Eddie Keogh, chairman of Oliver Bond Celtic FC, knows the transformative power of sport first-hand.
When he was young he was mad about football, he says. But after an injury meant he couldn’t play he started to get into trouble and ended up spending seven years in Mountjoy.
When he got out of prison, Keogh was determined to turn his life around, he says, and he did.
Two years ago, together with others he started the first-ever football academy for children in the council-owned Oliver Bond housing complex and surrounding areas.
“I was one of those kids,” says Keogh by phone on Friday. “I turned it around because football was my life.”
There was huge interest and the club has 80 young people playing at the moment and has topped leagues, at underage levels. “On the pitch, we’ve won everything,” he says.
During Covid-19 restrictions, with a lot of its own events cancelled, the Law Society in Stoneybatter allowed Oliver Bond Celtic FC to use its grounds Saturdays for free.
Now the Law Society needs the space back on Saturdays.
That means that Oliver Bond is on the move again, playing home matches at opposition grounds and booking pitches as far away as Raheny. “We have no home pitches, no training pitches, nothing,” says Keogh.
In 2020, Dublin City Council cut a deal with developer Hines, swapping land for a promised future sports pitch at Donore Avenue. Councillors are pushing for pitches on council-owned land at Marrowbone Lane, too.
But so far, despite years of campaigning, there are still no playing pitches in the Liberties area.
“It’s crazy, with all the struggles that are within the inner city, something should be done,” says Keogh. “Putting a pitch in Dublin 8 could solve so many problems.”
A Major Disadvantage
Having a sports ground within walking distance of Oliver Bond was a massive boost to the club, says Keogh.
They could schedule matches one after another and their supporters could attend more easily too. “When we were in the Law Society, we had 100 or 200 people coming over to support the club,” he says.
They can still use those grounds on Sundays, but most matches are on Saturdays, so the club is effectively homeless again – just like all the neighbouring sports clubs in the area. “We need somewhere to call home,” says Keogh. “That is all clubs in Dublin 8.”
Keogh says that he often asks opposition sides to host the matches that Oliver Bond should be playing at home. That means the club gets fewer supporters at its matches.
Some might say that is a psychological disadvantage, still the teams are doing well, says Keogh.
The main disadvantages are economic and logistical. He estimates they spend around €30,00o each year renting space to train and play. There’s also the burden of coordinating the booking of different pitches for various teams training twice a week and matches.
They were using pitches in Grangegorman, which was fairly near them, he says, but they are oversubscribed at the moment.
They go to Drimnagh a lot because they can get the Luas there and back, he says, but they have played home matches in Clontarf and Raheney too. “It’s hard to run a club if you have to rent,” he says.
Keogh says that most sports grants are capital grants so clubs that don’t have their own grounds can’t get much state funding.
He is constantly fundraising, organising events and asking for sponsorship from local businesses to try to come up with the money to rent pitches for training and matches, he says.
He is afraid to grow the club. If they allow more kids to join and form new teams then it will increase the workload and further complicate the logistics of booking pitches and push up their spending too.
“It can’t be sustained because we haven’t got the money,” says Keogh.“I can’t keep going to local businesses [for sponsorship] and going back, and back.”
So local kids will miss out on the opportunity to play football, with all the mental and physical health benefits that would bring. “We cannot expand any more because we cannot afford it,” says Keogh. “That is shocking.”
Sports clubs in the area, under the umbrella of Sporting Liberties, have been campaigning to try to get a pitch for years.
“What is annoying about it is that there has been no progress made at all on these pitches,” says Keogh.
In 2020, councillors agreed to a land swap at Donore Avenue with the developer Hines, which owns the Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites near St Teresa’s Gardens, in exchange for which the developer would build a full-sized GAA pitch.
But that depends on Hines getting final planning permission for its scheme, and in mid-2021 the High Court referred the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission to the European Court of Justice, following a legal challenge by local residents.
In January, councillors voted to rezone council land on Marrowbone Lane, currently in use as a council depot, as open space, in the hope of getting sports pitches built there.
The CEO of Dublin City Council, Owen Keegan, said he needs that site for a council super depot, for maintenance workers and cleaning crews.
“To put a blanket open space zoning on this means we can’t have any depot,” Keegan said. “We can’t even upgrade the depot facilities. The depot facilities are totally inadequate.”
“Playing into the hands of a particular group who wants a full sized pitch, without any regard to the needs of council workforce, given how flexible management has been, I don’t think it reflects very very well on the council,” he said.
“I definitely think it could be done,” says Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon who pushed the rezoning. “We need to sit down and figure out what works with management too, but the current block suits nobody.”
In the meantime, Keogh says that since the council has delayed the delivery of pitches for the area it could support the clubs in Dublin 8, by waiving fees.
Most of the pitches they hire are council-owned pitches and he has asked the council for help, he says. “Can you not pay for the training for one year?”
Dublin City Council didn’t respond before publication to queries submitted on Friday.