Mon, 23 May

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Local Faces: Paul O’Brien

Ballyfermot born and bred, Games Promotional Officer and full-time coach Paul O’Brien has played a huge part in leading Ballyfermot De La Salle GAA club steadily up the ranks to a thriving, flourishing club that sits in the heart of the community today.

A thriving GAA scene and the flashes of green and gold Kerry colours in the heart of Ballyfermot might come as a surprise to some, but full-time coach Paul O’Brien has been working relentlessly over the years to develop the club into the success that can be seen on Gurteen Road today.

The club was initially set up as a schools-based club in 1953 by proud Kerry man Father Troy, in an area that is dominated by soccer.

“I started out as a young lad playing for Ballyfermot around 1987 – a brother started up the team, he was a teacher in the school, and I started playing for the club then”, Paul told The Echo.

“Around the mid 90’s it kind of fizzled out a bit, then in the early 2000’s a man came back from Australia and wanted to set up a juvenile section. He was keen to get it back up and running and asked a couple of us to come on board and give him a dig out, which we did.”

Eager to get the club back up and running, Paul and some of the other lads in Ballyfermot managed to wrangle a couple of teams together with new members, many of which make up the adult teams at the club today.

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"We stuck with it, and we kept it going and that’s why the adult team is still going today”, said Paul.

The club hit a roadblock on their path to success in the mid 2000’s, when the lack of facilities and an outdated clubhouse caught up with the club, resulting in falling numbers, putting them on the brink of extinction.

“The club hit a hard patch in terms of our facilities, we were in a position where we had our club building up at the Gaels and we had gotten a grant from the national lottery, but in terms of the lease, for legal reasons we couldn’t draw out the money”, Paul explained. “This was something that dragged on for the guts of ten years and it set us back massively.”

The situation took a massive toll on the club, but Paul says he was determined to not let it destroy everything they had built. Fundraising with the help of the community and many putting their hands in their own pockets, the club dug deep and got their much longed for facilities up and running in 2017 and relaunched the juvenile section.

“In our first year back up and running I took over the adult’s team and we actually won the league, the cup and the championship in the one year”, said Paul. “It was a massive injection for adult football in the club.”

It has been a rocky road for the club, but under the guidance of Paul and the other coaches, the club rebounded in a big way, going on to win the league and the cup again in 2018 and have kept progressing and growing ever since, now standing at two adult football teams and fourteen underage teams, two of which are women’s.

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Speaking about why he thinks the club has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, Paul says the inclusivity and welcoming environment is a key factor.

“The thing about our club is that there is a place for everybody at all levels. We are fully inclusive in everything we do”, he explained.

“Obviously there is going to be some people that are slightly better at football then others, but everyone is made feel welcome. A lot of our adult footballers are looking after the kids teams and there is a great connection between the juvenile teams and there is a great comradery amongst the club.”

Paul has come in full time working for the county board as the club’s GPO and is currently active in seven schools in the area.

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“The engagement with the schools has been the biggest thing and we have a great relationship with them and the community”, he said.

“I always tell the kids, once we are always striving to be better than we were and make an effort to do that, we are always improving. As long as we as working hard, whether we get better is irrelevant but once we are trying to and bring the club on that’s what drives us on and moves us in the right direction.”

“As a small club, when you have everyone pulling in the right direction it makes a massive difference. If someone thinks something will work, we all row in behind them and we make it work.”

Written By: Aimee Walsh. The Echo Feburary 3, 2022