Since joining the FAI WNL in 2013, Galway WFC have established themselves as a strong contender in the league. With the arrival of Billy Cleary as manager, they have finished 4th the last two seasons and will be aiming to move further up the table this time out.
We caught up with Billy and captain, Keara Cormican, to find out more about themselves and the team ahead of Saturday’s opening game against DLR Waves.
GOTB: Coronavirus hit right before the start of the season. How have you used the time to prepare for upcoming season?
Billy: Yeah, I suppose we were all thrown into the unknown when Covid‑19 kicked in. So basically, a lot of planning and preparation for when we got back training and what we could do to improve things because obviously we had a lot of time on our hands. So, we just put a bit more emphasis on video analysis and the players’ wellbeing as well.
Keara: Initially, we knew that we would be a good few weeks off so a lot of players, including myself, took maybe two or three weeks to completely rest because pre-season had been so hard and difficult. It was just a matter of going for walks really to make sure you were mentally ok because it was tough in that sense. And then after the two or three weeks, you just started going for jogs by yourself because obviously you couldn’t go with anyone else. It was really just running then after that and just kicking the ball against the wall yourself to keep your touch good.
GOTB: How are preparations going for the start of the season?
Billy: It’s been going really well. We have a good bunch of players. We have a core group of senior players that have been with me for the last four years. Over the last three years, we have introduced an awful lot of our under 17s and under 19s, so things are going really well.
We have played three pre-season friendlies so far against Athlone, Shelbourne and Peamount. They were good competitive games; we won two of them and we played the champions Peamount in the last game and they turned us over 4-1. It was a bit of a reality check for us, but they were only pre-season games. We wanted to involve all our squad and give everyone ample game time.
GOTB: What has it being like being back in training? Has there been many changes with health and safety?
Keara: Yeah, initially we weren’t allowed in groups of over 15, I think, so we were split up into two groups. Just even going to training, things like sanitizing your hands before training. And initially when we went back, taking throw-ins or corner kicks, we couldn’t do any of that, so it was a matter of just kicking the ball in. But it seems to be getting back to normality now, thank god.
GOTB: You finished fourth the last couple of years; what do you think you need to do now to push up that table and what are the goals this season?
Billy: The goals are 100% to get into that top three and compete with all the top teams. On our day, we can beat any team and it’s a case of whether we can string enough results together against top teams…No doubt, we have the ability to win the league. Last year, we have been competitive with all the teams and we have taken points off the top three teams which we haven’t done the previous year.
Keara: This is our fourth season with Billy and Maz [Sweeney] and they have been really laying the foundations for the last few years. It’s getting us to a certain standard but now we just need to push on. We have had a few new signings from Cork and two of the girls came back from America – they were in college there and have just come back due to COVID. I think there is an awful lot of competition in the squad now which we haven’t had for the last few years. People are really fighting for a place, so we have to train quite hard now and compete with each other. I think that’s going to push us on and hopefully give us the edge over the other teams this year.
GOTB: What do you make of the new format for the league this season?
Billy: It is what it is. We’re quite happy to be back up playing football again and our short-term goal is to get into that top four. It will be a four-month season as opposed to seven/eight so it will be short and the games will be coming thick and fast. A lot of players will get game time because of the rule changes to allow five substitutions as well. There will be mid-week games thrown in there so the strength of your squad will be a huge asset this year. I think we have a decent squad so I think it will suit us and we’re just looking forward to getting started.
Keara: Every game is of more importance and more significance now. Normally you play each team three times so, if you lose a game it’s ok, you will have another chance to pick up the points when you get to play them twice more. Every game is going to be very important to make sure you finish in the top half.
GOTB: How is Galway WFC setup? What sort of support do you get?
Billy: We’re a small club – it was only founded in 2012 and we have a very small committee of three or four people with two teams, our senior team and under 17s. We play out of Eamonn Deacy Park, which is owned by the Galway FA, and just like Galway United we would hire the facility for all our games.
All our sponsors are local businesses. Our main sponsor would be the Só Hotel Group, which would be Pat and Una McDonagh, and they have been supporters of our club from the very start. But we have numerous other sponsors who support us in a number of ways. Some help support the club and others do things to help the players – they give us vouchers for restaurants and use of their facilities to try and give a little bit back to the players. They put so much time and commitment into playing that they deserve to be remunerated for it.
It’s a win/win for both the players and the companies. Obviously, any company or sponsor wants to be associated with success. By doing these small things, you are benefiting the individual and your help will enable them to fulfil their potential.
GOTB: Keara, what is the best part of playing for Galway?
Keara: I think it’s the relationship with all the players and with the management. We’re not really a soccer team; we’re more of a family because we spend so much time together and even off the pitch as well. We actually really get on and, like I said, Billy and Maz, the management, they are unreal and always look after us, off the pitch as well as on it. It’s just the people that you meet I think. Like most of the girls are from Galway but there’s a few from Mayo, a few from Clare, and there is one from Kerry and Cork as well. It’s given me the opportunity to meet new people that you wouldn’t really meet otherwise.
GOTB: With the FAI WNL being one of the first leagues back post-lockdown, do you think there’s an opportunity to gain more news space and find new fans?
Billy: Yeah, I do. There’s huge potential in all female sport and the growth in the last few years has been huge.
I suppose it’s getting it out there and getting real faces of the game in Ireland. Any of the promotion that’s been done with the female players seems to have been with the international players who are playing abroad. But we have our own superstars within our league that need to be promoted. The promotion of the game is something that really needs to be looked at in this country to help the girls to fulfil their potential.
GOTB: Keara, how would you describe yourself as a player? What is it like being captain of this team?
Keara: That’s a tough question. I would say, determined, maybe. I try to give 100% and as captain you try and lead the team as well… This is my second season being captain, but it’s very easy to be captain of this team. There are so many leaders, so you don’t feel isolated in that sense. Everyone knows their own responsibility, and everyone is able to talk to each other and discuss different things and not feel conscious about it. Shauna Fox is vice-captain as well so she’s great a support in relation to the team as well.
GOTB: Billy, how would you sum yourself up as a coach? What attributes make you a successful coach?
Billy: I like to think I am honest, and I just do the best by the players we have in our club. I try to look after the girls to the best of my ability, both on the pitch in training sessions and also off it. I try to do anything I can to help them improve and make their lives easier. I would love to think at the end of my time at Galway that I improved the players and improved the team because I am selfish too. I am in the game and I want us to be successful and win something, but I like to think I do the best by the players in our club.
GOTB: Keara, can you tell us a little bit about your journey playing football. How did you get started?
Keara: I have two older brothers and they played soccer and football, every kind of sport when we were younger. I saw them playing so I wanted to play. I started playing with my local club in Galway at the age of five or six and then played with them up until I was 17. And then I got called in for trials with Galway and I have been playing there for the last seven years and haven’t looked back. I absolutely love it.
GOTB: Billy, what has been the highlight of your coaching career so far?
Billy: The highlight I suppose is just seeing the development of the players in the last 3 ½ years since I have been involved. I think we have definitely improved, technically and tactically and in the standard and style of play that we try and do. We try and play an attractive style of football, but we also want to have that ruthless edge about us. The highlight of the whole thing is coming across so many great individuals who really want to do well and I have made so many friends along the way. I’m a married man with two kids and I now have 21/22 daughters. They are all great girls and I am just enjoying my time.