A Corkman has made rapid progression through the FAI to become Coach Education Manager and Bandon native, Niall O’Regan recently spoke at length to Cork Sports News about the whole process and where he is at now on the journey.
After a multitude of injuries that frustrated his playing career, Niall focussed his attention on coaching at 21 and he now heads up a massive team delivering the different coaching programmes to all ages of those looking to enhance their football coaching education throughout the country.
“I came into the role in February 2016 and since then there has been significant changes within the FAI Coach Education and High Performance Unit.
“This is primarily down to the alignment of the Player Development Plan and all aspects of coach education within the association.
“In 2016, the focus was very much on a final assessment and coaches working towards an end exam.
“Within the new methodologies, the coach is the centre of the education process with the learner centred approach following the guidelines of the player centred approach in the player development plan.
“Since 2016, we have seen significant growth in engagement with coach education and this is primarily down to the introduction of a large number of new courses, for example, the UEFA Elite Youth A Licence, National C Licence, National D Licence, Elite Grassroots Licence, UEFA GK A Licence, FAI GK Licences from D, C and B as well as the introduction of the FUTSAL pathway.
“All of this happened over the course of 2017 and 2018 with a large volume of changes to the grassroots pathway with the removal of the former youth certificate, and kick starts to age specific courses and entry levels for coaches such as PDP1 for coaches working with 6-9 year olds, PDP2, for coaches working with 10 – 12, PDP3 Youth Intro, for coaches working with youth players and the Adult Intro for coaches working with adult amateur players.
“The progression is now based on interaction with formal education through the completion of coach education courses which are accredited with hours.
“Once a coach reaches 40 hours of formal education in the grassroots game then they can transition to the National Licence system.
“In addition to the above, there has also been significant emphasis on the importance of Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
“The department itself has changed significantly with the addition of Paul Osam (Republic of Ireland U16 Head Coach) and Jim Crawford (Republic of Ireland U18 Head Coach) as Coach Educators in 2019 as well as the addition of Tom Mohan (Republic of Ireland U19 Head Coach) in 2017/18.
“Adding coaches/ coach educators of this standard has only helped continue the development of the delivery of coach education.
“The other full-time coach educators are made up of Republic of Ireland U15 Head Coach, Jason Donohue, Republic of Ireland Senior Women’s Assistant Manager, Tom O Connor, and Republic of Ireland U17 Head Coach, Colin O Brien.
“To be able to work closely and manage this group is challenging and rewarding in itself and thankfully I have built an excellent relationship with Ruud Dokter the High Performance Director.
“In addition to the full-time educators, we also have Craig Sexton, Coach Education Coordinator, Ross Kenny, Coach Education Executive and two administration assistants in Rob Sweeney and Richard Smith.
“We also utilise the expertise of a number of experienced educators who have other primary roles such as Niall Harrison, Boys Emerging Talent National Coordinator and Development Officers around the country who deliver at UEFA, National Licence Levels and the majority of the grassroots programme with 53 development officers nationally.
“As you can see the department is quite dynamic and full of top class coaches and educators currently within our game which it brings it owns challenges but we are in a very good place because of the staff we have delivering education, said Niall.
Niall played the game but the struggle with injuries allowed him to focus on coaching and former Cork City players, Liam Murphy and Mick Conroy have played a huge part in his spiralling rise up the ladder as a coach.
“As a player I enjoyed nothing more than playing for my home club Bandon AFC.
“I started around 10 years of age and played in Bandon until youths football before moving to Cork to take part in the Liam Murphy Soccer Academy in CSN which was in its second year.
“This was a great move for me and it really gave me the love of coaching as Liam was the Cork City manager at the time and the two groups would train together where possible and this was a fabulous learning experience and was really one in which it identified no matter how much I loved the game, I didn’t have the ability to transfer that into a playing career at the highest level and my focus really turned to coaching during my second year of the course.
“I continued to play and enjoyed playing with Kilreen Celtic before moving to Caslteview under Patsy Freyne which again was another excellent learning environment.
“From there, repeated injuries and an inability to get a run of regular games through fitness and injuries woes, I took the difficult decision to focus solely on my coaching career at the age of 21.
“Similarly to my playing, I had the pleasure of working closely with some great coaches and none more so influential to me than Mick Conroy who really guided and supported me down the education path on completion of CSN, with his support, I successfully completed the UEFA B Licence in 2006 and from there I have never looked back,” commented Niall.
