From a famous footballing family in Mervue, Ann Regan (Carr ) continues to make a significant contribution to sport in the west of Ireland. This week in UL she is in charge of the Galway FA’s Gaynor Cup squad, who are eager to make an impact on the national stage.
The fact that the competition has reverted to a tournament format offers a source of optimism that some sort of normality is returning. “It is great, it must be two or three years now,” Regan says about the opportunity for emerging female footballers to perform in this type of environment again.
“They did run a competition differently last year in a league sense, but it wasn't the same atmosphere and it didn't get the same coverage. Now we are back to the full week, tournament football is very different to playing week in, week out where you need your full panel.”
With extensive experience coaching and preparing teams at every level, Regan believes that women’s football in Galway is making significant progress. “I think the game in Galway is growing massively, I think an awful lot of clubs have bought into the women's game, especially with UEFA the way they have been pushing the women's game,” she replies.
“Not even with the players, but in the way they want more women's coaches, referees, etc. Mervue have a Roots Academy on a Friday - the players coming through are technically getting better and better. There is definitely a natural ability coming through, it is getting stronger.”
That willingness to innovative is critical according to Regan, who remains eager to learn new ideas through coach education.
“I know a lot of people would say it is all a money racket, but when I was waiting to go on the UEFA C at the time, I remember I had Nigel Keady tormented saying when is the C coming to Galway?,” she recalls.
“When I got on to it at the time I had taken a group of U12s, what I learned from that changed the way I coached the game and I got the players to look at the game on the pitch. That was the same year we went on to win the Irish Cup at U12. You have got to buy in, you have got to be open minded to all of these courses - that you are learning. Every day is a learning day.
“You have to be able to learn from different coaches - not even the same sport. If you look at different coaches, the way they teach even if it is GAA or in basketball. All the different ways they coach apply. You just keep the mind open, get your learnings every day or every week it will all help.”
From an early age she watched her father, a highly regarded footballer in his playing days, prepare teams. “We had no choice,” Regan laughs. “How many was there in the house? Eight of us in the house, the father used to go off at the time.
“There was no girls allowed to play with the boys at that time. I was first in the car, he would have the rest of the team in the car in the big blue Marina - I know a few times he was close to putting me on - they were so bad he said that I would be able to go on. The game has evolved since then, now girls can play with the boys. I must have been watching him very closely, I didn't think I was going to go into coaching when I did, but obviously it was the pathway for me.”
Decades later the landscape has altered dramatically as female players and coaches can prosper. “The pathway now is way better,” Regan says.
“I recently got accepted on to the A, but in the A interview Paul Martyn and Tom O'Connor asked me where did I see myself in the game. Did I see myself staying in the women's game or in the men's game? I said I don't know yet, but I want to keep pushing on. They said to me they see and want me to stay involved in the women's game.
“The west is starting to push alongside the Dublin teams to be leading the way. There are massive opportunities now. You have club level, then the league centre level, the emerging talent, and then you try to push for your Irish assessments.
“In the meantime you are trying to gear towards playing in the League of Ireland. The quality of the players we have locally, we should be keeping them and pushing them to be involved towards that pathway. Once they are in it we have to try to keep them there, not let them move on anywhere else.”
Ultimately it is reflected in the number of clubs contributing players to representative Galway FA outfits. “We didn't look at them from what clubs they were coming in from,” Regan says.
“We just looked at them as individual players, there is a massive mix - Mervue, Salthill, Cregmore, Kiltullagh, Corrib Celtic, Barna, Knocknacarra, Colga - a massive mix. That is good for us too. If you are good enough you are good enough. If you need to be improved that is what we are here for.”
She also highlights the crucial roles being carried out by others in the management team. Gary O’Connor, who has given distinguished service to Mervue and Galway United chief among them. “When you have a team you want your staff you want the experience and you want the high level of coaching,” Regan says.
“The first person I thought of was Gary - he was delighted to jump on board. It is brilliant for the players, he has a great rapport with them. He knows his stuff inside out, he is so experienced, and we work well together. Then we got in a new goalkeeping coach - young Aaron Dillon - a great help too. He is going on now to do his badges, he was over in England for a long time, but he is back. It is great to have him.
“He is very professional. Any time we play a little game he doesn't talk to the 'keepers during the game, he takes them aside afterwards. The confidence he is showing to the players is reflecting on to them. Jarlath Hennelly has come on board, he has taken the U12s, who have gone to a national final.
“Then you have the likes of Mike Daly, who works on all of the stuff behind the scenes - massive, massive work he has taken on behind the scenes. It takes the worry off me. All these people involved are what makes it come together.”
Regan enjoys getting teams ready, but an ability to adapt is vital. “Sometimes it is not all good,” she replies. “You have to take the ups with the downs. Children go through different levels of stuff.
“Even on my last badge we did a lot about psychology, I actually said to take a survey to do it on the team. I thought I knew them inside out - the findings that came from the survey opened your eyes to the pressures they are going through day to day. In this tournament we will take a lot of the pressures off them.”
She is making sure that a respect, drive and desire for football will be passed effectively through the generations.
**Listen to the full interview with Galway FA Gaynor Cup team manager Ann Carr on this week's 'Cian on Sport' podcast available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.