Michael Darragh Macauley recently met someone from Dublin's North east inner city who plays basketball. He looked with envy upon the newly established North East Inner City Trojans basketball club, wishing one like it had been around when he started playing the game.
For Macauley, who had spent the previous four years putting foundations for the Trojans in place by creating basketball academies and nurseries, it was exactly what he wanted to hear. It was the squeaky sound of sneakers on hardwood to his ears.
"He's someone who played in Larkin College and lived around the area," Macauley tells Balls. "Then he couldn't further his craft because there was nowhere a realistic distance away for him to play."
Macauley, an eight-time All-Ireland football championship winner with the capital, is the Community Sport and Wellbeing Co-Ordinator with NEIC Dublin.
'Basketball really thrives with new communities'
"Straight away, once we started providing basketball services, the kids around the area were flocking to it. It was definitely a missing service at the time," Macauley recalls about the first blocks being laid in 2018.
"What really kind of dawned on me one day was when one of the kids really wanted to pursue it. If anyone wants to get better at the craft, they kind of need to join a club.
"When I tried to steer this kid towards a club, I realised that it was very hard. Glasnevin was probably the closest. Then after that, it was Sutton, and then Clondalkin. It was just not accessible, especially for the kids who were living in the inner city, living in flats in inner city, a lot of people aren't driving. It's just it's just not a runner. It definitely dawned right then - why isn't there a club in the inner city?
"It's something that we've been working towards for a while. We need to be careful about how we grow the club. This year, we just started with an U14 club - boys and girls. We still have a huge academy as well below that.
"Then next year, we're looking to push on. We'll have more teams entering the leagues every year, and hopefully up to a senior club would be the will be the dream scenario."
The North east inner city has a population of approximately 20,000, and extends from Busáras in the south to Croke Park in the north, from Dorset St and O'Connell Street in the west to the edge of the East Wall.
"It's a hugely diverse area," says Macauley.
"We're in Larkin College on Champions Ave, just off Gardiner St. Gardiner St at the moment is wall-to-wall with emergency accommodation. That's pretty much all it is. A lot of our kids would be coming from emergency accommodations.
"I haven't done a background check in terms of the countries that we're representing as a club, but it would be very interesting to do that, and we must someday because there is a huge amalgamation - it's a real melting pot of cultures, which is amazing. It's a really welcoming club, what we would like to be.
"Basketball is one of those sports that really kind of thrives in urban areas but really kind of thrives with new communities that are coming into the area.
"It's very simple to kind of pick up a basketball, and throw it at a hoop. We've found that with a lot of the new communities that are arriving, it's a sport that they gravitate to.
"We see that as a real boost for us at the basketball club that we can go straight to some of the people who are newer to the area and they have a big fondness for the sport already.
"It's something that we're going to try to harness - harness them as players, harnesses them as volunteers, and really amalgamate that into the club."
Dublin's inner city has seen several anti-immigration protests in recent months.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Macauley says.
"I was working in one of the homeless hostels recently. We were inside, looking at doing a different project. There Irish families inside there, who just don't have the means to be in accommodation at the moment, and they're working 9 to 5 and still in emergency accommodation on Gardiner Street. These protestors came out - protesting outside the door - saying 'Get them out, get them out!'
"It was a huge number of Irish families in there just looking at themselves, going 'What is going on here?' These are some of the conversations that you're having inside the area.
"Sports should be free of politics. Absolutely every single human is welcome to play with the North East Inner City Trojans, and get involved in sport. We try to cater for that through our networks within the emergency accommodations, and within the different asylum seeking places. We try to spread the message as well as possible. Where possible, we try to translate flyers and information, just to really get as many people involved as possible."
Macauley believes sport can be hugely important for the integration of new communities in Irish society.
"I'm not like I'm not naive enough to think that you throw them on a basketball court and the whole crisis is fixed, and we're all going to play happy families," he says.
"It's a great way to break down barriers and make people have a conversation together. We've seen that before. We've seen that before when there was trouble in the area between South American communities and local communities over the last number of years, that was something that was put to us in terms of organising and supporting activities to try and blend the two.
"That's where we started working closely with Sports Against Racism Ireland. Off the back of that now we've developed a Football For Unity tournament, which is a tournament that we play on Sheriff Street and in two other venues across the inner city for a month.
"We have all the different asylum seekers, basically from all over Ireland, coming down to this, and we're working with local communities. There's South American teams, there's North African teams.
"I've definitely seen that firsthand, not just a one-off match where they play against each other and they're gone, it's a tournament. They get to know each other a little bit. It's over the course of a month. They kind of recognise lads, know players' names. There's integration after games. That's definitely opening up those conversations and starting the ball rolling."