Co-operation Ireland’s work in building relationships has long been associated with sporting challenges, and for good reason.

Because when it comes to breaking down barriers there are few better ways at bringing people together.

From the famous Maracycle to golf classics and marathon challenges, people from north and south and across the religious divide have teamed up every year to take on physical trials together, while raising much needed cash for our reconciliation programmes.

The other benefit of sport is that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland has not only produced some of the finest athletes in the world, but also the most generous, and we are proud to include some of the island’s best known faces as long-time supporters.

Few come more revered than former Arsenal and Juventus superstar Liam Brady, who has been a stalwart supporter since the mid-eighties.

Here, Liam recalls how it was his friendship with another legend that got him involved with Co-operation North (now Co-operation Ireland) over 30 years ago.

“It would’ve been the mid-eighties when Pat Jennings asked me to come and play in a golf classic at Royal County Down in aid of Co-operation North.

“It was then I got interested in the organisation.”

Liam says he always was aware of what was going on in Northern Ireland from his time with Arsenal between 1973 and 1980 and felt sport could help.

“You have to remember that the Arsenal team in the time I played there had three lads from the north and three lads from the south - so I always had an understanding of the situation.

“Pat (Jennings), Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson from the north and David O’Leary, Frank Stapleton and myself from Dublin were all at Arsenal at the same time. I knew sport was a great way for people to get to know each other and break down barriers.”

After moving to Italy in 1980 where he played for Juventus, Sampdoria, Inter Milan and Ascoli, Liam returned to London in 1987 after signing for West Ham United.

He played on until 1990 when he was due a testimonial for his efforts in the green jersey.

“I was coming to the end of my time at West Ham and had my testimonial coming up in 1990 – Ireland vs Finland at Lansdowne Road – and I knew I wanted to do something to raise awareness of the work Co-operation North was doing.

“Derek Dougan (former Northern Ireland player) was involved with the charity at that time and he was a really inspirational kinda guy so we got him to bring down a lot of kids from east Belfast for the game and got them to meet with young people from Dublin. At that time kids from east Belfast wouldn’t’ve have been coming south and young people from Dublin weren’t going up north.

“It was our small contribution to trying to stop all the horror. We saw the best way to do that was through getting people to know one another – to find out we are no different than one another.

“That night we were able to raise money for Co-operation Ireland and drugs awareness in Dublin.”

Liam says he always tried to include the charity in future events.

“The following year we had a testimonial dinner in London and I was able to get a cheque for Co-operation North that night too. And just recently we had the 40th anniversary of cup final when Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2. We got all the players back together and raised quite a bit of money for players who aren’t doing so well but Co-operation Ireland got a cheque too.”

Now retired, Liam says he is happy to help out charities when he can. He not only works with the Arsenal Foundation, but also with The Willow Foundation, a cancer charity set up by former playing colleague Bob Wilson.

“As you get older you’re retired and not working so you like to find things to do to keep active and I’m happy to support these charities where I can.”