Galway footballers connecting with local junior clubs
By Cian O’Connell
Forging deep and meaningful connections is critical for the long term development of Galway football.
Pádraic Joyce’s management team and panel continue to demonstrate a real willingness to engage with coaches and clubs throughout the county. It is an encouraging sign, with one initiative capturing the imagination locally.
Spearheaded by selector John Divilly, Galway GAA coaching and games manager Dennis Carr, and football committee chairperson Mícheál Geraghty, training sessions for junior clubs have been arranged and well received.
Galway GAA chairman Paul Bellew is delighted about how the scheme is unfolding. “The junior clubs coaching initiative has been a particular highlight of recent months in Galway GAA,” Bellew says.
“Huge credit to John Divilly, who has been the major driving force on this. There is a real passion and commitment to improvement, raising standards and giving back to the clubs with great support from the senior management team and players and the football committee.
“It's a really positive development and strengthens the ties between club and county and the feedback has been excellent. It's also another example of the great work going on with coaching and games in Galway.
“There is a real integrated approach taking shape across the county led by Dennis Carr and Paddy Ó Gríofa. There is a very strong appetite for coaching, for education and for improvement out there and it’s great to see it being facilitated to such a high level.”
On the Saturday morning before home Allianz Football League matches players have attended clubs with two more organised for Menlough and Ballinasloe this weekend ahead of Sunday’s Pearse Stadium encounter against Kerry.
“We are always trying to improve everything we do in football in Galway, we feel it is our duty to give something back to players, the county, and the clubs,” explains the highly regarded Divilly.
“We are developing young players all of the time in the senior squad, Pádraic has brought through so many players over the last three or four years from our time with the U20s right up to now.
“We just felt it would be nice to branch out into the clubs, to help them with something that might encourage them or promote the growth of football around the county.”
That is part of the remit with Divilly acknowledging the interest that exists, especially after reaching the 2022 All-Ireland SFC Final. “Galway, geographically is such a big county, spread from the Aran Islands all the way over to Ballinasloe, then you can go from Cleggan, Clifden, Renvyle, and Clonbur all the way down to Gort,” he adds.
“Historically there was this invisible division line between hurling and football in Galway which is not the case, obviously there is traditional pockets of football and hurling both in the south, north, east, and west, but you can see that is changing gradually.
“Now you have hurling in pockets of north east Galway which mightn't have been there before and on the flip side you have football developing in so called real hurling strongholds.
“We just think that it is good if we can promote a little bit of football - to give something back to the coaches and the mentors that are out there on the ground two or three nights a week, coaching nursery boys and girls right up to 10-12 year olds and so on.”
So going out into the different communities means emerging footballers are getting actual assistance with Kinvara, Loughrea, Na Piarsaigh, Carna-Caiseal, and Renvyle involved so far.
“Rather than us asking clubs to come into us all of the time, we thought why don't we go out to them,” Divilly says.
“It saves them a trip into Loughgeorge, Pearse Stadium or Tuam Stadium, just to give them an hour or two hours of our time, to give them a bit of coaching with whatever teams are available. That is really where we came from.
“Whenever we are playing at home, we try to do it the day before. We are working closely with Dennis Carr, he would have contacted the clubs, he told them the Galway senior footballers would like to help you, is there a team in the club that you'd like to do a bit of coaching with?
“Some might like the U17s or U15s to get a bit of a session or the juniors, the academy or a mixture. We are there from 10-12 to coach whatever is there, we will have a chat, we try to bring in two or three senior players to each club.
“They are there to take pictures, sign autographs, talk to the kids and mentors, and help out with the coaching session too.”
Eager to engage it was decided to initially focus on junior clubs. “We just wanted to start with the junior clubs, they are the ones that need the nurturing and development,” Divilly outlines.
“Their aim is to go a step further, to get to intermediate, everyone wants to eventually play senior club football, but that isn't always practical due to numbers and resources.
“In Galway, no more than a lot of counties on the western seaboard, you have a lot of amalgamations at underage, clubs that can't field just because of the way it has gone.
“There is a lot of clubs amalgamating - that is brilliant - it mightn't have happened 20 years ago because of club rivalries, and the history that you can't play with them, they are our arch enemies.
