New Galway United manager Shane Keegan is adamant the SSE Airtricity League future is bright in the west of Ireland.
Former Wexford Youths boss Keegan, 34, has taken charge at the Eamonn Deacy Park club and is relishing the opportunity.
“I'm really enthusiastic about it, just driving into the place, walking around here, having a look at the pitch and the development of the stand and everything, it is something to get excited about,” Keegan admits. “It is not 10 years since I was managing underage sides and Kennedy Cup sides, so this is the next step really.”
Keegan, who has held several meetings with the 2016 squad, is hopeful United can develop young players further during his stewardship.
“Everybody wants to develop their own, there is a huge buzz for supporters when they see somebody come through an academy structure to the first team to nail a regular position.
“Unfortunately at some clubs, you can go in with that intention, but the players aren’t there, but I don’t think that can be said here at the moment, considering the club has competed in a national cup final at under 19 level. Obviously young Conor [Melody] and Jesse [Devers] and Kevin [Horgan] in the goal, have all done well already. There has to be potential with the young players that are here.
“Definitely, guys like Conor Melody can get you very excited and the fact that the under 19s have done so well this year is really, really encouraging. We would have had no choice, but to focus on young players coming through at Wexford. My own development as a coach and as a manager was at underage level.
“I sat at the Aviva on Sunday watching Sean Maguire score the winner in the FAI Cup final. I worked with Sean from the age of 10 to 16, and I would like to think I played a large part in the development. There is an unbelievable buzz from seeing a young player getting better and developing, trying to do things. I'd hope that the opportunity will be there with a couple of young players this year.”
On Saturday Keegan attended Mervue United’s clash with West United in the Western Hygiene Supplies premier division and the Laois native plans to search for talent in the junior game.
“I’m coming from a background where I won a first division league title with a team that had pretty much all been playing Junior football 18 months earlier. There are some diamonds to be found at that level, some drop down, others never have stepped up."
During his stint with Wexford, Keegan earned significant praise for his attention to detail and use of statistical analysis.
“I love it and it probably comes from the fact and there is no point in shying away from it, I don't have a playing background to any national level which has led to me having a different style of management and a different approach. I can't do what my managers used to do because I didn't have managers. I'm learning the new way and there are good and bad sides to that.
“I'd be big into the performance analysis side of things, looking into statistics as much as possible. They can never be decision makers, but they can be helpful in making decisions. We would have been using GPS at Wexford to monitor the physical output of players.
“They love it, I found young players loved that feedback. Anybody worth their salt wants to improve. If you can give them some information that can help them improve, they will buy into it very quickly. Hopefully they will take to that here in Galway as well.”
Noel O’Reilly, the legendary Irish football coaching figure, who worked extensively with Brian Kerr had a ‘huge, huge influence’ on Keegan, he says.
Age no problem
“Starting my coaching badges, Noel O'Reilly, Lord have Mercy on him, would have been a huge, huge influence. Doing my Youth Certificate badge under Noel O'Reilly was when I realised this can be more than a passing interest, this can be a career. He got you so enthusiastic about player development, he would have been a huge part of things for me, he is the key man I would look at.
“Despite the bald head, I am a relatively young man with a wrinkled forehead. Age has never caused me a problem. If you treat players with respect you'll find they treat you with respect back. I see it as a plus, a younger man has a lot of energy. The other thing is football has changed immensely in the last 10, 20 or 30 years. A younger manager that can connect with players, that can understand what is going on in their lives, understands the role that social media and various things can play in their lives, and can help you build a good connection with a player.”