Derry City players wear ear defenders to celebrate 'Different Together' project with Ardnashee 'Tribe'

A delighted 10 year-old Ardnashee School and College pupil Cian Healey led his Derry City heroes out onto the Brandywell pitch on Friday night to warm applause to mark the first anniversary of the club's 'Different Together' inclusion project.

The youngster, who has autism and moderate learning difficulties, punched his fist in the air in excitement as he walked out hand-in-hand with Derry goalkeeper Brian Maher with his fellow Ardnashee 'Tribe' members following suit as mascots on a special and memorable night for all those involved.

Of course Derry City won 2-0 against Galway United to keep their title dream alive but the night will be fondly remembered by the young Ardnashee pupils who posed for photographs with the City players who wore ear defenders ahead of kick-off to raise awareness of neurodiversity and challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences.

The project was introduced last year in collaboration with Ardnashee School and College, a special education school in the city when Derry captain Cameron McJannet wore ear defenders as he walked out to the pitch alongside Logan Doherty for the visit of Bohemians.

Among the mascots joining Cian one year on last Friday were Adam Morrison (18) who has Down Syndrome and Shane Mooney (18) who has autism and is non verbal.

Derry City Supporters' Liaison Officer Karen Pyne was delighted with how the night went as the Brandywell club continues to strive to ensure match nights can be enjoyed by everyone.

Karen’s five year-old daughter Eimile has autism and is a pupil at Ardnashee and a one of the school’s ‘Champion Mammies’ and communication advocates she’s over the moon with how the initiative has gone from strength to strength.

“I was asked by a member of staff from Ardnashee about a few kids being mascots and the idea really escalated from that,” she explained. “My daughter, who is five has autism and learning difficulties so as a mammy I totally understand how important it is for these kids to feel included.

“It’s amazing how something so simple to organise can mean the world to these kids,” she added.

"We as a club really want everyone to feel they understand what neurodiversity is and how we as a community/club can move this forward. We strive to ensure our club is accessible and inclusive for all, because we are all “Different Together”.”

A spokesperson for Ardnashee added: “We are so pleased to see how DCFC shares awareness of our neurodiverse community in the most respectful, inclusive and beautiful way. Thank you Derry City Football Club and mammy of one of our tiny tribe members, Karen Pyne.”

Club photographer Kevin Morrison was on hand to capture some special moments on camera and he’s kindly shared those snaps here.

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