As a player, coach, and administrator, Ger Ryan has viewed the game from a variety of different angles.
A key figure in Kinvara United’s underage development, Ryan is also on the Galway FA committee, implementing new ideas and initiatives, particularly at U11 level.
That is an area bringing significant optimism to Ryan, but he is also hopeful about Kinvara’s rise. “When I arrived here 20 years ago there were no children playing football in the local region,” Ryan says.
“We started it up in the early years and it has grown now quite phenomenally. The biggest thing we have done in the last couple of years is we have what we call 'The Academy' running from U6s to U10s. That is linked in with the Galway United Academy, we are very pleased to have Gary Traynor very involved in that.
“Gary is the Galway United community head coach, so Gary comes out to us for seven contact hours a week. He runs the sessions, he is the professional, when we get parents involved Gary is coaching those parents too.”
That is critical according to Ryan. “He is trying to build a model where clubs themselves can be self sustainable going forward with new coaches,” he adds.
“In a community model it is very often new parents who become coaches. It is not for everybody to go out to do all of the coaching badges that are out there. Having somebody like Gary available in the club and being here every week is monumentally big.”
In recent years Jamie Warwick and Ryan have spearheaded the development leagues at U11s, especially. Data is collected with matches organised appropriately.
“I see it as my biggest contribution to football,” Ryan responds. “I'm involved in four different organisations as regards football, but this one item is my biggest contribution. Basically we regrade every U11 and U10 team every week. When you first start off with a brand new team, nobody knows you, and you might know one or two teams you've played friendlies with.
“Generally speaking you don't know where you sit. What we do is we put teams out against each other, they have to start somewhere. They play, the coaches return the results on to a website we have developed ourselves. We take that onboard and we regrade them each round.
"The next round we put teams out against teams in and around the same level as them. After about four or five rounds the teams just start levelling off. Essentially at the end of a season the main thing - this is what it is for - we then created the U12s divisions for next year. When they are in U12s they are locked into that division for the year.”
Ryan is adamant that the benefits of the U11 system are beginning to be seen. “All that we are doing is that when we lock off those teams that we have done it as fairly as possible, that teams are going to be competitive in those divisions,” he says.
“Being competitive means you shouldn't know in advance that any one team is going to walk away with it, games should be plus or minus a couple of goals.
“As facilitators we don't mind who wins the games as long as every one feels that they are competitive and have a chance in the division. We see that as being successful.
“We have been doing this now for four years, we see other people are starting to take notice, that the U14s divisions are now more equal, that is because we did that regrading for those players back when they were U11s, three or four years ago.
Our participation numbers are growing all of the time, we are very proud of that. We think we are doing a fair number of things correctly, a big part of that is the success of the U10s and U11s. That has helped the participation numbers, but it has also helped the quality of the divisions.
“When you start at U12s you are in the right division, that means your experience as a team is going to be better. Then U13s, U14s will all look after themselves if you are in the right division.”
The Galway FA’s improving relationship with Galway United offers further cause for optimism. “One of the things that is a highlight is the increasing co-operation with Galway United,” he adds. “The pathway for the more talented players - people don't like using the word elite any more - being connected with Galway United and the coaching staff is phenomenal. It has the pathway that is required to develop those players to a very high level.”
Former Corrib Celtic youngster, Alex Murphy, splendid once again in United’s SSE Airtricity League first division win over Treaty United on Monday, is shown by Ryan as an example of what can be achieved.
“The superstar in Galway United at the moment is Alex Murphy, he has come from Corrib Celtic,” Ryan says.
“It is absolutely stunning to see him play with such confidence. I was there when he made his debut, aged 16, in Eamonn Deacy Park. The picture here is that he didn't have to leave his club to be recognised. In Kinvara we have a player, Andrew Horan, who signed for Galway United U17s, that is the message.
“You can play with your club and friends essentially. If you want to move to a bigger club you can, but if you want to stay to play with your friends you can still get recognised and get brought into the Galway United set-up. You might be lucky enough to get signed by Galway United, that pathway is there for you, regardless of what club you are playing for.”
**Listen to the full interview with Ger Ryan on this week's 'Cian on Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.