For a decade Gary Fitzgerald resisted the temptation that always existed to get back involved in football.
Having featured for Galway United as a teenager Fitzgerald subsequently played locally for a spell, but then opted to pack playing in at a young age.
Fitzgerald enjoyed watching his daughters' games with Corrib Rangers. Then Brendan O’Connor, a significant contributor to the United and Corrib Rangers story, had a word, and it was all that Fitzgerald needed really.
“The great Brendan O'Connor, the Galway United U19s manager, he was Corrib Rangers' manager at the time, he was the treasurer and said they needed someone,” Fitzgerald recalls.
“Even just to do it for a season, since that day I have done nothing but think about soccer again. I enjoy it so much, nearly too much.
“I am gone mad into it again, I think that is why I tried to stay away from it for so long, I knew once I was dragged back in I would be gone again. I love it, I think it is amazing.”
A few years later Fitzgerald is making an impact – managing the Galway FA’s Gaynor Cup U13 team, while also being involved with Galway WFC U17s coaching set-up. The campaign with the U17s has been thoroughly enjoyable. “We used to train three days a week - Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, I used to just love going training,” he says.
“Chatting to the lads for 15 or 20 minutes while we were setting up the session - then the girls came in.
“No matter how you felt about yourself that day, if you were wrecked, if it was really wet or really cold it didn't matter once you were on the pitch. You just got on with it, you did the session, you made sure it was the best session possible.”
The planning never stops and the schedule is packed with matches and training. A comfortable victory over Mid West in Lecarrow was a satisfactory start to the Gaynor campaign. “It has been a busy couple of months, but a good couple of months,” Fitzgerald says.
“It has been hectic, but there has been a lot of learning. You learn an awful lot, especially with the U17s. In Lecarrow with the U13s it was a smashing win, Mid West are new enough to the tournament, maybe four or five years, so they are just getting started.
“For us, we started a bit late we only had one training session so it was good to get the win. It was the girls' first game competitively - they didn't even have a friendly - so it was great for them to get a win.”
Fitzgerald is adamant about the considerable potential in the west of Ireland. The challenge, though, is to maximise the development according to Fitzgerald.
“It is tough to explain, but the work has been done beforehand - obviously Phil [Trill], Emer [Flatley], and Gay [Gabriel D’Arcy] they did a lot of work with the U17s, who won the league,” he says.
“You go back to the local clubs - Mervue, Salthill, Barna, Craughwell, Cregmore, they have all done massive work bringing players through. It is just about fine tuning them when they get to this stage. There is so much talent in Galway, in boys' football and girls' football. It is a hotbed, but we have to nurture that, to make sure that we get them at the right time for the right coaching to just develop them. That is what we need to do - we need to be developing kids and players so that they can fulfil their potential.
“We have seen it through the years - so many good players in Galway - they have never really gone any further. Now is the time that we need to put our egos out of the way, to put our heads together to say what is the best pathway for these and let us do this.
“Put a plan in place that we do get more internationals, that we do get people representing Galway Women's FC. The same with Galway United, a full Galway United team that goes out to represent the county, that it is more of a parish thing.”
It is why Fitzgerald derived such satisfaction and pride from playing for United. Football mattered to him, his heroes were local – Peter Carpenter, Ricky O’Flaherty, and Billy Clery among them.
“I never dreamt of playing for Liverpool, Man United or anybody I dreamt about playing for Galway United,” Fitzgerald replies. “That was my whole thing. My whole dream was to play for Galway United. Unfortunately I didn't play long enough, but I got in there at a young age.
“I probably thought I had made it as a Galway United player when I was there and I didn't put in as much work - even though I thought I did - when I was there. I didn't work hard enough or do the other bits that I lacked in my game which now I understand as a coach. Representing Galway was always a dream, I look at Peter Carpenter, Ricky Fla, they were Claddagh lads, they lived around the corner from me.”
A bond existed, a pathway set. “I would see them going down to the street and I would be that is Peter Carpenter, that is Ricky Fla - unbelievable players,” he continues. “Then you would see Tommy [Keane] or Chick Deacy.
“These are legends, so to pull on the same jersey as them was just a dream. Billy Clery would be walking down the street past us, you would be in awe. I was hanging around with his brother Conor, but you would be thinking that is Billy Clery, Billy is a legend.
“So to pull on the jersey was an absolute dream, to not play as much as I wished I had still eats at me to this day. I still regret not hitting what I thought was my potential, not reaching the level I should have been able to play for a couple of more years. Football is like that, it moves fast, you are in for a couple of years, then another player comes along, then they are in. That is just the way it was.”
Fitzgerald’s passion for the game in Galway endures.
**Listen to the full interview with Gary Fitzgerald on the 'Cian On Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.