Many valuable lessons have been learned during a demanding spell across the world. The value of sport simply goes beyond the action between the white chalk lines: it is about communities, friendships, making connections, and social interaction.
Emer Flatley, recently installed as football development officer in a position funded by the FAI and the Galway City Council, is completely aware of the need to implement various initiatives when restrictions are eased.
“The City Council has a huge backing and pushing for these programmes to happen,” the former Galway WFC U17 manager says. “It isn't just with clubs. It is more about participation in the community alongside different age groups.
“Things like walking football, late night leagues. What will be important is for me to be able to continue to work with the Galway City Council to create more programmes across the city, to help promote participation amongst all age groups, backgrounds, abilities.”
Some councillors have recently called for night time leagues to be delivered in an effort to curb antisocial behaviour.
“It is so important to have them in communities,” Flatley responds. “It is something that obviously will happen, but unfortunately Covid has put a stop to a lot of things. Hopefully with the progress of vaccinations then all of these programmes can be highlighted and implemented within communities. It is very important that the youth have an avenue on their evenings or weekends to pursue football, activity or anything involving sport.”
Wide ranging role
The new role is wide ranging with Nigel Keady, now operating as regional manager for the FAI, offering plenty of guidance and assistance.
Coach education continues to increase in relevance with people eager to be upskilled and it will be a critical area in Flatley’s role.
“I will be involved in coach education which I'm really excited about,” she replies. “My background as a teacher will provide that bit of confidence to be able to promote and put on these coaching education programmes.
“It is something I have gone through myself so I'm very familiar with the process behind everything and the different PDP 1, PDP 2, and the progression on the pathway. That is another aspect I really can't wait to get started with. Having a background in teaching really goes hand in hand with the coach education part.
“I think you have a lot of people in clubs, who are volunteers, who have kids in the club, they themselves want to progress and to know different aspects - warm ups, skills. It is important that they want to feel confident when they are delivering their own sessions.
“It is nice that there is an opportunity for everyone to get on the pathway, to progress as far as they want whether that is up to UEFA B, UEFA A or further or whether it is to have PDP 1, PDP 2 - to be able to engage with their relevant age group that they are working with in the club.”
Every code faces challenges retaining players, particularly from their early teenage years. It is an area of particular interest for Flatley.
“My remit in this role alongside the Galway City Council is to develop these programmes for everyone,” she states.
“It is great that you have elite players all over the country, but how can we retain kids from six to 16, 17, 18 through participation. With what I'm doing and what I will hopefully be able to do when we can get out to clubs for both boys and girls, but specifically with girls because the ratio is a massive difference.
“There is a huge drop off between the 13-16 age group. It will be incredibly important to put on programmes and sessions that can highlight, encourage, and create opportunities for those players to stay involved, who may not want to go to an elite level, to understand there are opportunities at a recreational level to continue playing, to continue to stay fit, developing relationships with their friends and to have fun.
“That will be a huge part of this, to encourage kids, boys and girls, that football is for everyone. It doesn't mean you have to go to be a senior international player, it could mean that you retain a love for the game from 13, 14,15, 16, 17, 18, 19, and beyond to college.
“It is just about trying to promote, to encourage players to participate as much as possible. It is for everybody, players of every ability. It doesn't just have to be elite football for everybody.
“That is what I will be hopefully doing, creating more opportunities for young kids, girls and boys, to continue playing football throughout their lives.”
The impact of the USA
Flatley’s own playing and coaching journey has been an adventure too. Having featured in successful Dominican College and Salthill Devon teams, an invitation to go to university in Pennsylvania was accepted.
"I did a year in UL, after that I had the opportunity to go over to play in university,” she recalls. “So I said absolutely, I was 18 at the time and I would take the chance. I went over not really knowing the university or area, but it was the best four years of my life soccer wise and life in general.
“The culture, the people, the opportunities. It was a totally different road than I thought I would take, the years I spent out there were second to none. Even just seeing women's football. The US national team all over the telly, games filled to capacity, those experiences I had out there through playing and experiencing the seriousness, the professionalism. It was unbelievable, it was an easy choice for me when I left Ireland to go there.
“I loved it so much and I was lucky because I was a US citizen, I was born there. That allowed me to stay for the following four or five years getting involved with different clubs and a Division One University.”
The manner in which sport mattered so deeply in the States had an impact on her. “It was a massive eye opener, the professionalism, it was seven days a week,” she adds.
“Gear is given to you, training two hours a day, the professionalism, the opportunities, the strength and conditioning programmes, nutrition, weight rooms, everything you could possibly want as a footballer was at your doorstep.
“For me it was a no brainer to get involved. Then I came home four years ago and the game has moved on massively since I was in Ireland playing at U12 to U18.
“Just looking at the Women's National League this year the amount of marketing and advertisement online is unbelievable. I wish I played when all of this was happening.”
29 September 2019; Kayla Brady of Galway WFC celebrates with manager Phil Trill, right, and assistant Emer flatley following their side's victory at U17 Women's National League Cup Final match between Galway WFC and Peamount United.
Flatley, though, has been a key figure in the progression of female talent in the west. Several exciting and emerging footballers worked under Flatley, who is optimistic about Galway WFC’s considerable potential.
“They are incredible players, who started with our Under 17s team,” she reflects. “It is nice when you see Kate Slevin, Therese Kinnevey, and Shauna Brennan stepping into the senior team.
“They are crucial players, two of them have been in the senior team for more than a year, Kate is in her first full season this year. You can see the ability they have that they will hopefully be there for a long time.”
Such passion for helping others improve is vital according to Flatley, who remains hugely respectful of those who take charge of teams.
“Once I finished playing there was an option to step into coaching and the experiences I had and the coaches I had throughout my youth career it enticed me into maybe giving back a bit to the future youth, whether that was in America or Ireland, establishing myself as somebody who could make a bit of a difference through coaching as a female coach,” she says.
“Every coach I had nearly was male until I went to America. Then when I came back to Ireland I thought about what I could do as a female, who is experienced in coaching to help develop the game, to help provide those opportunities for young girls to see that you can be involved in this game at various levels, whether playing, coaching or refereeing.” A rewarding journey continues.