Sport Rugby

Thursday 19 September 2019

'Many are really nice blokes' - Ireland star Jacob Stockdale visits high-security prison with chaplain father

Ireland’s rugby star Jacob Stockdale. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Ireland’s rugby star Jacob Stockdale. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

James Grant

Ulster and Ireland rugby star Jacob Stockdale has revealed that he visited high-security Maghaberry Prison earlier this year with his father.

The 22-year-old went to the jail in April with dad Graham, who is a chaplain there.

Jacob Stockdale celebrates at the final whistle following the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Jacob Stockdale celebrates at the final whistle following the Guinness Series International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

He visited the lock-up, took part in a question-and-answer session about health and well-being - and faced an unexpected question over how much he can bench press.

Details of his surprise visit were reported by The Guardian, just days after the flying winger was named BBC Sport Northern Ireland Personality of the Year.

"Going into the prison was a brilliant experience," he told The Guardian.

"It's the highest security prison in Northern Ireland and I suppose it's where the worst of the worst are housed.

"But dad's work is brilliant and I was really proud to see how he changes people's lives."

When asked what he spoke to the prisoners about, he replied: "A lot was how I deal with setbacks and losses.

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"Also, how fast can I run? How much can I bench?

"There was a good array of questions."

He said that he expected the prison be a "very hostile environment".

But what he encountered was the opposite.

He explained: "Many are really nice blokes.

"They made a mistake and while they're inside they want to improve themselves."

Jacob's reputation soared after the Ulster star burst on to the international scene this year after scoring a record-breaking seven tries in the Six Nations and was named player of the tournament - leading Ireland to only a third Grand Slam in their history.

"He slid home for the only try against the All Blacks in Dublin last month to record a famous 16-9 win.

Yesterday his minister father, who played rugby in his school days and works full-time at the prison, told the Belfast Telegraph that Jacob had met more than 20 low-risk category inmates on his visit to the prison.

He said that his son had found the experience to be a positive one.

"It was a very good experience and I think his reaction to the whole thing was that these guys come across as pretty normal and it's maybe life circumstances that led to them being in prison," he said.

"Jacob actually remarked to me that he was surprised at how calm it was.

"I think maybe his expectation was (that it would be) a bit more frantic and a bit noisier.

"He felt it was a lot calmer, a lot quieter, in inverted commas, more normal than he thought."

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