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Soccer stars learn their trade

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TEAM WORK Pictured at the FAI-ETB Player Development Course in Castlebar were Mickey Feeney (left) and Raffael Cretaro. The pull-up features Irish-international. Daryl Horgan, (currently with Wycombe Wanderers,) who is a past-pupil of the course. Pics: John Corless

Feature
John Corless

THE first thing that The Mayo News noticed when we visited Solar 21 Park, Milebush last week — to see what was happening on the FAI Player Development/Sports, Recreation and Exercise course that runs there — was the smile on everyone’s faces.
From Tom Jennings, who looks after the ground’s maintenance crew, who welcomed this reporter and directed me to the training area, to the tutors and the lads on the course.
Everyone was smiling.  
Participation in the course is equivalent to the full-time training undertaken by professional footballers, and, as well as the fitness that brings, it is facilitated by two top coaches.
It’s a wonder more Mayo League clubs don’t promote this course to their players. Or promote it more.
It’s a fantastic facility and opportunity, and, from what we could see, contributes greatly to the development of the participating players, and, as a result, is hugely beneficial to the clubs they play for.
Mickey Feeney, the former Sligo Rovers player and manager, (and more recently, the Westport United manager) leads the course. Mickey has spent a lifetime in the game.
He is assisted by Rafael Cretaro, who spent 21 years playing at the top level of the League of Ireland with Sligo, Finn Harps, Galway United and Bohemians, and a year coaching with Derry City. The year-long course, which runs annually, is a fantastic opportunity for young players to learn from such qualified coaches, and to train full-time.  
Famous past pupils include Irish-international, Daryl Horgan, as well as several current League of Ireland players.
The QQI Level 5 course is provided by the FAI and the Mayo-Sligo-Leitrim Educational Training Board (MSLETB), and aims to give people the skills to either progress to full-time employment in the sports, leisure and recreation industry, or to progress towards further education opportunities.
It allows learners to develop their football coaching and playing ability with access to the highest qualified FAI accredited, and UEFA Pro and A licence coaches.
And all of this is available, free of charge, here in Mayo.
Not only that, but the people on the course get paid to attend.
Participants take their first steps on the road of football coaching with entry-level qualifications and, included in the course, is a Gym Instructor Diploma, an internationally recognised qualification that allows successful candidates to gain employment in gyms and leisure centres, and an optional Lifeguard Qualification.
“The course is for young lads or girls who have finished their Leaving Cert and are aged between 18 and 22,” Mickey Feeney told The Mayo News. “The Leaving Certificate is not a requirement, but participants must be on social welfare before they can come on the course.
“I’m the program co-ordinator and I’m assisted by Rafael Cretaro. It’s a one-year course, run over 44 weeks. It starts at the end of September and runs to August. We can take up to 24 people on the course. This year we started with 21. Three lads dropped out because they got full-time employment, so we’re down to eighteen.”
Mickey says that the day starts at 9.30am and ends at 4.30pm. External tutors come in and deliver some of the taught modules. Topics covered include leisure facility administration, team working, work experience, anatomy and physiology, safety and health at work, exercise and fitness, sport, recreation and nutrition — all delivered in a classroom environment.
“There are exercises based on the syllabus and there’s assignments to be done along the way. “In the afternoons we do trainer/player development. It’s like an academy situation. Full-time training, full time education.”
An impressive 80 percent of those who complete the course progress to third level sports degree courses in Institutes of Technology countrywide.
“We’ve all boys this year,” explained Mickey Feeney. “In previous years we’d have two or three girls on the course. There are ten similar centres in the country and we play a tournament every year between the centres.”
He said most of the people who attend the course come from a footballing background with ambitions to become better players and get professional contracts.
“The education side is huge as well,” he added. “You can dream of being a footballer but you’re not always going to make it. So there has to be something to fall back on.
“Each year I see the progress the players make in the football sense and the progress in the education sense, and also in the social of sense. It’s great to see young lads mature over the year. It gets them ready for either college or whatever direction they’re taken.
“And it’s great to hear the stories of where past attendees are now. Some lads come back and give presentations to the group on their experience on the course and their life experience.”
Rafael Cretaro came in to replace Leo Tierney, who took a two-year sabbatical earlier this year. He loves the involvement.
“The lads get out on the pitch in the afternoon and they enjoy it and have a bit of craic,” Raff said. “Ultimately it gives them that real taste of a full-time football. On the other side of it, the educational part, they do their gym instructors’ part of the course, and the QQI Level Five that they can take home with them and put towards their CAO for their college course, if they want to go to college. So it’s fantastic for them, everything’s in place for them.”
Raff knew Mickey from his time at Sligo Rovers and was familiar with the course too.
“I did a very similar course myself, it wasn’t the FAI course when I did it; it was the ETB one in Sligo. But it was very similar. We did the gym instructors’ course and stuff like that. It’s a little bit more advanced now than when I did it, but I’m actually a student that came through the system myself.”
Raff has UEFA coaching qualifications and the QQI Train the Trainer qualification as well.
“I was involved last year with Derry City on the coaching side, and I played for many years. I love it here; I love being involved and the lads are really great.”

WANT TO JOIN?
ANYONE wishing to join the course should contact the MSLETB by phone on 1800 100 100 or via their website at: www.msletb.ie 

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