WITH the action still some way from returning, I once again have something different this week. So here is my discussion on coaching with Michael Boyle.
1) First of all Michael, tell our readers a bit about yourself and your sporting background.
I always had a massive interest in sport from a very young age. I come from an area in Donegal where we played both Gaelic football and soccer and they were just massive component of everyday life.
I was lucky to be involved with a lot of very good people throughout my career in both codes. In my early days in Termon GAA and Kilmacrennan Celtic I had some real top class coaches and some real top class people. They, along with my family, made me fall in love with sport.
Sport really took over as time progressed. I started to go up through the levels and at 17 I was lucky to be involved with the Donegal senior footballers and Finn Harps FC. The soccer story came to an end in 2006 when the Gaelic football went to another level and it just wasn’t possible to play both.
At this stage I had spent a number of years in senior dressing rooms in both codes with different coaches, players and although I really didn’t take much notice at the time, when I look back I really learned a lot in this period of my career.
Gaelic and soccer changing rooms are two completely different environments. The differences in culture and the difference in characteristics are clearly identified but there are a lot of similarities also. Looking back now I feel soccer was way ahead in terms of philosophy, patterns of play, set pieces, while Gaelic football remained very traditional and more off the cuff, so to speak.
I’m not saying the coaches were better in soccer but it’s just the way the games were played at that time. I know Gaelic football has now developed into a game with so many layers, where systems, attention to detail and execution is essential and performance is not left to chance.
In developing my professional career, I felt the natural progression would be to take up study in the sporting field completing a BSc in Sports and Exercise Science in DCU and an MSc in Sports performance in UL. I look back on the time I spent especially in Dublin and I think how lucky I was in terms of the people I played football with – some of them now have eight All-Irelands – the people who I met on my course with different sporting backgrounds and the experiences I had with them, which I feel is the most important of all.
When I look back at my Gaelic football playing career, I broke onto the scene in 2005 when I made my championship debut for Donegal at 17 but it never really got much better after that.
I did win a few Sigerson Cups with DCU but my Donegal career was bit-part really. I didn’t play an awful lot with Donegal and, at times, I found this really challenging but what I did get out of it was an unbelievable football education.
I was involved in some really good set-ups. I picked up a massive amount from each and every one of them, people like Brian McEniff, Brian McIver, John Joe Doherty, Jim McGuinness, Rory Gallagher.
In DCU I had coaches like John Grimley, Declan Brennan, Mickey Whelan, Niall Moyna, Tony Diamond and Mick Bohdan. Every day in my book is a school day and it was great to be involved and learn from coaches on their level.
2) When did you first take an interest in coaching and was there any particular thing or person who ignited that spark in you?
I started coaching with my club senior team in and around 2009/2010. It started with coming up with tactics, gameplays, set pieces. I always enjoyed coming up with plays although at this stage I never really had the time to fully implement the plans as I was still playing and I couldn’t get enough hands-on time with the club.
I always had a good relationship with the managers and we would always bounce ideas off each other and we did have a few forward-thinking managers around that time as the game was moving away from the traditional approach.
I don’t remember anyone really igniting a spark in me to coach. I just crave that adrenaline from a big win. I know nothing replaces being a player on the pitch but I know the next best place to be is on the sideline.
3) In your opinion, what is a coach’s role in relation to the dynamics of a management set-up?
For me it’s all about creating a culture where the players can develop, improve and push the boundaries. Players respond to an opportunity that is given to them to achieve positive outcomes. If you as the coach can convince and, more importantly, prove to the players that the methods you choose can bring them closer to what they crave then you’re moving in the right direction. It’s all about providing a framework that the players believe they succeed with.
4) As a coach would you rather take the team yourself, as in manage it, or do you feel it works better if you can just focus on the coaching side of things?
For me personally I prefer to focus on the coaching side of things. I feel it just gives me more time to focus on the football and you don’t lose time with the huge amount of work that needs to be spent on managing the team. For sure there is a certain element of managing involved the coaching role but I do feel if you want to do it right and it’s not your full-time job then I don’t think there is enough time to cover all the angles.
5) When you take on a team explain to us what you would be looking out for and what steps you would take to get the team to where you want them to be.
