The Forum with John Foley
“The players have been absolutely brilliant again. There’s a good group of lads here who want to do well in life and that all made for a very enjoyable session which is the most important thing.”
THURSDAY was one of those feel-good days at IT Carlow.
The sun was shining down and the soccer pitch looked in pristine condition as a large group of players hurried and hustled under the guidance of their coaches.
Of course, the place looked even better when you realised the captain of the Rep of Ireland, Robbie Keane, was in the middle of it all showing some of the touches that have made him one of the finest players ever to wear the green jersey.
Keane was at the IT working on his UEFA coaching badges last week and after spending some time there in January of last year he was only too happy to make the return visit during his off-season with LA Galaxy.
“Yeah, every time I’ve been here now I’ve been looked after really well,” Robbie told The Nationalist as the session came to a close for lunch.
“The players, I have to say they’ve been absolutely brilliant again. There’s a good group of lads here who want to do well in life and that all made for a very enjoyable session which is the most important thing.”
The serious investment made in sport at the IT in recent years has paid dividends with Carlow now seen as a primary location for students who want to combine their studies with a high-quality sporting education.
Their BA in Sport and Exercise which has separate strands for soccer, rugby and Gaelic games, has attracted some of the country’s best young athletes to the campus.
From a soccer point of view, their links with the FAI also mean they have been able to attract the likes of Keane who was joined on his trip to Carlow by another man who would be familiar to followers of the game: former Chelsea and Spurs goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.
Keane is in the middle of completing his UEFA A coaching licence as he keeps his options open for when he finally decides to hang up his boots.
“I’m very conscious of getting it done for the future,” he said after he had put the IT students through their paces.
“The most important thing from a coaching aspect is to keep the sessions at a good tempo and to keep everything moving quickly. I think the players enjoyed it and they’ve responded very well to what we’ve done. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Keane’s training session was being assessed as part of his course and it was clear that he had a lot of time for the young players got stuck in to the session with him all morning.
“There’s a good quality of player here and hopefully a lot of these players will go on to either play in England or play in the League of Ireland,” Robbie said. “As a coach that’s all you want from your players, you want good energy and enthusiasm and people who want to learn and want to do things properly. They have a good opportunity here with Paul [O’Reilly] the coach and his staff. The facilities here are great so they have everything set up nicely.”
Carlo Cudicini was equally effusive in his praise for Carlow and you got the sense of a man who was at ease in his surroundings as he chatted to the young players after the session and posed for photos. He spent the past year at LA Galaxy with Keane and when he was looking around for a location to complete his coaching course, Keane suggested he follow him up to Carlow.
“Every time I come to Ireland I really love the country,” Carlo said. “Today I did my final assessment for my course so it was quite intense. You always feel a little pressure but it has gone well.”
He also echoed Keane’s praise for the players and the college.
“Today was great, good energy, good quality, everyone was really up for it which for us makes things easy. Your sessions works.
“The facilities here are unbelievable. Inside and outside, the facilities, the pitches. It’s very good, a lot of students are coming here so it’s quite impressive.”
Paul O’Reilly is the BA Sport & Exercise (Soccer) course manager and he put the visit on the international players into context.
“It’s massive for us,” he said. “Robbie’s a legend of Irish football, he’s the captain and top scorer. So for the students and the college it’s brilliant to have someone of that profile looking to come to IT Carlow to do his assessments. It’s obviously a tough time for him, he’s doing his A licence which is really intensive so he’s under pressure. But it’s great to see that he’s a student of the game as well as being a top player.”
The IT is now in its sixth year offering the degree course for soccer players and O’Reilly says it’s been going from strength to strength.
“We have a lot of really good players on the course, guys who are playing League of Ireland football, girls who are playing senior international. So we have a high calibre and this will help us to get our name out there a bit more.
O’Reilly says past graduates are now working as coaches in the UK, America, South Korea, Africa and here in Ireland with a number working full-time with the FAI.
“The last few days with Robbie will be the highlight of the year for them so it’s been a great experience,” O’Reilly said.
The new Director of Sport at IT Carlow, Donal McNally, was another interested observer at the coaching sessions.
“It’s been a really enjoyable day,” he said. “The college invests so much in all sports so it’s fantastic to have Robbie down here with us again this year. He probably would have opportunities to do this in other places but he chose to come back to us which says a lot about what we have here.”