D ECEMBER 31, 2011. While most of us are ringing in the New Year and making wishes for the 12 months ahead, Joseph Daly, fed up of an endless cycle of crime and heroin addiction that has driven him beyond the point of depression, has just one resolution – to end it all.
Having flippantly stolen some electronic goods from Asda earlier in the day, Joseph returns home and takes a large amount of Valium, hoping to ease the anxiety that cripples him.
Desperate to take away the pain and despair that comes from being hooked on drugs from the age of 15, he attempts to take his own life.
Nearly six years on from this shocking turn of events, Joseph is alive.
Now 27, he can be found cleaning out a ruck and dripping with sweat as he urges his team-mates on.
The previous weekend he had completed a 105-mile bike ride and now he pushes every sinew of his body, seemingly buoyed by the camaraderie of being in a team – a camaraderie he has never known before.
In three weeks, Joseph, along with his new-found friends, will take to the field for a rugby match. For some, it will be their first.
But for all of them, having come from a place of darkness few of us will thankfully ever know, rugby has been the road to redemption.
This second chance has been afforded by the School of Hard Knocks – a charity which uses rugby as a way of tackling the issues surrounding unemployment, crime and health.
Having been the subject of a Sky series featuring Scott Quinnell and Will Greenwood, it works with individuals to help them take responsibility and take positive steps forward in their lives.
The class of ’17 has seen 20 lads from South Wales – all with varying backgrounds and rugby experience – come together with training on and off the field.
The programme will culminate with a jobs fair in the Principality Stadium on September 13 before a match against Caerlau Ely RFC two days later.
While Quinnell, Greenwood and the Sky Sports cameras are absent this time around, there is one Hard Knocks “veteran” who can offer this year’s class some wisdom.
Course facilitator Liam Mackay, 27, found himself unemployed back in 2015, when the charity gave him a second chance as he spent eight weeks with them – landing a job with Arriva Trains Wales when he finished.
“Then School of Hard Knocks started an office in Wales and they took me on full time,” he explains. “Now I’m running the course back on my home patch in Ely.
“I know everything we do works so it’s
just getting across to the boys that if you stick at it, we can get you some employment at the end of the eight weeks.”
Liam is proof that this course can be a shot at redemption, working on the mantra adopted by distinguished American talkshow host Oprah Winfrey: “If you are still breathing, you have a second chance”.
While he has likely never heard of her, let alone this obscure quote, nobody has pushed that ideal towards becoming a reality more than Joseph – a man who has been arrested more than 100 times in his lifetime.
His New Year’s Eve suicide attempt was ultimately unsuccessful.
“That was the first time I tried hanging myself, but it wasn’t the last,” The 27-year-old describes candidly, his eloquent manner at odds with the stereotypical cliches of a heroin addict.
“I’ve tried drug overdoses on purpose, injecting so I don’t wake up – yet I’d always wake up.
“To this day, I don’t know what kept bringing me back but look at me now.”
Indeed, there is a sense of pride in
Joseph Daly, right, with his father Robert