Hampered by injury that would bring his career to a premature end, Graham Gartland gave everything as a player with Longford Town, Drogheda United and St. Johnstone; amongst others.
That same enthusiasm drives him as a coach, now heavily involved in the underage set-up at Shamrock Rovers.
Here, he talks to Brian Strahan about the transition from player to coach, the growth of the domestic game and his own philosophy on coaching.
Brian Strahan: How have you adapted over the last year to life after playing?
Graham Gartland: Yeah, it’s had its “I’d love another game moments”, but that’s my heart leading my head. Physically, I’m not able. I’m just concentrating on coaching and became a father for the first time so I feel I’m doing ok.
BS: Are you coaching full-time?
GG: Not quite, though it feels like it sometimes. I coach the Under-12s at [Shamrock] Rovers and the Under-17s elite national team, so I do six, sometimes seven days a week.
BS: It’s a lot of new things together. Fatherhood and the transition from player to coach. Before Gabriel was born you said you might have to put your college work to one side, are you still in Trinity?
GG: No, I did my year and was offered various degrees to pursue in college but I just wasn’t able to with a newborn and was a lot of pressure on my wife. Finances can dictate decisions at times too.
BS: You have spoken previously about how completely committed you were to making yourself a better player. Do you think you were over-consumed? Do you regret not studying from an earlier age?
GG: That’s a tough one, I’d done my leaving cert before leaving for the UK; I was one of the only ones in my age group. I feel I could’ve maybe done more obviously. I probably felt I had to be [completely committed] to give myself a chance to play at the highest level I could.
BS: So as coach of the Under-12s at Rovers, and equally with the Under-17s, is this something you are conscious that these young lads need to be aware of. The fallback of education?
GG: Yeah, it is indeed. I spoke to my Uncle who works with a big rugby college and saw how they juggle it. It’s vital, especially if we’re looking for them to stay at home for longer. We need to affiliate with schools and colleges the way rugby does in some ways. The problem is football isn’t as well thought of as rugby and also rugby can give Irish boys a lucrative career in Ireland. We need to aim to change mindsets.
BS: Do you ever wonder, how did Rugby grow so much domestically but football hasn’t?
GG: A lot has to do with schools. Secondary schools hire rugby coaches who train the kids before and after training four days out of five. But these are fee-paying schools. Also, the kids then go on to rugby colleges where the can lengthen a four-year degree to six years, depending on how much time rugby takes from them, they can also shorten if they have less rugby time due to injuries or that.
Football is working class so the finances and structure to replicate that just aren’t in place. A school in Tallaght isn’t hiring a full time soccer coach. And parents also don’t need to worry about rugby taking the kids away to the UK, they stay at home with them for as long as is needed.
BS: Yet football is still a more popular sport, despite the strides rugby has made. Football still appears at least to have a bigger following. Is there anything you envision that could help at least to try and grow the domestic league?
GG: People say more coverage would help, but that might stop people going to attend the games. I feel stability with clubs is massive. The product needs to improve, but it needs help and investment to achieve this. The FAI need to have a fund that helps clubs bring through young quality players that can flourish in the league and if the club sells them on, the FAI get a percentage of the fee to re-invest.
It’s been proven the lads that maybe go later on in their career tend to thrive over in the UK and become internationals. Relationships between the FAI and clubs need to be stronger and work together to help the players come through.
BS: Is the increased prize money this season a good sign or would you think it maybe should have been invested in another way, at grassroots?
GG: Teams putting up a fee just to gain a licence have to see value for money if they are successful, but I also feel they need to invest in better structures for underage football. A summer league is a must in my opinion.
BS: Do the Under-17s and Under-19s not play through the summer as it is?
GG: Yeah they do, I just feel the younger kids should play through the summer; they get cold quicker and lose interest easily too. We don’t have enough indoor astros to accommodate them.
BS: You clearly think about your coaching a bit. Badges are a requirement in coaching. But I presume like in any industry it’s ultimately up to the individual to progress themselves to a higher level?
GG: Ah yeah, it’s everything to me now as my wife will tell you. It’s like anything in life, you put the work in, the rewards will come and the best ones are seeing kids progress or to finally understand aspects of the game. Badges are good in that they give you a structure but I found keeping your own ideas and style is important.
BS: What is your own specific style of coaching? You are clearly passionate about coaching so presumably you want to progress further, but there’s a lot of smart young coaches out there.
What do you think may give you the edge or is it like a lot of things in life, sometimes you need a bit of luck to progress?
GG: I believe you have to be passionate and enthusiastic, especially when trying to inspire kids to ignite something inside them. Regarding style, I’m not sure I have one, I’m just myself. I like small details that can make big differences.
I’m not looking to do a promo here, I work hard, I coach sometimes seven days a week. My rewards come when a kid understands something they might have struggled on previously or an improvement in some kid’s beliefs in football. The luck needs to go to the players rather than me. They’re on a tougher journey than me, trust me.
Brian Strahan, Pundit Arena