Former Scotland striker Garry O’Connor has been busy helping to bring Hearts and Hibernian heroes of the past together for a match this weekend in aid of Edinburgh-based children’s mental health charity The Destiny Project.
The fund-raising Legends game will take place at Saughton on Saturday, with the 39-year-old ex-Hibs, Lokomotiv Moscow and Birmingham forward delighted to have got an array of big names on board after being invited by charity founder Andrew Stevenson to become its sporting ambassador earlier this year.
“I struggle with my mental health and I’m always keen to get involved with charity work so when Andrew got in touch, it came at a good time and was the perfect opportunity for me to get involved,” O’Connor told the PA news agency.
“We’re really trying to promote kids’ mental health, especially after the Covid pandemic. I think the kids have suffered more than adults during that period.
“It’s really just about getting the issues around mental health out there, especially among kids, because I don’t think it’s out there enough. The kids are really struggling, so we’re just trying to do as much as possible to help them because it can be hard for them to open up.
“We do school talks and hubs, and in my view mental health issues in kids is rife, particularly with underprivileged kids.
“I struggle with my mental health and it’s quite emotional when you see the kids because you can see it in their eyes. If I go into a school talk or whatever, I can spot a mile off if a kid has got mental health issues or other troubles of some kind. Those kids are always welcome to come to Destiny’s projects.”
O’Connor – who won 16 Scotland caps between 2002 and 2009 – has thrown himself into his work with Destiny and admits he has had “a manic few weeks” trying to organise this weekend’s Legends Edinburgh derby.
The Hibs team will be managed by Pat Stanton, while O’Connor, Colin Nish, Mickey Weir, Ian Murray, Derek Riordan and John Hughes will be playing.
Hearts will be managed by Donald Park, with Jose Quitongo, record appearance holder Gary Mackay, and 2012 Scottish Cup winners Ian Black and Darren Barr turning out for the Jambos.
“We came up with the plan to do a legends game to raise awareness of the mental health, disabilities and poverty that kids are having to deal with,” said O’Connor.
“As well as the legends, players from the mental health project are playing as well.
“We’re trying to revolve it around the kids as much as possible. The plan is for the BBC to film the game and do interviews with the legends and also some of the kids.
“Some of them might not be confident enough to speak on the camera but I’ll be there with them to give them a bit of support. I think we’re going to get a good attendance.”
The Destiny Project was set up by Stevenson during the Covid lockdown to try to “cover a gap in the mental health system” and help young people and their families deal with mental health and social issues.
The charity has started to gather momentum this year and has plans to lay a flowerbed at a local train station, organise camping trips, Duke of Edinburgh Award-type schemes and also to set up a football team for struggling youngsters in conjunction with O’Connor’s football academy.
O’Connor is delighted to be involved with The Destiny Group, adding: “It’s full on but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It keeps me busy which is what you need when you’ve got mental health issues. It’s a fantastic charity and it feels like a big family.”
Sunday’s Hibs v Hearts Legends match at Saughton kicks off at 1.45pm, with gates opening at 1pm. Entry is £5 for adults, while under-16s go free.