Challenges will always exist, so for Nigel Keady development is key. Improving relationships, facilities, and players are just some of the demanding missions needing to be accomplished.
Change will not happen instantly, but encouraging signs are available, particularly with the emergence of so many promising footballers from the locality in recent years.
Keady recently switched jobs to become the regional manager for the FAI and is thoroughly enjoying the new brief. “For the past year my role has changed from being a development officer within Galway city to leading a team of development officers across the region of Connacht,” Keady explains.
“I'm very much focussed in the grassroots area, I focus on participation and retention within the game. So trying to encourage kids to start when they are younger and then maintain it throughout their career - be it playing wise or if they get involved administration wise, coaching or refereeing.”
Keady is well placed to assess the state and health of the game in Ireland. Having worked as Galway WFC senior and Galway United U19 manager, he knows all about the potential and also pitfalls of the structure being implemented which is constantly assessed by the FAI.
“The elite structure is a title that causes some controversy too,” he replies. “It is really a high performance end, players move into that through different systems.
“Very much we would look at the grassroots side of the game, then you would have emerging talent, that bit in between. Players then move on to the high performance side which is your national leagues and then up to international football.
“For some reaching the elite for them is being retained in the game, maybe getting to play for the Galway & District League for example.
“Each player has their own elite level and people need to recognise where their level is, to see that as success. I think that is hugely important. Not everybody can get all the way through the system, that is just not possible.
“It is being looked at, how we create that pathway. People not making a national league squad or being left out, not being retained, don't see that as failure.
“Be content and happy with what you have achieved so far. If that means you go back to your grassroots club, go back with a smile and a bit of confidence. Look forward again.”
Local clubs throughout Galway are helping to nurture talent according to Keady. “The strength of our grassroots clubs aids the national league clubs,” he adds. “You see the success of young Alex Murphy, for example, signing a professional contract. There is a lot of credit due to a lot of people, including the boy himself.
“The development is very much from within. The environment around it helps create the support and development, the overall structure needs to be that they find a way to the highest level.
“Look at Anna Fahey scoring the last day for the Galway Women's side, coming from Oughterard, a major step. The pathways are there, each person takes the step in their own time.”
Currently much optimism surrounds the state of football in Galway which is in a good place according to Keady. “It is, there is a lot to do, but I don't mind adding even from the FAI's point of view we have a lot of work to do with the clubs to support them to keep developing the game,” Keady replies.
“You see the success of the GAA with their participation numbers, their level and the rewards they can offer their players. We need to provide that pathway and structure for the players in Galway.”
The Irish women’s national team are making strides, while in the west significant work is being carried out.
“The women's game is going from strength to strength, but what we do need to build on off the pitch is support for women, who want to be involved in clubs as coaches and build then through the system,” Keady says.
“I think the senior team will be the catalyst to drive participation. Hopefully they will be successful in qualification, we have had an awful lot of Galway players capped at senior international level. People in Galway should take credit for that because they have helped them to develop all of the way.
“If they can break that barrier to get a qualification the interest that would generate from a media point of view, it gets back into the girls' houses, it encourages more players to take up the game.
“Hopefully we will see that further down the line. Galway WFC have a lot of international players - the girls should look up to them. Not only are they successful on the pitch, they are very successful off the pitch too in their careers.”
Keady knows about the relevance and importance of role models - the influence they carry can be huge. “It all starts at home for me with my dad, he played himself, he was quite successful with what he did, he would have always encouraged me,” Keady recalls.
“When I started off with Corrib Rangers, I stayed there until I was maybe 17 and moved over to Galway Hibs. Jackie O'Connell took me under his wing for a couple of years, a big influence over there was Brian McGlynn off the pitch. Kevin Cassidy was a huge influence for me, he was the one that gave me the confidence to see if I could go a bit further.
“I'm the first to say I wasn't the best player in the world, but I tried to use the talents I did have. What he did with me was to recognise what they were and to make them a bit better. To push me to get to Galway United at the time - he was a real influence.
“I grew up beside Tommy Keane, five or six doors up the road from me, you had him. Every day we were on the street playing football, he comes up just takes it off us, dribbles around you, does whatever. You had them local heroes.”
Making the switch to Galway United brought pleasure and pain. “From my own personal point of view captaining the club for a couple of seasons was a major honour for me, something I wouldn't have seen coming,” Keady says.
“I'd thank the likes of Stephen Lally for that at the time, you had high points. Being involved in the premier division for a number of years, the low points were getting relegated, it hit the club hard. We had a lot of near misses, missing out on a play-off against Drogheda when we should have comfortably put the game away.
“We were two up after the first leg, but we lost three nil in the second leg, let's just say a couple of dubious decisions went against it. That impacts on the players, the club, and football in Galway. It took the club a lot years. I was there for six or seven years and had six or seven managers. So there was a lot of uncertainty all the way through.”
The bonds forged mattered more than the medals. “I made a lot of friends, you had a lot of local people too,” Keady says.
“Eric Lavine was around, he is still in touch with me. David Forde was here for years, we met a lot of good friendships. For me I played with a lot of the lads David Forde, Mixie Harty when they were younger. Then for all of us to nearly move at the same time, you had Mike Quirke and Brendan O'Connor, who grew up across the road from me too. You make great friendships all the way through - Billy Clery, Fran Carter, loads of people - they were Galway lads through and through.
“At the time we were unlucky a lot. We probably didn't do enough to get us to the next step, but it wasn't easy. The club was just going through a difficult period. Thankfully it seems to be in a better place now to keep moving forward.”
**Listen to the full interview with Nigel Keady on this week's 'Cian On Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.