Liam Mellows busy planning for the future
By Cian O'Connell
Green and white flags continue to dance in the wind all over Galway city.
Liam Mellows are relevant again, a first county title since 1970 secured, they are preparing for an AIB All Ireland Club Semi-Final against a Cuala outfit flecked with talented hurlers on Saturday.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, though, Mellows are busy planning for the future. With a rich tradition, Mellows are keen to ensure they remain a competitive force in the west.
That is why interesting and forward thinking decisions were made a half dozen years ago when Mellows opted to employ a full-time Coaching and Development Officer.
"The decision, first of all to do it, was a longer term strategy rather than an immediate need to boost numbers," Liam Mellows Chairman Brian Keville explains.
"It is about building awareness of the club, first and foremost, but it is also about giving an opportunity to as many kids as possible to hold a hurl, to go on to play hurling and Camogie. It is very much seen as an initiative to supplement and complement what Galway Coaching and Games Development are already doing.
"The idea of putting the full-time resource into the nine different schools that would have engaged in it over the last year, is that it gives us that weekly contact with the children.
"If they do decide to join Liam Mellows that is great, if they are already playing with another club that is perfectly fine too. This is about participation and if they come to play with us that is a bonus."
David Collins, Mellows joint captain, acknowledges how much the club has progressed. "We did struggle, but I think Mellows now has raised the bar quite a lot," Collins admits. "Because we brought a full-time coach into schools where we actually go around to our primary schools and coach in schools and bring kids on.
"Whether they play hurling for us or not, it doesn't matter. We just go in there and coach them, let them enjoy the game, bring the game to them.
"And then if they come to us, then well and good. If they go to Castlegar or Rahoon or Salthill, then we'll still develop the game and that's what it's all about.
"That whole community spirit is incredible. Seeing Mellows flags flying around Galway city has been brilliant."
Having that weekly interaction throughout schools in Galway is critical. Mellows are forging new connections, trying to get more youngsters hurling according to Keville.
"A big focus for us is that it allows us to develop relationships with the parents and they begin to see a little bit more of what Liam Mellows GAA club is about.
"It is very much an outreach initiative, rather than us just doing our thing in Ballyloughane we are getting into the schools and that gives us an opportunity to communicate with the parents through the children or directly with the parents themselves in terms of spreading the Liam Mellows message, trying to highlight what we would see as all the advantages for participating in GAA."
Former Tipperary hurler Timmy Hammersley previously worked in the position for Mellows with Clare native Mark O'Donnell the well regarded current incumbent.
Keville acknowledges the importance of the path taken by the Liam Mellows club to employ a person on a full-time basis. "It was," Keville replies about the decision. "It often comes back to money. With Dublin clubs my understanding is that 50% of their coaches salaries are funded by the County Board, but we pay 100% ourselves.
"The question for us wasn't can we afford to do it, the question was can we afford not to do it. We saw what was being done in Dublin, we have seen Wexford launch a similar initiative recently. It isn't that we were worried about losing kids to other sports, we were genuinely concerned about losing kids to just general inactivity.
"That is a societal thing, not a GAA versus soccer or a GAA versus rugby thing, it is a challenge for every sporting organisation, how to get people active, how to get people involved and engaged.
"We felt that we could no longer hope that kids would come our way, we needed to pro actively do something about it, to try to turn their heads in our direction and the direction of the GAA sports."
In Mellows' splendid complex in Ballyloughane offers an ideal backdrop for teams to train, but Keville stresses that there must always be a willingness to alter approach. "Every year we have done it we have learned a little bit more and we have adapted it," Keville adds.
"The nature of the role means it is always likely to be adapted. Put it this way with the knowledge we have now if we were to start it again tomorrow morning we would start it differently to how we started it six years ago.
"It is only through doing that you learn and thankfully we have learned. It is a stronger programme and initiative as a result of that learning."
Liam Mellows senior panel have contributed plenty to the development of the club. Louis Mulqueen steered them to Galway glory in December, but Keville is adamant about how the players have made an impact away from Championship action too.
"The coach would take a lead role in organising our Easter, mid-term, and summer camps," Keville remarks.
"They have become a pretty successful operation. We have used the camps as an initial way of trying to make coaching cool, essentially we would have 10 of our current senior team or panel are actively involved in coaching within the club at the moment at different age groups or levels.
"The vast, vast majority of those on the panel have done some coaching at some point whether it be in the camps or as assistant coaches to our schools coach. So it is a larger coaching conveyor belt that the full-time coaches drives and tries to get moving."
Mellows are motoring smoothly once more. Fortune has favoured the brave in Galway.