BANDON native Niall O’Regan is the FAI’s Head of Coach Education and has been increasingly busy despite the current lockdown.
Now residing in Douglas with wife Stacey and young sons Jack and Joshua, O’Regan’s advancement up the FAI coaching qualification ladder required a massive personal commitment.
The 38-year-old is proof positive that anyone can achieve their goals by utilising the FAI’s coaching pathway. From humble beginnings, O’Regan is now Head of the FAI’s Coach Education and working directly with High Performance Director Ruud Dokter on the creation of a High Performance Strategy.
O’Regan’s message to any aspiring coach is simple and he encourages anyone interested to get involved.
‘The first thing anyone interested in coaching should do is to connect with myself or the FAI,’ O’Regan explains.
‘You can go from the bottom rung to the very top or to whatever level you are comfortable coaching at. I have managed to do that and have built a career in football. I began 20 years ago with an introductory one-day course, and following a lot of hard work, am now a pro license holder.
‘It does take time and a little bit longer if you have no previous experience. You can still work your way through it. I look at people like Jim McGuinness who transitioned from GAA into our sport and he’s currently on our pro license course.
‘Yes, there are professional coaching careers out of it but anyone who doesn’t want to or get to the very top, there are very good qualifications each step of the way.
‘I always tell people that the FAI approach will give you a structure, an understanding of the game and different perception of it. What coach education does more than anything else is give you a process for planning out your training sessions.’
O’Regan’s work practices have changed dramatically due to Covid-19. Family comes first and there have been benefits to working from home whilst helping increase the FAI’s on-line coaching presence.
‘The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge effect on how I work,’ O’Regan says.
‘I have gone from jumping between airports to not leaving the country and working from home like everyone else. I remember when my four-year-old son Jack was born, I probably only saw him for three months of that period. My second son, Joshua, was born in January of this year and I have seen him every day.
‘Coming out of all of this, everyone will have a better work-life balance because it reminds you of your priorities. Family always comes first even though, at times, your job dictates you have to be away from your loved ones. That’s especially true in football. I would previously have visited different countries at been to various clubs’ training grounds on behalf of the FAI, so it has been a huge shock to the system.
‘Everyone wants to get back on the pitch and it is difficult for your mind-set, as a coach, to come around to not being able to deliver or watch training sessions. Every coach is like that. We want to get back to that freedom of being outside and making a difference. That is what it is all about. It is why people get involved in football in the first place.’
No on-field activity is permitted during the current lockdown but that hasn’t deterred the FAI from delivering UEFA qualified courses to a growing on-line audience.
Coaches of all abilities and qualifications are working from home and unable to get out on a training pitch. Yet huge numbers in Ireland and across the globe have taken advantage of the FAI’s increased online resources and continued their UEFA coaching pathway.
‘The FAI has had a long-term strategy to moving towards an on-line learning management system and platform,’ O’Regan says. ‘That was originally due to be designed and developed by 2022 but we are now launching that platform to the general public in April of this year. We have been extremely busy working on that and piloting it behind the scenes during the first six months of Covid.
‘We have been developing content and adapting the course materials to an on-line platform and releasing that information through webinars. In time, a new accompanying podcast will also be launched.’
For all the recent technological advancements, O’Regan admits that nothing beats being out on a pitch conducting a training session. O’Regan, like every other coach, is longing for the day he can put his newfound knowledge into practice.
Despite restrictions, there has been a huge uptake in the number of people wishing to improve themselves as coaches and achieve UEFA accreditation via the FAI’s resources.
‘The UEFA Pro Licence group finished in June of last year but we haven’t had the chance to graduate them just yet,’ the FAI’s Head of Coach Education said.
‘We wanted to give the graduates their certification and did that online. The likes of Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Andy Reid, Paddy McCarthy and Keith Andrews all graduated. In terms of Cork connections, John Andrews is a coach working in Iceland, Dave Rodgers is based in the US. Those lads’ group also graduated and were the sixth of our pro license groups to receive their certifications.
‘In all, the FAI now has 96 UEFA Pro Licensed coaches. As of January of this year there are just over 9,000 PRO Licensed coaches in the world so it just shows how small and elite a group that is.
‘Equally important, at grassroots level, we had over 1,000 coaches complete an introductory PDP 1 online course last December. On an annual basis, the FAI now has close to 15,000 coaches completing formal courses with us. 4,000 of those are free courses so it is not just about generating an income.’
- Niall O’Regan can be contacted at [email protected]