Buy in! For me this is one of the first things I look for in the team and the players individually. As a coach you can feel when players buy in or decide to opt out. For sure in the beginning the players might question things or be unsure about your methods but you must make your mark early on. As a coach you must show that your methods can bring the team positive performance outcomes. From this a trust is developed between the coach and the players.
Trust! The players must trust you and you must trust your players. For me the players I trust the most usually get the most game-time. Obviously you will have many different roles within the team. The players that do their job and execute their roles the best will get their name on the team-sheet first.
Clarity! You must have a clear definition of how you want of the 15 to play on the field. The clarity must be there for yourself and for your players. You, your players and everyone else involved in the team must be on the same page. When everyone is on the same page the power of the group is very strong.
6) What aspects of the coaching appeals to you most and what do you get the most enjoyment out of?
Gameday for me is where I get the most enjoyment. When you have worked so hard on the training field and you begin to see the systems, structures the patterns of play, the set pieces. When you’re standing on the side of the pitch and you know what is going to unfold and you know the players can see this too you get a massive buzz from this. For me this is what it’s all about, the players must see what you see as the coach, if they do not see what you’re trying to achieve then how can they execute it?
Seeing the players taking the information on board and seeing it bring positive outcomes for their performance and the team’s performance brings that enjoyment. When you have this clarity with the players on how you want the game to be played this is when you see players really express themselves as they have the confidence in what is trying to be achieved.
7) In your opinion and through your learnings, what makes a good coach?
Philosophy is a big one for me. How do you want the team to play? What identity do you want the team to have? The players for sure will give you the genetic make-up of the team but the coach must find a way to marry this all together.
You must identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses and from this turn the percentages of a game in your favour. Systems, structures, patterns of play, set pieces, restarts should all be included in your philosophy. Each of these components should complement one and other. They should all piece together bit by bit. When you put all these pieces together you get a clear picture of what you are trying to achieve.
This is so important for you as a coach and vital for the players and their performance. When you have clarity the players know exactly what they need to do on the field. This gives the players reinforcement to perform in pressurised situations which is crucial to performance. The key is to practice all of the above. Repetition, repetition, repetition, which then leads to it becoming fluid and instinctive.
8) When we look at all of the top club teams now, most have coaches on board and with intercounty teams they might have two or three on board. Do you think we have reached the point that without a coach you are fighting to keep the tide out?
Yeah, listen I think we are looking at the coach’s roles becoming more defined. What I believe may happen and probably is happening is that you will get specialist coaches for specific areas of the game. Offensive, defensive, set piece, skills development. I think in the end it will move towards this as the more specialist a coach can become, the more in-depth knowledge they can provide for the team and each player individually.
You already see this in other sports such as soccer, NFL, basketball and rugby along with many more, I feel this is just a natural progression.
9) For you as a coach, when laying out your style of play what factors do you take into consideration before deciding on that?
For me you have to look at the players at your disposal. You have to see do these players fit your philosophy as a coach? If they do then all is good, but if they don’t you have to be adaptable. It’s important to find the balance to bring out the best for the team’s performance.
10) I know you extremely well having worked under you and we know how ferocious the club scene can be here in Donegal. Are you enjoying the freedom of coaching in London now compared to here and what are the major differences?
I have to say I think Donegal football is in a really good place. The standard of football and the level of coaching has to be commended and the benefits are there to be seen. I do miss the buzz of championship at home I think it’s always a very happy place for me.
I’m just grateful to my new club, North London Shamrocks, for giving me the opportunity to manage the senior team over here. We didn’t get much of an opportunity to play last season and we are expecting something similar this year from the Covid restrictions. Hopefully in the future things will be back to normal and we will get the buzz of championship football that we all love.
11) London is home for now but I’d personally like to see you back maybe coaching our county team at some stage. Is that something that would interest you in the future?
To be honest I’m well settled in London. I’m really enjoying the city life even though I have been in lockdown basically since I moved over. Coaching Donegal would be a dream come true for me, there is no doubt about that. But I just don’t see it happening as I have really committed to London for the long term. I will always love Donegal and Donegal football so I know I will have to fill the gap somewhere.