Niall became a manager at a young age so he got a good insight into that side of the game at just 26 years of age.
“Managing within the MSL was so rewarding for me but my first role in the adult male game was with Knockavilla in the AUL and I was only 26 at the time so they really took a chance and thankfully it was one that paid off when we sealed promotion in the AUL from Premier A to the Premier Division which was the clubs first time in the top tier of the AUL.
“From there, I had the pleasure of working with Brendan Manley in UCC for a season as 1st team coach and that was where I really got the taste for wanting to be a manager, working with Brendan was great as he really gave me so much pitch time and even in the dressing room he was so open to me speaking to the group but I knew from that point I didn’t want to be someones assistant and I wanted to lead a group.
“Jim McCarthy, chairman in Bandon approached me and we met and discussed where I wanted to go with the team and club and he backed me 100% and I imagine that must have been difficult as giving the senior role to someone so young but also someone local which is always a challenge in itself as you have those who want you to succeed and those who want you to fail.
“I spent three years with the club in this role and it was a really positive journey, promotion from division 2 to division 1, reaching a playoff with Carrigaline and Fermoy to be promoted to Premier, defeating Carrigaline 2-0 in Carrigaline, and then narrowly losing out to Fermoy 1-0 at home, who went on to beat Carrigaline and seal the playoff spot.
“This was the first real challenge as I knew we were good enough for premier but how to get the players to react but thankfully we did and we sealed promotion to the Premier Division for the clubs first time in their history.
“That was a great day and a memory that will stay with me forever.
“Both promotions were as runners up and we lost a Keane Cup Final, 1-0 Ringmahon during the tenure and that was what is most disappointing for me to not have those winners medals only wets the appetite to go back into the MSL in the future and that is certainly on the agenda as having progressed throughout the coaching badges to become one of only over 8,000 people in the world to have a UEFA Pro Licence, I really will want to put the learnings into practice and that is something I am looking to do in the near future, said O’Regan.
The professionalism of the coaching pathway in the FAI is seeing an influx of coaches of all ages coming on board to learn and Niall highlights the importance of doing it the right way.
“Really, I simplify it by using my son as the best example, he is 2 now and loves playing sports and I know that when he comes to the age of 4/5 and we start looking at him playing in team sports, I will want him going to a club that are progressive, that have coaches/volunteers/parents with the age specific qualifications to coach him because I see it not only as part of his sport education but as part of his personal development and life education as well.
“Having these qualifications, no matter what sport he decides he wants to play can only advance the development of the player and hence the development of the team, club and sport in general.
“The range of education now available is top class, there really is everything you could want and need and everything is now so tailor made to the age of the player and or the level of player you are dealing with that it is so transferable to the reality of the environment you are coaching in.
“That is the key for me, to ensure that we never provide a course, workshop or education programme that the coaches are unable to actually use and or put into practice, it has to be reality based and it has to be reality based on the individual coaches so that their specific needs are reached.
“I think the core message really is that we will never get to a one show fits all and that is not what we want, we really just want to get to a universal football language and within that, that coaches can then implement objective coaching approaches that are age specific and beneficial to their players,” said Niall.
O’Regan’s workload takes him far and wide but he encaptulates the rewards of working in the game professionally and with few opportunities in that area he is quick to acknowledge this.
“There is no day the same, but most weeks we would have one of our UEFA Licence courses and this would usually see us together as a group for a minimum three and maximum five days.
“Outside of this, there is always a large volume of meetings between coaches, clubs, leagues, staff and networking meetings, the schedule is always busy but in football we wouldn’t have it any other way because we are aware that there are limited roles within professional football and to have one is really rewarding.
“One of the most challenging aspects is the travel as I would spend time away with course groups, with UEFA Study Visits and research trips and this has been hugely rewarding to visit some world class clubs and associations, it does become challenging being away for long periods of time.
“All in all, it really is a very rewarding and challenging role and being able to help coaches at every level of the game, at every corner of the country and for Irish coaches living abroad it is really rewarding.
“Next steps really are about completing the current pathway 2017-2020, working closely with Ruud in the design of the 2019 -2024 High Performance strategy and really seeing where the role takes me,” said the hugely ambitious O’Regan.
The domestic game has always been a bone of contention and has met plenty of criticism from a wide spectrum of people but Niall believes a corner has been turned and exciting times lie ahead.
“I feel this is a very exciting time for football in Ireland.
