CONROY'S OUR SHEPHERD; OlD School: Conroy (Front, Second Right) Alongside Martin O'Neill, Pat John Giles et Al before Facing Brazil in 1973 Picture: SPORTSFILE Centre Stage: Conroys Stoke Base Allows Him Quick Travel North and South Picture: THE STOKE SENTINEL

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Byline: PHILIP QUINN

TERRY CONROY wasn't a wet day in his job as the FAI's welfare officer in Britain when he heard that a young Irish footballer had been struck down with a serious illness.

The name of the player, his club and exact condition are confidential but Conroy was able to alert the proper support systems to the player's illness and ensure that anything that could be done to help would be done.

By Conroy's reckoning, there are 300 Irish professional footballers currently under contract to clubs in the United Kingdom, and many former players living there too.

In the coming months, Conroy intends to personally offer his hand of friendship to as many of these players as possible, let them know that he's only a phone call away and that he can provide guidance, advice and support.

Where the case requires, Conroy, appointed jointly by the FAI and Department of Foreign Affairs, has access to professional back-up.

Based in Stoke, the former Irish international reckons he can hit the outskirts of both Aberdeen and Plymouth in four hours they are roads he intends to travel as he builds up a database of the Irish living across the water.

The job specifications of welfare officer will see Conroy develop a good relationship with the Irish community of players; offer support services for parents; monitor dropout rates, liaise with the appropriate agencies and work closely with the PFA and the education officers of clubs.

It's a wide-ranging brief but one Conroy, 62, is ready to embrace with the same enthusiasm he showed in 333 games on the wing for Stoke City, and 27 senior appearances for his country.

As chairman, since 1995, of the Retired Players' Trust Fund, Conroy is experienced in looking after ex-Irish internationals who have fallen on hard times.

'Essentially, my job is to let the Irish players know that I'm around, and am here to help if I can,' said the Dubliner.

'A lot of players sign up at 16 with stars in their eyes and when they are let go at 18 or 19, as many of them are, they can drift and may need help.

It's up to us to provide it in any way we can.

'It's not just the young ones who have been released who might have problems.

Players who are at clubs playing regularly may give the impression everything is all right, only it's not.

If they want to talk, I'm here to listen.

'Also, there are older former players, not just internationals, who might have difficulties.

I'll be there for them too.

'The problems out there are varied; gambling, drink, health, family concerns. Whatever it is, I want the players to know they can talk to me. …