With God on their side

The Moyross monks are taking on the cream of Munster sport in a charity event, writes David Young

“YOU play to fight the idea of losing.” It’s the mantra Eric Cantona once drew on his torso. It’s also the maxim that will be on show in Shelbourne Park, next Sunday, when a team of Munster Sporting Legends dare to take on a team with a difference — the Moyross Monks.

The reigning Munster Challenge Cup champions aren’t to be trifled with. They are hard-tackling, no-nonsense men of the cloth, who ply their daily vocational trade on Limerick City’s northside. Why the collision of these elemental forces, you may wonder, the heavens versus the heroes?

It’s to raise awareness for a host of Munster charities providing essential services in suicide and self-harming prevention and counselling: Pieta House, Limerick; Suicide Aware, Cork; and the Open Arms Project in Kerry. Organisers Jamie Daly and Paddy Hartnett say Limerick hasn’t been found wanting when it comes to rolling out its sporting talent.

Hartnett, a former youth worker, made contact with the FAI to get their seal of approval. He and Daly were invited to HQ to meet the chief, John Delaney. They also met former soccer star Paul McGrath, who has lent his support.

“The event is really about getting people together ... and talking about a taboo subject,” says Hartnett. “Suicide is a national problem, and Limerick’s had more than its share of heartbreak. The more people know of the services out there, the better. There’s help to be had.”

“It’s something that touches all of us,” adds Daly. “And it’s a problem that can only be tackled by the wider community, when everyone gets involved. On the day, there will be speakers and blessings from the monks, especially for the families who’ve lost someone.”

Two years ago, the God squad played a much-fancied Garda team off the park. Spectators say they did so ruthlessly. In 90 bruising minutes, the ‘force’ was utterly vanquished. But how did such a fixture ever come about?

“I was coaching Moyross United,” says Daly. “And Father Paulus from St Patrick’s Friary joined the team. We got talking about fundraising and the idea surfaced to arrange a match everyone would want to see. That’s when we got the notion to get the monks and the gardaí to square off.”

Father Paulus, who spent four years in Delmege Park, Moyross, is now based in England.

“I told Jamie of how the Franciscans in Germany had played against Bayern Munich,” he says. “And how the brothers raised money by playing against the stars. That’s the charisma of sport. Bringing people close in a very simple way.”

Daly remembers: “People couldn’t believe it. It was like bringing two galactic forces together. The gardaí laughed off the challenge at first. They thought they’d win handy though. But the monks took them on and beat them. The Munster Legends better look out.”

This time out, the monks are dipping into the foreign transfer market, and jetting in players from overseas to strengthen their ranks. Playmaker in chief, Father Paulus, will also be the Monks’ team manager. Walking the sideline may be the safest place for him.

“I have to confess,” he laughs. “I lose my rationality when I’m on the pitch. I get so involved in the game ... I’m known to lose my temper. So, I hope they can carry me from the field afterwards.

“We have no fear of the Munster legends, though. What’s the expression? The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” he adds, stoking the competitive embers.

Originally from East Germany, Father Paulus remembers the Berlin Wall coming down 22 years ago, and the difference it made immediately to people’s perceptions.

“We thought — if this can come down, anything can come down. Anything is possible. So, for people who are lacking in self-belief and confidence, living in doubt, a little encouragement goes a long way. We need to get that message out there to young folk — you are irreplaceable, and you’re needed. Sadly, it isn’t said enough.”

Champions elect, the monks have come out of retirement to meet Munster’s sporting legends, who will be marshalled by the indomitable Pat O’Sullivan, owner of Limerick City FC. Even with an impressive assembly of athletes, spanning the region’s sporting spectrum, from soccer to GAA and rugby, he’s up against it.

Who’ll prevail? “I couldn’t call it,” says Daly.

“It’s going to be tight. And very physical. The rugby players are only massive. But Father Paulus is a leader. He doesn’t like coming second. He’ll do some damage for sure.”

Also on the day, Limerick FC will play the best of the Junior League, a tie in which scores will carry a lifetime’s bragging rights.

And so, word coming out of the Treaty City is the monks have no intention of relinquishing their honours, even if faced with the likes of Mick O’Driscoll and Peter ‘the Claw’ Clohessy. Something’s going to give.

Say a prayer.


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