“The introduction of the underage leagues has really developed the game at every level and I believe we will soon see this following through to the senior international teams.
“Over the past few years, we have had our U17s repeatedly qualifying for the UEFA Finals and the other international teams are competing with the top teams in Europe and I really am excited for the new campaign under Mick McCarthy as I believe we have a very good chance of qualifying and looking forward to a major tournament in 2020.
Here at home, it is great to see so many players staying to playing within the League Of Ireland and that is a credit to the clubs.
“I believe this will only continue and basing it on the recent attendances within the league this season so far it is a sign of the football people want to come out and pay to see.
“I believe we always have to look to build and improve on our structures and I know clubs are currently linking in with schools and colleges and this is hugely important as to ensure a player gets an education while pushing to play at the highest level is ensuring the players best interest are at heart.
“We do this in coach education where we provide free education to players in the men’s and women’s National Leagues to ensure that if they don’t make it as players then coaching is an alternative route to a career in the game.
“I believe the next 4-5 years is going to be a really exciting time for Irish football and I am just looking forward to being a part of it,” said Niall.
Locally, the Munster Senior League recently linked up with the FAI to inplement the Adult Intro and it paid off spectacularly with huge numbers and 60 coaches certified.
“The course was a huge success, we had over 60 coaches in attendance over the two days whom all have been certified with the Adult Intro.
“The next steps for the groups are to complete three workshops over the coming months and then move onto completing the National D Licence in August 2019.
“The programme is in cooperation with the MSL and the league have really demonstrated their commitment to the development of the game through the investment in their coaches and the continued investment planned moving forward.
“The long term aim is to introduce best practices rather than mandatories so the league and I hope to have coaches within the MSL with National D, C and UEFA B Licence by 2024. We are blessed as there is already a number of highly qualified coaches in the league and those without formal qualification have substantial experience and knowledge and really we are just looking to tap into both to ensure every team has a certified qualified coach and a very experienced coach and if over time we can see the experienced coach completing formal education then that will be a benefit also.
“The programme is one to which we hope to roll out to other adult leagues throughout the country and is really about ensuring at every level of the game our players are getting the best coaching possible,” said O’Regan.
Finally, we spoke to Niall about his hopes for the future and his opinion of where the game is at in this country.
“I think football in the country is in a really positive place.
“We are hosting the Euro 17s finals in May 2019 and again have games from the Seniors Euros in 2020 and these events will only capture the hearts of the nation.
“With the introduction of the underage leagues, it can only benefit this even further with the best players challenging themselves week in week out and ensuring that we have a platform for them to hopefully progress into the senior teams and into international football.
“I believe like anything, change is difficult especially when the change is causing an unknown but I am very confident that once the 13s season is started that football at this level will just move into another norm and we are creatures of habits and we will just adjust and continue.
“Players will always find a place to play and clubs will never have a problem on the ground in getting players to play within schoolboys and girls football as I see it around the country and closer to home, we have clubs in cork that have substantial numbers engaged, I always enjoy bringing coaches to see Carrigalines Academy on a Saturday morning, some professional clubs who wouldn’t have the numbers or the ability to deal with the sheer volume of players they have so for every team or club that struggles at some point they have to look at what is best practice, how can we do things better on the ground and what can we do to ensure players want to play for the club and stay and play for the club.
“Coaching and coach education can only help this and this is one of the key reasons why we worked with the MSL so as to improve the standards of coaching can only improve the product being offered to the players and hopefully the players will choose football over all of the other distractions available in today’s society and I think that is a key message, the world is ever changing, and getting faster with social media and less interactions with people and that really scares me, for me, you can’t beat being involved with a club, a team, representing your community and building relationships with those living closest to you, the football is the game we love but it is all that it can bring with you and I think that really needs to be the selling point of keeping our adults playing our game.
“One of the most difficult things for us is that we are a country that loves sport and in that comes the challenges between the sports and sadly at different points, one sport will dominant over the other but it does come around and I have no doubt that in the coming 10 years, I really feel it becoming an exciting time in Irish football and I look forward to seeing the game grow, develop and seeing how the game looks in 10 year’s time,” concluded Niall.
Impressive words from not only a passionate football man but a passionate sportsman, the game of football and the FAI are in good hands with Niall in the position he is in and football is only going to flourish in this country with like-minded people showing similar passion for the game.
Niall O’Regan was talking to Paul Hogan for Cork Sports News.