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‘Move the Ball’ – Another chapter in the development of coaching at grassroots level in Ireland

Mon, Apr 11 2022
Liam Scales: 'It never felt like work, though, because we were having too much fun'

Liam Scales: 'It never felt like work, though, because we were having too much fun' Credit: Ben Whitley (ETPhotos)

The air of optimism that now exits in Irish football is a phenomenon that has been felt by those closely involved in the game, players, managers, fans and media pundits alike.

The stability that has descended upon the administrative element of Irish football at the FAI HQ in Abbottstown has finally allowed the focus switch from the boardroom back on to the playing pitches.

The contributors to this air of optimism include the upward trajectory of the senior international team under Stephen Kenny’s stewardship, the improved standards and increased attendances at League of Ireland level, the emergence of pathways other than the traditional route to England for some of our more promising underage players, as well as the flourishing schoolboy / schoolgirl football scene in all corners of the country.

The seeds for some of these successes are often sown well before they are seen to sprout, and many of these successes originate at grassroot levels where the FAI’s Regional Development Officers operating alongside FAI qualified coaches at club level do the groundwork.

One of the FAI coaches who has operated at all levels of Irish football and who is currently focused solely on the game at grassroots level is Larry Mahony.

Mahony has worn many hats throughout his career, going from youth international player to club coach at League of Ireland level and later FAI Coach Instructor, to his most recent role as an author of coaching manuals.

After the success of his first publication, ‘Let the Players Play’ published in May 2021, Mohony  has now just completed another grassroots coaching book, entitled ‘Move the Ball’.

Move the ball

Speaking to the extratime.com, he explained the main objectives of this latest book, saying “This is a guide for grassroots coaches to teaching young players how to keep possession in the rondos they’ll use alongside the small-sided games of ‘Let the Players Play’.

"It’s not about developing technique; its focus is on the players’ decision making. It deals with how to play the game – when and where to pass the ball and when and where to move to help your team-mates. You could say that it’s basic tactical training for young players.”

Developing his theme of age-appropriate coaching at grassroots level, as opposed to the winning matches at all costs approach, Mahony went on to say “There are lots of coaching points included, but these are presented in a very deliberate, joined-up way, so that it’s easier for the coach to understand the progression and get the relevant information across to the players.

“These points are ‘shared out’ among the practices, so that players are never swamped with too much information, and they’re given time to learn. When and where to pass? Control or play first-time? Which way to position the feet? Most importantly, it shows coaches how to ask appropriate questions, to guide the players towards finding answers themselves. Its ultimate aim is to give the players the ability to effectively make these decisions for themselves.”

He has seen how proper coaching of underage players can help them develop their potential and allow them progress onto successful careers at professional level.

One of his protégés was Roy Keane who was on the FAI initiated FÁS Coaching Course which operated in Mill Lane, Palmerstown back in 1989. He was an instructor on that course and he got an early glimpse of the talent which allowed Keane to become one of the greatest players ever to represent the country.

Liam Scales

One of his more recent success stories is that of ex-UCD and Shamrock Rovers player Liam Scales who is now wearing the number five shirt at Glasgow Celtic.

Scales was one of many players who benefited from Mahony’s coaching while he was involved with Arklow Town FC in Co. Wicklow as an underage player.

Scales played with the schoolboy club up to 17 years of age and he felt privileged to spend time under the tutelage of such an experienced coach.

extratime.com spoke with Scales in Glasgow about his time with Arklow Town and he said  “Larry was my first coach at Arklow Town FC. From the ages of eight to thirteen, he taught me the basics of the game. My team-mates and I spent many training nights playing the games included in the books, as we worked on learning to play together as a team.”

Scales also recalls the atmosphere at these coaching sessions, adding “It never felt like work, though, because we were having too much fun. As I read through the books, I can hear his voice again, pushing, challenging, encouraging, and making all the lads laugh with his unique way of getting his point across. I can see, now, how the guidance he gave me then still helps me as a professional player.”

Mahony’s first book ‘Let the Players Play’ was written during the early days of the restrictions imposed on our lives by the Covid-19 pandemic and he has categorised this book as his ‘Lockdown Project’.

He has spent some time in early 2022 recuperating after some medical attention and he now jokingly refers to his more recent publication as his ‘Lie Down Project’.

Both books are available to coaches at grassroot levels, both here in Ireland and abroad, at www.bigpicturecoachingireland.com.

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