ERIKA Ní Thuama admits she takes pride in the role that Cork City have played in the relaunch of the ‘More Than A Club’ programme across Irish football.
The Football Association of Ireland recently confirmed that Bank of Ireland will be an Associate Sponsor of the League of Ireland on a three-year deal that will see them cover the Men’s Divisions, the Women’s National League, the FAI Cups.
As part of this agreement, the bank will also look to plan a number of initiatives with the FAI for the new look ‘More Than A Club’ concept and help clubs across the country to devise and deliver important social programmes, particularly within disadvantaged communities.
Ní Thuama, who is currently the community/academy coordinator and Covid compliance officer at Cork City, was involved when the Leesiders, alongside Bohemians, initially piloted this scheme between February 2018 and September 2019.
The initiative, which arranged community programmes such as numeracy through football with primary school children, run the club with young people aged 16-24, sporting memories with older people and walking football with older people and people with disabilities, came to an abrupt end due to a reduction in EU funding but has now been revived as part of the deal with the new sponsors.
“It was such a huge success and we got such great feedback from it,” insists Ní Thuama.
“Still to this day we are getting that feedback and we have that material as well which is really easy to update and roll out again.
“Unfortunately, we probably took our eye off the ball a little bit because of Covid has hit, relegation has hit and other things can sometimes get it the way at a football club.
“I’m massively proud about what we did at the time because even now you can see people commenting about how great it is to see the 'More Than A Club' programme back again, local people here have been getting in touch to say that they are delighted it’s getting up and running again.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the FAI are going to help us out and all the other clubs. It’s really important that we have someone in the FAI - a community development manager - that the clubs get in touch with.
“They now have a name and a person that they can go to for assistance with that experience at applying for grants and funding that maybe volunteers at football clubs wouldn’t have.”
That person is the League of Ireland’s Community Development Manager Derek O’Neill and he was keen to praise the work done by Ní Thuama and Cork City which he hopes will inspire other clubs to get involved this time around.
Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus pandemic, these activities in the community won’t commence in the near future but O’Neill will soon begin the process to ensure they can begin when it is safe to do so.
“I’m really, really proud of what Erika has done,” he enthused.
“And what the guys at Bohs have done and to a certain extent at St Pat's as well. Some of the programmes they have developed and delivered have been inspirational.
“I just hope they provide an inspiration to the other clubs around the country who can look at what they have done, how they actually started and then look at how they can start.
“Fair play to Erika, she did a fantastic job and this is a bit of a legacy of it as well.
“With the support of Bank of Ireland, the League of Ireland will help clubs to embrace a wider agenda which will enable them to become more relevant community entities.
“The Community Development Programme is an exciting initiative which League of Ireland clubs can employ to the benefit of their own areas, as well as enhance the club’s own growth ambitions.
“The programme is inspired by the ‘More Than A Club’ Football in the Community model which was piloted in recent years with Bohemian FC and Cork City. That worked out really well, and it gave us a really good model to look at going forward.
“What we are ultimately looking for at the end of the day - somewhere down the line, it won’t happen overnight - is that clubs end up with full-time community development officers specifically dedicated to delivering community programmes, that’s where we are looking to go with this.”