisation around here trying to develop crime and corruption, as there is to develop sports.”
On Saturday, McManus and others marched from a sports ground south of the canal off Crumlin Road, along Marrowbone Lane, and up into the Liberties.
They stopped at a small patch of tarmac, a playground stuffed with kids in kits from Kevin’s, and other teams that make up the Sporting Liberties alliance.
They were all there to prove a point: they need somewhere to play sports in the south-west inner city so kids can play closer to their homes.
An Ongoing Campaign
The Sporting Liberties coalition — made up of GAA, boxing, football and rugby clubs from the area — has been lobbying for somewhere to play outdoor sports in the inner city for about three years now.
They’ve armed themselves with statistics gleaned from the Liberties Greening Strategy.
As of 2014, there were 0.7 sqm per person of public green spaces in the neighbourhood. In the Dublin City Council area as a whole, there is an average of 49 sqm per person.
There are 10 schools in the area and 2,500 children with no grass to play on, said JJ O’Mahoney from Kevin’s Hurling and Camogie Club. “We’re only asking for breadcrumbs,” he said.
Right now, there are two proposals being floated for how to start to deal with the shortage of places to play sports in the area.
One idea is to develop sports fields and facilities on a site next to St Catherine’s Sports Centre on Marrowbone Lane.
Another is to put full-size sports pitches in St Teresa’s Gardens as part of the redevelopment of that council-flat complex. Those would be right in the middle of the area where the Kevin’s members come from.
Not everybody agrees with those ideas, though.
Right now, there is a city council depot on the Marrowbone Lane site, which is used for waste and water services.
In autumn last year, People Before Profit councillor Tina MacVeigh put forward a motion for the city’s draft development plan that the site be rezoned as Z9, for recreational uses. It passed.
The city’s chief executive has recommended that the council retain the original use, but MacVeigh doesn’t think councillors will follow his recommendation.
“When that comes up for discussion (…) I’m confident that the councillors will continue to support that zoning as they did back in the original development-plan meetings,” she said.
The idea of putting large sports pitches at the St Teresa’s Gardens also faces opposition from council management.
Labour councillor Rebecca Moynihan and others have a motion in for the city development plan “to retain and augment these lands as sporting facilities for the benefit of the wider community and use by local sports clubs”.
But council managers want as much of the site as possible to be used for housing, she said.
It’s understandable that housing is a focus, says O’Mahoney. But he argues that there needs to be a balance between places for people to live, and places for people to do things.
“If they put high-density housing in there again, without the infrastructure, you’re creating a problem,” he said.
It’s not a case of either or, said both MacVeigh and Moynihan.
“I actually think that the right thing to do is to have both,” said MacVeigh. “We are playing massive catch-up.”
“We have to have a look at what recreation space do we need, and where is likely to be able to relieve that,” said Moynihan.
Council managers “have acknowledged that we have a deficit, but they are in no way moving to provide any sites,” she said. “That’s a huge issue.”
A press office spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that the chief executive wouldn’t be making any more comments, beyond recommendations on motions, until an end-of-month meeting.
Somewhere to Play
From the edge of the playground in the Liberties on Saturday, a group of mothers watched their kids from the Iveagh Trust Football Club run back and forth across the tarmac.
Right now, the kids train at a pitch a bus ride away, and the transport links aren’t easy. It would make it much easier to have a pitch closer to home, said Janice Douglas. “It would be central for this area, you know,” she said.
“At the end of the day it’s an inner-city area. We’re not stupid, we know what goes on,” she said. “So if you have the kids playing sports, you’re keeping them out of trouble, you’re keeping them away from what’s going on, d’ya know?”
Next to her, Grazyna Zborowski says it’s important to her to know that her kid has an alternative to a PlayStation.
“It’s a benefit for the future,” says Zborowski. “Not even a park, not even a proper playground, nothing.”
There are stark differences across the city in how plush the facilities are, said another woman. “We see, when we go out for matches to teams out in Tallaght, in Blackrock, the facilities are just amazing,” said Erica Kelly.
“They get out of the car and they’re running, the space, they’re like, ‘Look at all this,'” said Kelly. “There’s like three football pitches in one, and our kids are farmed into one little space.”Other parents with kids at different teams have similar complaints, and say that the poor facilites have a knock-on effect on community spirit, and on kids from different backgrounds all playing together.
“I know kids from his school who would not consider Kevin’s — and they’re in the same school, in the same area — because of a lack of facilities,” said Stephen McCarron, nodding towards his freckled son.
McCarron likes the fact that at Kevin’s, there’s a bunch of kids from different backgrounds. “It crosses the community divide,” he said. “I think it’s a really good thing for him.”