‘People called us knackers, scumbags – they would have told us all to ‘go back to the flats’
GAA legend Philly McMahon has paid tribute to fellow Dublin star Paddy Christie for changing the seven-time All-Ireland winner's life and that of the countless others who played with Ballymun Kickhams.
Christie is credited with reviving the north Dublin club's fortunes in recent years, having taken over their underage teams in the 1990s and bringing them on to win Under-21 and minor county titles.
After a period of not winning a Dublin championship since 1985, the northside club would go on to win their third title in 2012, thanks largely to players Paddy nurtured.
It was due to the likes of Christie, late club chairman Tom O'Donoghue and others such as intermediate manager Val Andrews, that kids in the socially-deprived north Dublin suburb were offered a chance of a life away from drugs and crime.
"People would have called us knackers, scumbags - they would have said to us 'go back to the flats'", stresses Philly on RTE documentary Passing It On: Ballymun Kickhams.
"Ballymun is a core belief, we don't shy away from it, it's what made us,
"Paddy always instilled skills into us before being teak tough. We had that. Paddy didn't have to give us that, we had that from Ballymun.
"Paddy was all about getting these kids, the energy we had, developing it and nurturing it."
Christie took over the Under 10s in 1997, having at the age of 19 been a member of the Dublin panel which won the All-Ireland in 1995 (although he did not get a medal as he had to withdraw due to a hand injury).
Many of the club's players were drawn from the infamous seven towers, which were built in the 1960s and had over 3,000 units. They were demolished some years back and replaced by low level housing. He also managed to attract youngsters from the neighbouring middle-class area of Glasnevin to bolster his teams.
Before Christie, the club's most famous player was Barney Rock - his son Dean, who also plays for Dublin, is a current member of the senior team.
"It is a no brainer that Ballymun has struggled for years by not having the right resources in the community," reflects Philly.
Ted Furnam, a mixed race player who was, on occasion, racially abused by rivals, remembers growing up in the flats.
"There would have been times where I'd go into the lift, there would be the smell of piss, you'd see needles, blood, spit on the walls, everything," he recalls. "Ballymun has the stigma of being a bad area but every area has bad parts. It was tough but I wouldn't have changed it for the world, I wouldn't have known any different, it was the area that I grew up in, the area that I love."
Club President Jim Wolfe explains that country people were primarily responsible for getting GAA games going in the area, initially through Ballymun Gaels, before Dubliners moulded it into Ballymun Kickhams and developed a ground at Poppintree Park.
"The facilities would have been none," recalls Barney Rock, of the time before they had their own clubhouse and ground. "We would have come along and togged out in our own houses and maybe went to training sessions."
When they won two Dublin titles in the 1980s they had as many as nine players on the Dublin senior squad.
Christie got involved in GAA when, as a youngster, he was thrown a hurley by then club supremo and 'local hero' Tom O'Donoghue in a local field when passing by.
Christie was the most prominent member the club had on the Dublin panel in the mid-1990s, and although he would go on to win four Leinster titles he sadly never lifted the All-Ireland.
But during his time with the Dubs he began managing the club's Under 10s and was revered by the young lads for not only being a star on the county team but he would turn up to training matches in his sports car.
Lads remember Christie bonding with the youngsters by playing snooker with them in the local hall and buying them soda and chocolate bars.
The team was also the envy of many, as Paddy would not only have them kitted out in immaculate outfits. but through fundraising and other antics he managed to get the exact same expensive coloured Puma King boots for each player.
"I realised that I had to get to the schools myself and get to these fellows early on before they started playing with anyone else," he recalls. "You want to get to them early and get to the apples from the tree rather than the apple from the barrel, it you know what I mean."
Philly admits Paddy was one of the few in the area he could look up to.
"It suited me style wise because I had a lot of aggression and anger built up because of issues I had at home with my brother John and his addiction (to drugs)," he explains. "It just suited really well, it fitted me well."
Back then there was some problems with the training ground. "You were checking for glass, dog poo and syringes, usually in that order," admits Paddy.
Christie, who went on to do a Masters and now runs the DCU team, also lashes out at those who racially abused Furnam. "Ted would have got a lot of abuse," he confesses. "Ted was a coloured gaelic footballer, which was unusual at the time and it's inappropriate just even to describe it.
"It's horrible and it's grown adults usually. Most of the time players weren't so bad, mostly it was parents.
"I would always say to Ted 'look they are only doing this because you're very good and you can take this as a compliment.'"
Ted admits it was trying. "Playing matches and being racially abused, at times I found it very hard to understand why someone would do it and I would have lost my temper at time," he confirms.
"Paddy would have helped, just reinforcing that I can rise above it.
"Always think it's not the colour of the skin, but the colour of the jersey we have on."
Passing It On: Ballymun Kickhams is on RTE1 at10.10pm Thursday.