Tuesday 21 November 2017

High hopes for Hoops and Trinity


Scott Brown, player of the tournament, with Richie Sadlier at the launch of the STAR (Sporting Talent and Academic Rewards) programme in conjunction with TAP (Trinity Access Programme), Shamrock Rovers and Trinity Sport
Scott Brown, player of the tournament, with Richie Sadlier at the launch of the STAR (Sporting Talent and Academic Rewards) programme in conjunction with TAP (Trinity Access Programme), Shamrock Rovers and Trinity Sport

There was something giddy about the sight of a bunch of kids from Tallaght mobbing the door to the Watt Building in Trinity College. It doesn't happen very often.

They were on the way to a grand prize giving for a collaboration between two great Dublin institutions - Shamrock Rovers and TCD - and all you could do was smile. This is a good thing.

Over the last few days, the college has echoed to the sound of kids playing football, part of the launch of that STAR (Sporting Talent & Academic Rewards) project run in conjunction with TAP (Trinity Access Programmes) and supported by Richard Sadlier.

The intent is obvious but the medium unusual and Rovers are to be congratulated for taking this step.


Getting starry-eyed impressionable minds used to the idea of access to what is an imposing and venerable warren of old and new buildings was easy via a game of football and has all sorts of spin-offs and benefits for the kids, for the club and TCD.

Every speaker was full of energy and purpose and it was hard to avoid the feeling that a lot of good will come from this project.

At the root of it is a genuine push by the Hoops to embrace the concept of a football club which is rooted in Tallaght, willing to fight for educational opportunities for the area and committed to grassroots development which has been all but unheard of up to now.

Whether they realise it or not, a lot is riding on the Hoops' plan which was under way before Ruud Doktor implemented his controversial blueprint for football in Ireland.

Many are watching to see if what is an expensive outlay on coaching can be sustained and there is a vocal minority; some within the club, who feel that money would be better spent chasing better players and ultimately, trophies.

This is an age-old battle and it can only be hoped that people like chairman Jonathan Roche and a very strong coaching line-up spearheaded by Shane Robinson and gilded by big names like Stephen McPhail, Graham Gartland and, of course, the Duffer.

The pied-piper factor is obvious and Rovers now have a head start in recruitment on that basis alone but Roche and the club members want to address many of football's old failings off the field so that the kids they bring under the club's wing can hope for more than just kit and boots.

It was odd to hear that Robinson is in and out of all the schools in Tallaght spreading the word given the traditional reluctance among the teaching fraternity to give air to anything other than GAA.

But it was great and should be happening all over the country if it's not already.

A wider audience, particularly among schoolboy clubs written out of the National League picture, are sceptical about the League of Ireland's capacity to effectively take over the best kids in the country, boys and girls, and deliver the kind of programme which Rovers are striving to build.

If Rovers, the biggest football club brand in the country, cannot pull it off, the Doktor Plan might need some urgent revision.

Roche is adamant that things like the STAR initiative can only be good for his club. He said: "The football club, which is majority owned by the members, club took a very, very brave decision four years ago to develop our own pathway.

"When we were in the Europa League we met clubs and saw how they did things in cities smaller than Dublin, how the education and football pathway coincided with each other," he said.

"We now have full-time coaches looking after our kids. Our new training ground Phase One is open, Phase 2 next year and we now have a pathway from 15 through to the senior team.

"This project is probably unique in as much as we are starting with sixth class Primary school kids," said Roche. "We have more educational initiatives to announce in the coming months so this is part of an ongoing process."

What was very clear from this event is that the access part is working nicely and if the day out in the city centre sparked bright minds to imagine what might be, it was worth doing and repeating.

For Rovers, an association with TCD will help on all sorts of levels, not least the credibility leap involved.

"For me it's one great Dublin educational institution linking up with another great Dublin sporting institution and that opens doors, there is no doubt about that," added Roche.

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