Ferrybank AFC - hard work and dedication helps guide the stars of tomorrow

WE COULD not have picked a more poignant or sombre time to visit the flourishing South Kilkenny (geographically speaking) Ferrybank AFC, which was devastated by the news that their most ardent, hard-working Maurice Byrne had just passed away a few hours prior to our visit.

WE COULD not have picked a more poignant or sombre time to visit the flourishing South Kilkenny (geographically speaking) Ferrybank AFC, which was devastated by the news that their most ardent, hard-working Maurice Byrne had just passed away a few hours prior to our visit.

Maurice was the engine room of the Ferrybank lotto. He was a committeeman for over 20 years, and he also served as secretary for years. He was mentor, friend, confidante and an all-embracing member of the Ferrybank AFC family, who gave every ounce of his energy for the cause, but who left the party far too early. He was just 51 years young.

Maybe we should dedicate this story to his memory - the story of Ferrybank AFC.

You want to know anything about the Ferrybank AFC you could not extend your ambitions to a higher standard than parking your unit outside the stall of Tom Flynn, the helpful PRO and life-long member of the club nestling on the North bank of the Suir, cascading towards the South Atlantic through the thriving Cathar Portlairge.

Tom Flynn, a very active member since 1970, told us about the origins of the club. He spoke of the pioneers like Jimmy Searson, “ a giant of a man”, a founder of the club, who was involved in football all of his life. Thankfully he is still very much an integral part.

There when it started

Mick Dooley was there too when it all started in 1948, as was Peter Hearne from Marymount. Peter was a legendary character in many ways but he was such an all-embracing character that once you befriended him, you would never lose the value of that friendship.

He was the proud owner of a Volkswagen Beetle car. Peter would often carry an entire schoolboys team in the car to a fixture. He wasn’t the quickest of drivers, and even though cars were a scarce commodity at the time, Peter of the willing heart might offer a lift to a lad who would decline the offer on the basis that he would get to his destination faster walking.

Peter never broke the 10 miles an hour speed barrier, apparently.

Not wishing to get embroiled in the on-going brouhaha about territorial demarcation, suffice to say that the Ferrybank football club is within the urbanised confines of Waterford City. It is inside the county boundary of the Kilkenny, and is also in the Diocese of Ossory.

Let the debates continue.

My name is not Barrie Kissinger.

As the club is within the remit of my responsibilities within the KP, we needed to get the profile of an organisation that caters for over 300 young people around our catchment area. The impressive present home of Ferrybank AFC is intriguing in a sense, given that its front gate is opposite the front gate of the Ferybank GAA club.

“There must have been some confrontation over the years Tom”?

Buggy ever helpful

“To say that it was difficult would be understating the scenario, although I must admit that we had a tremendous man in the parish who rose to the highest rung on the GAA ladder of achievement. I can honestly say that Paddy Buggy was never less than helpful and co-operative,” Tony explained.

“He was a great credit to the parish and most helpful to every element of youth development around the place. But yes, there was an uneasiness around for a long time. That all changed too, and today, we have lads who play hurling and Gaelic football in our teams and we have youngsters whose parents were avid, and very accomplished GAA players in their time.”

One of the greatest chairmen the club ever had was a Kilkenny man with a famous name and a famous son.

“Jim O’Shea made a huge contribution to the club over the years,” said Tom Flynn, but there is no denying his allegiances when hurling is mentioned or games like Sunday’s (versus Waterford) are imminent.

“Now his son, John would be Decies through and through. He never forgot his roots, and he has been very generous to us in the club. He started with us as a schoolboy and youth, before rocketing to the pinnacle of his acclaim as a magnificent player with Manchester United and Ireland. We have been to Old Trafford at his invitation. His generosity has known no limits.”

Ferrybank AFC led a rather nomadic existence for years before settling into their present site in 1990. They played football in various farmers’ fields by grace and favour. They played on City Council land, and also for a spell in the grounds of Belmont Park Hospital.

They even contemplated playing on land within the borders of the local graveyard, but it was not big enough. They played at Grannagh FC, Slieverue and in the Clover Meats grounds. Mick Murphy, whose two daughters played ladies soccer with the club, came to the rescue as well with a field, until finally they pitched their tent on their present site, opposite the Ferrybank GAA club.

Terrific clubhouse

Now the proprietors of two full-length playing pitches, in addition to two Astroturf playing areas, all floodlit, the Ferrybank club have a terrific clubhouse which incorporates four fully equipped dressing facilities with the usual services of showering, ice-baths and toilets. The first floor serves as a spacious general-purpose people service area, where meetings - many simultaneously - can be held.

It has cost more than a local Lotto could hopefully service. From whence did the funding come?

Tom Flynn: “Local fund raisers were tremendously supported by a wide raft of people. Then John Delaney (CEO of FAI) is very good to us, and has been very supportive with grants and other assistances. He is yet another Ferrybank man ( well at least his father is) who has never forgotten his own place, his own roots.”

Ferrybank Football Club cater for 13 schoolboy, four senior and four ladies teams. That is a massive number of players - at least 300.

We asked Tony Power (chairman) how they were surviving?

“It is very demanding,” he explained. ”Of course registration fees make up some of it. The hire of the playing areas by outside sources is finance generating too, and helps, but our Lotto is the core issue in our fund raising programme. It has dipped lately for obvious reasons, but our new committee is pulling in every semblance of assistance we can to re-ignite the enthusiasm.

“You see we are the only schoolboys soccer club in the area, and our area stretches out to Glenmore, Slieverue, Mullinavat, Kilmacow, Mooncoin, Carrigeen, Grannagh, and of course around the city, so there is a wide market out there to be tapped.”

