St Patrick's Athletic captain Ian Bermingham.
school days over

Bermo in Ballyer: A morning with the St Pat's captain back at his old primary school

In a week when the Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, can so casually discuss the potential collapse of the League of Ireland, this is a timely reminder of the good being done by clubs in communities.

THERE IS A half-eaten chocolate Santa lying prone on one of the three banks of desks in Mr McConigley’s classroom at Mary Queen of Angels Primary School in Ballyfermot.

Just one reason why there is plenty of excitement among his Fourth Class pupils.

Christmas is coming, but Mr McConigley has still managed to get them to maintain concentration for a parting gift before they break for two weeks.

It’s 10.45am when there is a knock on the classroom door. The kids, most of whom are 10-years-old, know what to expect.

Since September 2018, St Patrick’s Athletic’s community officer David Morrissey and the club’s U19 coach Niall Cully have been here every Thursday during term-time.

“The effort the club have been going to is great. They’re making St Pat’s a part of the community around here,” Mr McConigley, a Finn Harps supporter originally from Donegal but who has been teaching in Ballyfermot for the last five years, explains.

“Every Thursday morning you see the excitement with the kids. They’re always asking if they’re still coming in, what time they’re coming in, when they’re coming in.”

Morrissey and Cully help deliver the club’s “Saints and Scholars” programme, which sees primary schools in Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Drimnagh and Bluebell get St Pat’s-themed work books that tie in football and sport with maths.

There is a business programme for secondary schools in the same areas while in St John of God’s in nearby Islandbridge, not far from the club’s home ground Richmond Park, they continue their work with disability inclusion every Friday.

It’s all extremely rewarding but when you go there, straight away they were felt part of it,” Morrissey says of St John of God’s. “With the kids it can take a few weeks before they buy into it but there they were pointing to the Pat’s crest on my top and because they had the same crest on theirs they would smile and say: ‘We’re the same’. That is what it’s all about.”

In a week when the Minister for Sport, Shane Ross, can so casually discuss the potential collapse of the League of Ireland, this is a timely reminder of the good being done by clubs in communities.

Of how, in the depths of December when only the Christmas lights can brighten up these dank mornings and a ball hasn’t been kicked in anger for two months, and the 2020 season is another two months away, clubs like St Pat’s are still making a difference.

Today is for the kids of Ballyfermot, and they have two of their own, both past pupils of Mary Queen of Angels, here for a visit.

image1 Ian Bermingham is quizzed by two of the Fourth Class pupils in his old primary school in Ballyfermot, Mary Queen of Angels

Ian Bermingham is 30 years old and club captain, a loyal servant with over 300 appearances during the course of the last decade.

Kian Corbally is just 15 – “he’s only just left this class,” Bermingham laughs – and Mr McConigley was his teacher. “I used to sit there in the back corner just to be as far away as possible,” Corbally says with a smile.

He became the club’s youngest ever scorer – on record – in a competitive first-team game when he found the net against Sheriff YC in the Leinster Senior Cup last season.

“He was a good kid,” Mr McConigley adds. “I would say chirpy, not cheeky.”

There is certainly a mix of the two here and it is  ‘Bermo’, the boy who grew up a two-minute walk from the school, who faces two inquisitors at the top of the class who have come armed with questions.

“Who did you play for growing up?”

“I started with Ballyfermot United and…”

Before he can finish there are excited responses.

“Me too!”

“So do I!”

“What advice would you have for us?”

“Keep playing with your friends and enjoy yourselves. Work hard after that and keep working hard because if you believe it, you can try it and then achieve it.”

“Who is the best player you’ve played with and against?”

“With, I would have to say Chris Forrester. He is brilliant, very clever.”

“And who is the best you played against?”

“That’s an easy one. Cristiano Ronaldo. I was with Shamrock Rovers and he was with Real Madrid.”

This answer seems to stun the room.

“Really?! Ronaldo?!” comes one voice from the back.

“Yeah, I knew that. I knew you played Ronaldo,” replies another.

“Ronaldo is deadly. That’s deadly. Ronaldo!”

