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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 20 September, 2019
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'I didn't want to go to prison without having achieved anything in my life'

Dean Fitzpatrick reflects on an incredible 12 months.

The Irish team celebrate with the Glyndwr Cup.
The Irish team celebrate with the Glyndwr Cup.
Image: Photographer: Romain Kedochim

EARLIER THIS MONTH, crowds gathered at Dublin Airport to warmly greet the returning Irish team.

They were coming home from Cardiff with silverware, after a tournament to remember.

Along the way, they beat teams of the calibre of Netherlands, Italy and Sweden.

In the second group stage, however, Thomas Morgan’s side were handed an extremely tough draw — Costa Rica, Chile and Mexico, with latter two teams ultimately featuring in the final of the competition.

Not making the quarter-finals, the Irish team instead entered the Glyndwr Cup section, which sees the teams ranked from 17-24 in the tournament competing with one another.

The Irish side excelled thereafter, hammering Norway 8-0 in the semis, before edging past Hungary 6-5 in the final.

Therefore, out of 44 teams, the Boys in Green came 17th overall, and could have finished much higher had they not been paired in such a tough group.

Dean Fitzpatrick, who scored in the win over Hungary, was a key player for the team.

“I found it amazing what it did for me in my life,” he tells The42. “It got me back confidence, it got me back recognition from people that I would have burned bridges with in the past.

“People looked at me in a negative way before, now they look at me in a positive way. It’s impacted my life and I’m back playing 11-a-side football now. It’s done a lot for me.

“For people who want to do it next year, it really does change your whole life. Even being over there alone, mixing with all these people in your life that you’d never have mixed with from different countries, having a laugh and connections with different people who I’d never have had connections with.”

Returning with a trophy to show for their efforts felt particularly special, after Fitzpatrick and his Irish team-mates had given so much for the cause.

“It was a serious climax. You’d play two matches a day most days. One day, you’d play three. Your legs were just gone [by the end of it]. I couldn’t play anymore. I just couldn’t move, especially going a man down [in the final]. Our main striker getting injured and we go a player down. It was tough in the end. We just had to try to hold on.

“All the supporters were at the airport when we came back. When we came home, there were balloons, flags and everything. That’s never happened to me, ever. I never got that welcome home.”

Fitzpatrick’s journey to reach this stage has been remarkable. This time last year, he was a drug addict without any direction or purpose to his life.

I’ve had one or two people come to me looking for a bit of guidance and help. This time last year, I was caught in the exact same situation as they are now. But now they’re looking towards me [asking] basically how to stop taking drugs. This time last year, I never would have thought that. I was the one looking for help.

“This time last year, I could have been locked up. The reason I went to treatment was because of an assault charge. I was looking at three to five years because of it. I went to treatment. A man called Jimmy Murray — he saw potential in me. He let me come down and work for him all over Christmas. He even came to court with me and gave me a character reference. He started a thing called the Irish Nautical Trust for getting people back to work that have fallen off the track somewhere along the line. If I can be an ambassador for that, I’ll give all my time back to it, because of what they’re doing for me.”

df Within the space of a year, Dean Fitzpatrick went from being a drug addict facing prison time to representing Ireland on the international stage at the Homeless World Cup.

The prospect of going to prison, Fitzpatrick admits, was the “wake-up call” he needed to turn his life around.

“The key to it was the charge. It was either go to prison for three to five years, or go to treatment and get yourself well.

“If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have got my act together to be honest with you. It was kind of a wake-up call. When someone’s like that, there’s only so much you can say to them to give them the guidance. It’s up to them to listen.

“My case was completely different to everyone else’s. I wasn’t going back to prison again. I didn’t want to go to prison without having achieved anything in my life. By the time I’m 30, I want to be high up in a job and be comfortable.”

Now 26, Fitzpatrick has always been a keen sports fan, though other issues previously meant his potential remained unfulfilled.

“I had a trial with Dublin U21s [in GAA]. I kept getting called back for the trials. I’ve always loved sports. They’ve always been a big part of my life. But you take the drugs and all that goes out the window. You let everyone down and you let yourself down.

“I got injured [around the time of the trials] — two metatarsals in my left foot were fractured. It just boiled down to the drug and alcohol abuse [afterwards].”

He adds: “I wasn’t homeless, what happened was I was in a treatment centre in Crumlin. You qualify as homeless when you’re in a treatment centre, because you basically have no home.

“But I do have a home, I live with my ma.”

Sport, Fitzpatrick explains, has been a crucial part of his rehabilitation.

“1000%. It gives you that sense of working together. And when you run and play football, you feel happy from it. I certainly do. It’s a natural high.”

Having come out the right side of a traumatic period, the Dubliner is hopeful others can take inspiration from his recovery. A willingness to be honest and open with others, he emphasises, was crucial to emerging from this perilous situation.

If you’re struggling, talk to someone. If you talk to someone, it takes half the power out of it, rather than holding onto it yourself. People use off the feelings they don’t want to go near.

“A lot of stuff happened in my life and I wasn’t comfortable with certain feelings. I just wanted to go with the flow, follow the crowd and not think.

“You’ve low self-esteem and the more you do [drugs], the lower it gets. It’s the reverse effect that the drugs have on you. You don’t get the feeling from the first time you’d done them — you’re just chasing a feeling constantly that you’re never going to get. It’s doing the same thing over and over, and looking for a different outcome.”

Yet Fitzpatrick discovered there can be a different outcome simply by seeking help. He has now represented his country on the international stage and is embracing his newfound sobriety.

“Don’t let anything set you back in life,” he adds. “Things are going to knock you back, just keep moving forward.”

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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