IT’S great to give back to a club that has brought you so much joy.
For many players, giving back to their club, whether as a coach or supporter, or enrolling their children, shows that their experience as a player was positive.
Unfortunately, loyalty in our local soccer clubs isn’t what it was. Players move from club to club too often.
One man who hasn’t is James O’Riordan, who has been with his beloved Avondale for decades.
“I started out as a schoolboy in 1974 and I played all the way up to junior in the ’80s,” O’Riordan said. “As a schoolboy, I was coached under the guidance of the late Jim Hennebery, who spearheaded the early days of the underage section. We had some fantastic years, meeting great friends along the way.
“Over two decades ago, I got back involved with the club as a coach, when my sons started to play. I coached their teams from underage right up to juniors, and again some great memories.
“I always wanted to play my part in the progress of the club and, in 2002, I became a committee member, and then, in 2019, I became schoolboy chairman, which is my current role.
My role as schoolboy chairman is to work alongside dedicated club members, such as Joe Plunkett and Dave Madden, in the organisation of our underage academy.
"I liaise with coaches to ensure the smooth running of the underage section, from U5s to U16s.
“There are a lot of other things I do, like ensuring teams are fully and equally equipped with the necessary equipment and kit, co-ordinate the running of the academy, ensuring fun and inclusion is always the number-one priority; developing a gateway of football, catering for all schoolboys and girls, ensuring participation. It may seem a lot, but with the great support I have, it runs smoothly.”
The underage section has almost doubled in the past four years and O’Riordan said this is down to the hard-working, voluntary coaches and committee, “who did so much work on and off the pitch”.
The boys’ academy runs on a Friday, from 6-7pm. There are almost 500 boys from U5 to U16.
The club has 13 underage teams, between the boys and girls, of whom 170 are girls.
“There is a core group of coaches who are invaluable in the running of the schoolgirls, such as Derek Chambers,” O’Riordan said. “We are presently recruiting more coaches for our schoolgirls, should anyone wish to be on board.
“We have had many successful teams over the years: Some of our recent success stories are our current U16 premier team, who have secured three promotions, including a league and cup double two years ago. Our U11 boys played in the cup final in Turner’s Cross last week.
“Our U16 girls reached a final recently, too, which is a great sign of their progress. We have produced players such as Damien Delaney, Fiacre Kelleher, and Eoghan O’Connell, who are playing overseas now in the UK, as well as Simon Zebo in rugby. We are always very proud of their achievements. We have had numerous academy players represent Ireland and receive underage caps.”
Looking forward to the return to play on September 18, O’Riordan said the coaches and players are primed. “We have plenty of ex-players as coaches: Ken Bruton, U14s, a multiple FAI Intermediate Cup winner as senior manager and player; Michael Mulconry, U11s, the same; Mark O’Riordan, Fran Moore, Richard Haugh, Martin Burke, to name a few, are all ex-schoolboy players, so it’s great for them to pass on their knowledge to the new generation.
"Football is like a family: We realised how important it is during this pandemic. We saw, first-hand, how Avondale is integral to the community, like all local clubs in a community. Sport is, in my opinion, very important for the physical and mental health of everyone involved, from U5s right up to the coaches.
"And we, as a club, will continue to try to encourage as many kids as possible to get involved in sport, where they can make lifelong friends.”