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Donal Ó Fátharta developing talent in the west

By Cian O’Connell

Developing talent in the west is Donál Ó Fátharta's remit.

Through excellent underage work carried out with his progressive club, An Spidéal, Ó Fátharta has also served the Galway football cause in several different roles.

A selector when Galway claimed an All Ireland minor title in 2007, the intervening years have seen Ó Fátharta involved at some level on the inter-county stage.

Winning isn’t everything, it is about manufacturing footballers, but being competitive on the national stage is critical according to Ó Fátharta. “I think so,” Ó Fátharta replis when asked about the relevance of Galway’s recent underage record in Connacht and reaching the latter stages.

“In the last few years, and I've been involved for a long time now, it is one thing I would have said years ago when we weren't after the mid 90s,” Ó Fátharta recalls.

“You would have seen Mayo and Roscommon in Connacht, they won an All Ireland in 2006, even a couple of years before that. We weren't competing, getting to finals and semi-finals.”

Ambition had to be planted in the modern, goals could be attained. “Getting to Croke Park,” Ó Fátharta adds.

“You can use Croke Park as a tool to motivate guys. I think it is important because the longer a group stays together, I think it gets better. This now is a year and two or three months on the go, but this is an exceptional year.

 

Donal Ó Fátharta before the 2019 All Ireland minor final at Croke Park.
Donal Ó Fátharta before the 2019 All Ireland minor final at Croke Park.

 

“I've seen them get stronger over the last even six weeks. The ownership of it, because guys are prepared to put in the work themselves. The information and facilitation is there in most counties. For myself it is up to the individual, we obviously try to create an atmosphere of learning, that sort of stuff.”

Ultimately the focus is about producing players for Pádraic Joyce’s Galway senior panel. “The guys themselves then need to push on,” Ó Fátharta remarks about the emerging footballers.

“Getting to the latter stages of competitions helps. It isn't that there is one template I think to win football matches or All Irelands, but I think it does help for guys to push on into Padraic with the seniors.

“I think playing big games, having that mental strength of getting there, maybe winning them or losing them. Whatever that may be to use as motivation for themselves.”

A sense of satisfaction exists when players graduated to playing on the grand stage for the flagship Galway outfit.

“That is the plan, there is a plan; I know it might be a boring plan, but it is to give them the tools,” Ó Fátharta laughs.

“At minor level or Under 20 level we drip feed them a little bit, but we don't want them all of a sudden to be giving them everything like they are seniors. We try to drip feed them, try to introduce them to inter-county football.

“Then bring that up a notch at Under 20 level so they can push on if that is what they want.”

 

Galway Under 20 manager Donal Ó Fátharta.
Galway Under 20 manager Donal Ó Fátharta.

 

Finding the correct balance being work, education, and sport, though, matters deeply. “It is a tough gig inter-county football,” Ó Fátharta states.

“I think 20s is so important. Guys are probably leaving home, cooking, living somewhere else. They have assignments due at different times, they have different friends, different environments.

“I think it is very challenging, we have tried to incorporate that, especially at the start of the year around Christmas time before the lockdowns and pandemic.

“You have to try to let them know that they need to be able to balance your life with inter-county football if that is what you want and choose to do.

“It is challenging when you have guys doing assignments, missing training, you say fine do they assignment, football is secondary. There is plenty of time for football.”

Ultimately Ó Fátharta simply hopes for players to realise their potential. “That is the way we tried to help the lads along with their lives as well as football,” he continues.

“I think it is important. I come from a teaching background and I've seen guys change overnight. They come back after a summer and they are all of a sudden 10 feet tall. You have to incorporate that into life too, that is important.

“These guys, I won't say are putting their lives on hold, but they are putting in a serious amount of effort to get to where they are at the moment. A lot of them will hopefully push on too.”

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