Coaches matter deeply
By Cian O'Connell
What will a coach's legacy be? Liam Moggan’s talk will explore this vital question at Croke Park this weekend and it promises to be very interesting.
Moggan has worked with a plethora of codes and teams throughout his life and since retiring from Coaching Ireland in September 2017 he has remained active in sport.
Having always sought to assist managers and coaches Moggan remains intrigued by how managers and coaches seek to put across and implement their ideas.
“I suppose I'm a bit more reflective now,” Moggan says. “All through my life I was more concerned about the how of coaching than the what of coaching.
“I find that in most training of coaches and in most concentration of coaches it is what they do is the predominant concern, it is the measure by which they are judged.
“But actually all of the effective work that coaches do is how you go about it. That is really what I'm getting into.”
Previously Moggan has addressed the notion that chaos in training can be hugely beneficial for players, who are ready, willing, and able to learn.
“It is important, we are training people to think for themselves,” Moggan replies. “We are asking them and training them to think for themselves in chaotic situations.
“In many cases, coaches in order to show they know something they create situations where there is order, a structure, there is a pattern.
“It is a great starting place, but once a game starts patterns get broken. So what I'm trying to get across is that the really great coaches stick to some basic principles or rules, but then they nearly abandon them to let things come through themselves. To allow a coach think for themselves so ultimately they are allowing players think and fix things for themselves”
Enabling people to quickly arrive at solutions is critical with Moggan recalling how the fondly remembered Louth coach Paddy Clarke caught his attention.
“Paddy Clarke, he was a great football coach in Louth, he died there last November,” Moggan adds. “I met Paddy first when I was more nervous than anyone attending courses in Limerick because we who were presenting it, we were very unsure.
“Paddy taught me by his demonstration. Paddy Clarke knew himself, he was proud of the way he spoke with a Louth accent, he worked for a cement company up there, he gave examples of that.
“He used photography which was a hobby of his to illustrate what he wanted with pictures of skills. He really showed me by that and by speech later that once you know yourself and work from your own personality, a lot of the other things come naturally.
“We often go with the reverse order giving people a lot of information on sports science, strength and conditioning when their own personality is the thing you need to allow them explore.”
Moggan acknowledges the importance of a team or group believing in a coach or manager with character identified as a hugely significant trait. “I changed, I never talked about coaching style in my latter years of work, I talked about coaching personality,” Moggan reflects.
“I think coaching style or anything is really your coaching personality or character. The people we admire most, be they players or coaches, they are characters. Boyos I call them in a very productive way.
“I will be talking about people who made a big impression on me, many of them have passed away now. I'm back in Croke Park talking about their character and style, not about their results or goals scored, or points saved or whatever they did.”
The legacy aspect is something that should never be underestimated according to Moggan. “It is important because we can leave negative legacies too,” Moggan states.
“To humiliate someone, to downgrade someone or to insult someone those humiliations last forever also. The power a coach has is nearly absolute so it is important they use it properly.”
Kieran Shannon carried out a splendid and most revealing interview in the Irish Examiner in 2014 when Moggan spoke about his teaching days in Ardscoil Ris when John Shields, a teacher in St David’s Artane, offered valuable support and guidance.
Knowledge was shared. “It is rare and I think it comes in the maturation of a coach,” Moggan responds when asked about the relevance of helping others.
“I always regret I didn't put in Phil Conway, who taught over the back wall of Croke Park in Belvedere Place with Belvedere College for a long time. They were unique in that not only did they search for information, but they shared information very liberally.
“I often get around that idea, we all know the words of Elvis, the music of Elvis, but we can't sing like Elvis.
“Coaches like Phil Conway and John Shields I saw in them that they learned early it isn't what you know that is really, really important, it is how you use what you know. They were wonderful demonstrators of that phenomenon for me.”
Moggan is adamant that GAA clubs and counties can help each other flourish throughout the country. “The setting up of the parish was one of the great strengths of the GAA, but it is also one of the great weaknesses in the sense that they can put a great wall around the parish or a wall around the county,” Moggan remarks.
“I've been at lots of courses where they define someone by where they are from. Someone from Kilkenny goes to make an input into a Football Coach Education course, he is kinda laughed at for a bit to start.
“If someone from Leitrim comes to make an offer on hurling again you get the same type of thing. Their personality or their style, their own self is subsumed into where they are from totally which doesn't allow them to develop or expand.”
Leaving Coaching Ireland after a distinguished stint was a challenge, but Moggan is still active in a number of fields.
“Very, sometimes I find that work was quieter,” Moggan laughs. “Busy in a very passionate way. The people who would often get in contact with me would be looking for more answers, though I find the people who go looking for answers are the ones who have solved most ones already.
“I wouldn't go without saying that within the GAA are some of the wonderful, wonderful models of the best that coaching should have ever have. I was lucky enough to work with Eamonn Fitzmaurice in Kerry for three years, people like Paudie Butler, Noel O'Sullivan, Paudie O'Neill, a friend of mine Gerry O'Brien, who I taught with in Ardscoil Ris for years.
“They are as good in coaching as you'd get, John O'Mahony is a fella I worked with for a while, Anthony Daly too. You talk about character, personality, style, uniqueness, it is there in abundance.”
That is a diverse collection of people, who have made their mark on and off the field in various ways. “Diverse, true to themselves,” Moggan responds instantly. “Cian O'Neill is another different model of it. He has an academic background, he has a passion for football, he is very closely related to the county he is in now.
“He comes with a great range of successes in other counties, but he is different. He has all the great qualities and different ones than others. The GAA is very lucky that they have such a diverse range of highly effective people that they can pluck out and use themselves, that is only some of them.”
Always staying true to one self matters deeply, though. “That is the key, I think,” Moggan comments. “If you are assessing coach education, if you are trying to measure it people being themselves isn't easily measured.
“You want to box them into something and this boxing kills personality, it kills flair, it kills individuality. A lot of the way we train and respect people is when they are the same.
“We don't value people who think differently, yet they are the characters. Somebody who wears a hat in a place nobody wears a hat, somebody who wears green jeans, someone who does things differently.
“Someone who introduces cones when there are no cones, someone who got rid of cones when everyone was using cones. We see these as headbangers sometimes, but they are the really great ones.”
Tuam native Moggan helped plenty of them along the sporting path.
Videos of the discussions and presentations will become available on** https://learning.gaa.ie/ in the days after the conference.