“So thankfully it has changed and clubs are amalgamating at underage and they break off to play their Junior football then.
“We just said we would go to them, to give them a little bit of our time. You have about 11 or 12 out and out junior clubs in Galway, we are trying to get to all of them.
“So far we have five covered, this weekend we will go to another three. That will make it eight, by the time April or May time comes we hope to have visited all of the 12 clubs.”
Ultimately, Divilly is delighted with how the model is being implemented. “Every player is helping out,” Divilly says. “We've had different players at each of the five clubs so far and it will be the same again at the weekend.
“We try to get two players to go to each club so there isn't pressure on any one or two players to go to all clubs. They come for a while, then they go home to relax and get ready to play a National League game the following day.”
Renvyle GAA secretary Johnny Coyne was thrilled that Galway players and some members of management delivered sessions for the club. “There was huge excitement and a huge crowd gathered to meet their heroes,” Coyne says.
“Though we may be located geographically on the periphery of the county, the desire of our players and club members for Gaelic Games is on par with any club in the country and our support for Galway football is unquestionable.
“We are thankful to Galway GAA for reaching out to smaller rural clubs and that they recognise the work that's put in to help keep the game alive.”
Offering help and connecting with clubs ensures a feel good factor exists. The possibilities sport brings shouldn’t be underestimated according to Divilly.
“We are here, us as players, mentors, and coaches with the Galway senior football squad, we are here for a moment,” he says.
“This moment will pass, whenever our time is up, our time is up and there will be future players and mentors coming along.
“We have to be cognisant of the fact that you have young boys and girls from five years up - their dream is to someday represent Galway.
“Not everyone will get that chance so even if we can just help young players to stay playing, to stay active in their local clubs, to keep playing.
“That just gives a lot of energy to a community and parishes around Galway. This is a small thing we can do to promote a healthy lifestyle and a healthy way with activities around the clubs in Galway.”
Divilly, a former Kilkerrin-Clonberne player, flourished during a glorious era for Galway football. Success at Hogan Cup level with St Jarlath’s and with gifted Galway underage outfits enabled him to eventually prosper at senior level.
A couple of decades later his passion for Gaelic Football and Galway endures. Divilly has coached the most accomplished footballers in Ireland with UCD Sigerson Cup teams and at inter-county level, but this type of work continuously carried out by junior clubs remains vital.
“The senior clubs are well on their road, we have a lot of very good senior and intermediate clubs in Galway,” Divilly remarks. “Now we can see from being on the ground, that there is so much work being done in junior clubs around Galway. If this can just encourage them to say they are doing the right thing, that they are doing really well, it is a thanks to them for promoting the game in their locality.
“We are always here if they want us, we are always available to come out. Of the five clubs we've gone to so far, we have coached some underage teams, some of the junior teams were getting ready to play league games, we have offered to come back out again to do a session, they are all delighted with that.
“We present each club with a signed Galway jersey, we feel that is important, to give them something they can hang on their dressing room wall, it might inspire one player from that club to represent Galway at some level, at U17, U20 or eventually senior.”
Loughrea football club chairperson Sinéad Kelly, daughter of Tommy, who gave distinguished service to Galway throughout the decades, also highlighted the value of the visit.
“It was a very informative session which we found to be beneficial,” she reflected. “The signed Galway Jersey was a lovely touch.”
At the end of 2022 the Galway players and management worked closely with the coaching and games department in the county, illustrating what can be achieved. “We started a few coaching workshops before Christmas - one on defence, one on attack, and one on goalkeeping,” Divilly says. “They went down really well. We opened it up to all club coaches in Galway, who came into Loughgeorge.
“There was maybe 100 coaches at a time. Again some of the players came in - Seán Kelly has been excellent, he is working for the County Board as a coach - Seán, John Daly, Cillian McDaid, Paul Conroy, Robbie Finnerty, Dessie Conneely - all of them lads came in to the workshops before Christmas on Saturdays, they met the mentors and gave up their time voluntarily for it.
“I'm sure something is happening in every county around Ireland in some capacity or form, that they are helping with academies and nurseries.
“We just felt let us focus on giving all of the junior clubs something substantial to grab hold of, to create that goodwill feeling around the club for that two hours, it has been really good so far.” Undoubtedly, it is proving to be time well spent.