The kid who asked the question goes back to his seat and nudges his friend. 

“Ronaldo! Did you hear that? He played against Ronaldo.”

cristiano-ronaldo-and-ian-bermingham Bermingham in action against Ronaldo on his Real Madrid debut in 2009. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Questions are then opened to the floor.

“Do you know my ma, Bermo?”

Before he has a chance to reply the follow up comes.

“She said you love Celine Dion.”

“Ah yeah, I love Celine Dion.”

“Did you ever get any bad injuries?

“What do you eat before games?”

“Have you ever been sent off?”

“Have you ever had a good hairstyle while playing and then messed it up?”

“I don’t really worry about that?”

“Why not? Have you never looked in the mirror?”

Everyone laughs, and now it’s time to go outside to the tarmac yard to play six-a-side. On the way down, the school choir is preparing for their Christmas carol show for the parents and one boy – Santa hat an’ all – makes sure to inform him of his League of Ireland allegiances.

“Alright Bermo! 


“Pat’s are brutal! Come on the Bohs!”

image2 Bermingham with the Fourth Class pupils from his old school in Ballyfermot.

After entertaining the kids on the tarmac, Bermingham retreats to a room for a bit of peace. Memories line the walls of the hall. One photograph in particular stands out, a team picture of the U11 side which won the Chumann na nGael title at Croke Park in 2000.

His brother Thomas and cousin Karl were teammates and he smiles as he runs his finger along the different faces.

Even the toilet brings back memories. “There used to be a boxing ring in there. St Matthew’s, the boxing club, had it in the toilet. We never used it but it makes you think, Luke Keeler is from here, he was in that club, and he’s fighting for a world title in Miami next week. Something like that is great for these kids. That should be an inspiration for them.”

Bermingham is Ballyfermot through and through. He grew up on Rossmore Avenue and bought a house around the corner in Lough Conn. He might not be a one-club man – spells with UCD and Rovers preceded signing for Pat’s in 2010 – but he will always be associated with the Saints.

It’s something his dad, Tommy, has bought into and when his son played against Legia Warsaw in a Champions League qualifier in 2014 he made sure to

He works on the lorries so can be anywhere on the continent. I knew he had made it to Poland for the game, god knows where from, and after the game the lads were all showing me a picture of this fella with his top off and his arms outstretched celebrating. It was my dad!”

“Stuff like that will always stay with you and that’s why coming in here to talk to the kids and play with them outside, it’s important because it’s good to see them have that connection.

“You saw there when I mentioned Ronaldo. They couldn’t believe it. I live around here and they all see me around. They know I went to this school so for the kids to be able to see someone like me, it can really make them believe that anything is possible for them.

“If they can look at me playing football, seeing me play on RTÉ, you hope kids will think ‘Yeah, I can do that, that can be me too’. It’s like what I said earlier, ‘See it, believe, achieve it’. Luke [Keeler] is another example, he lives just up the road and they always see him.

“People give Ballyfermot a bad name, but I’ll tell you now that there are so many different people from here who are in different professions and are successful in their lives. Ballyfermot has loads of talented people, the kids here shouldn’t be forgotten about because Ballyer is maybe somewhere that can be forgotten about by other people.

People from Ballyer are proud of where they’re from. The talent is there and if kids can see that and be inspired that’s what you’re hoping for. If they can have belief in themselves, instead of just growing up and going through the motions, that will be great.”

Bermingham needed a bit of help to practice what he preaches when it came to returning to education in 2016. His partner, Leah, encouraged him to go back to college to study for a degree.

“But I was nervous, I’ll be honest. I’ve only played football and worked as a footballer since leaving school.

“So I got a business diploma in Dublin Business School first and then applied for the degree in Business Studies. I’m halfway through that now and Leah really pushed me to believe I could do it.

“That will help for whenever I do finish up playing. I’d like to think I still have a few years ahead of me with Pat’s because we’ve been successful. We’ve also had years recently when we were irrelevant really so the time is now where we have to get back and challenge to win things.”

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