Tony and his Management Committee have recently taken over from a committee that has been in situ for nearly 10 years. In their wisdom they have indulged in a delegation system where there are other numerous committees who report to the Management Committee on all matters.

It is not easy, but it seems to be working. According to Tony Power the enthusiasm is infectious; the ambitions seem to be right for Ferrybank AFC, and the unanimity of purpose going forward seems to be unanimous.

“We have tremendous people all singing from the same hymnal, and that is not a bad ideal to have in any club,” he said.

Impressed

Talking to Brian Moore (vice-chairman) one would be instantly impressed with the sincerity with which he cloaks every statement he makes. When I suggested that there were big numbers of students around the Ferrybank area attending the many schools he was more than anxious to underline the ethos of the club.

“There are two primary schools and the Abbey College on our doorstep, but we do not make any pronounced assault on any of the schools as satellite nurseries for our club,” he explained. “We have always emphasised that we are running a Community Club, and whilst we encourage any who wish to join we do not inveigle anyone to come on board because we need or want him. It must be what the player or youth needs himself, and that is central to our doctrine for the want of a better word.”

He very succinctly explained that he feels that the club is doing things the right way, given the numbers of teams registered.

“We put a huge emphasis on the soccer tasks,” he continued. “Our kids come down to us at five years of age and they are placed and coached in our Academy by qualified coaches until they progress to the full-size pitches at 11 years of age. Hopefully we will have them into our youth teams and further.

“Everyone that comes down here is a volunteer, and everyone that comes here we encourage to take the various coaching badges. No team lacks for coaching by a fully qualified coach. Parents are well aware of what we have for their kids.

“We try to make it fun. We endeavour to place a huge emphasis on discipline and the team ethic, and parents are pleased with what they see being done for their kids,” said Mr Moore.

The logistics involved in catering for so many teams on any given training day/evening/night is mind-boggling. Billy Phelan is the man with the magic touch who manages to get all teams facilitated simultaneously.

While Billy Phelan co-ordinates the pitch allocation, club secretary, Jack Hurley, among other tasks, is the man who puts the pieces of the jigsaw together, keeps the rotes in order, thus augmenting the great work being done by Billy Phelan.

Brian Moore interjected with a little message!

Belongs to community

“The fundamental point that is incumbent on all of us in Ferrybank AFC is that we have spent the last 10 years getting the entire issue up to the present standards, and we must now give it back to the Community, because it belongs to them, not us,” he said. “Its not just Ferrybank, it is the surrounding areas already mentioned.

“If they feel they want to come down here we will give them a welcoming Céad Mile Fáilte, and make our facilities available to them with a heart and a half,” he said.

While the club is well founded, well managed and on a very solvent financial footing, further progress in the present fiscal climate is getting progressively worse, so the club must substantiate their general fund-raising with further cash injections for other sources.

“Part of my remit as chairman, which I have already addressed at committee, is trying to get some kind of Corporate support by way of advertising or sponsorship. I know it will not be an easy ask, but we cannot afford to remain static.

“We must move forward. There are other fund-raising projects in the pipeline, which I hope will bring in much-needed financial support. We are not talking in astronomical figures, just enough to afford us to make improvements, and change things,” he said.

Ferrybank AFC has produced plenty of excellent footballers that have worn the green of Ireland at many levels. For a little club it certainly has punched above its weight.

Of course the marquee name, whose fame and glory has taken him to arenas worldwide is John O’Shea. There were others too. Names like Noel ‘Blonde’ Norris (1958) - who played and scored one of the two goals against England - Sylvie Lynch, Sean Phelan, Ger Condon, Chris Hoban, Shane Dineen (now on his way to Glasgow Celtic) fall freely from the tongue.

Great asset

“One of the great assets we preach here is the fun element,” interjected Brian. “When players are enjoying themselves, it gives vent to their talents and the quality of the coaches we have here is testified to by the success of the many youngsters who make National Development squads. Last season we had five players who made the FAI Emerging Talent Programmes. It is quite phenomenal.”

The club can also boost and boast of involvement with such iconic Waterford and national soccer players like Alfie Hale and Peter Fitzgerald. Alfie did some coaching and managing in the club for a time, giving of his time freely, and with gusto.

On the question of maintaining numbers, Tony Power told us that on the up-coming registration night (Thursday), they would expect at least 150 members, thus keeping the numbers on a steady comparable to previous years. They will then have their Socatots (I love that name, Socatots) Academy registrations on Saturday, August 28 at 9.45am (born 02/03) and born 04/05/06 at 11am.

He did point out that the interest in ladies football was extraordinary, and while the drop off numbers were more apparent at the senior level, he did intimate that like all other sporting disciplines, emigration had much to do with that scenario.

They seem to be doing an awful lot of things right in Ferrybank AFC. They have hosted national fixtures at their compact little ground. Their facilities were used for training purposes for an Irish National Schoolboys team.

Their grounds are a picture of cleanliness, organisation and professionalism. There was not a wrapping, tin can, plastic bottle discarded anywhere. The pitches were in pristine condition. Their lights (installed in 2003) glistened, and their décor was without graffiti or blemish.

They make Ferrybank AFC life a happy place for all players, mentors and coaches. The walls are decorated with memorabilia of times past, of Irish jerseys won by players, and of trips to Manchester, France and other destinations.

It caters for a huge area, in particular in its facilitation of Schoolboys soccer, as it is the only one for long miles about the place.

The story would not be complete without mentioning the tremendous input by people such as treasurer Aidan Troy, Cathy Carey (secretary ladies football), Barbara Scannell, Owen Collins, Ger Condon, Billy Phelan, John Bowden, Hugh Magee, Aidan Power.