United's pain is Galway's shame

Article by Kieran Burke - @KieranBTS

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Welcome to Galway, a county populated by roughly 260,000 people, many of whom are passionate sports fans. Gaelic football, Hurling, horse racing and Rugby are just some of the codes extremely well supported by “Galwegians”, and despite producing some of Irish footballs greatest domestic talents of years gone by, most notably Dundalk legend, Stephen O’Donnell, such support has failed to spill over into association football in the County. When you consider the size of the population, the history of producing top League of Ireland players, and in David Forde’s case international stars, as well as the fact there is an extremely competitive and high quality junior football scene in the West, particularly in Galway, why on earth are Galway United not one of Ireland’s leading lights?

Of course, like most things in life you can always point to finances and the case of the haves against the have not and this is a well documented issue for supporter owned United, who were reported to be on the brink of securing a cash rich Saudi Arabian takeover last season, only for the speculated deal to fall through, leaving the club once again relying on its small but loyal band of volunteers to keep the ship floating along for another campaign.

However, one challenge that the League of Ireland First Division club face, perhaps far more regularly and without doubt on a far greater scale than many of their domestic rivals, is that of poisonous local politics. Dropping out of the national league after a disastrous 2011 campaign, both on and off the pitch, Galway returned to the League of Ireland with great acclaim, just in time for the start of the 2014 First Division season. However, such joy was clearly not shared by many involved with football in the Galway area as junior powerhouses, Salthill Devon and Mervue United were forced to relinquish their national league standing in order to end the evident over crowding of the league by Galway clubs, a situation that had done neither Mervue or Salthill any favors during their failed attempts to establish respective fan bases. Under the terms of the agreement, which would allow Galway back into the League of Ireland, it was established that the new clubs board would contain a representative from both Salthill and Mervue as well as the Galway FA, while Galway FC would unbelievably be barred from entering teams into the national leagues underage competitions. Is this where the problems started for United? Most certainly not. Politics in Galway football has always been a difficult hurdle to cross throughout the years but with Galway United essentially pushing the two local big boys aside in order to regain its League of Ireland status, the issues that would soon follow were hardly surprising to on lookers.

Are such confrontations unique to Galway United? Sadly not. All across our dis-functional and unorganized footballing nation, junior clubs and League of Ireland clubs have locked horns for decades, mostly over the right to sign up the best local talent and of course over Ireland’s favorite argument starter, money….It always comes back to the notes and the coins. With that statement in mind, perhaps you can start to understand the rivalry between junior clubs such as Mervue and Salthill with Galway United, even if such petty bickering is one of the core factors behind the lack of development and success of the beautiful game on this Island. However, what is much more difficult to understand is the Galway FA’s apparent lack of co-operation with the counties sole League of Ireland representative and the constant hurdles been put in front of the “Tribesmen” by people served with the duty of protecting and promoting football in Galway!

Over priced stadium rental fees, combined with rigid and utterly harsh terms and conditions, that not only limit but effectively kill the clubs chances of generating revenue for anyone other than said FA on matchdays, has left Galway United resembling nothing more than a shell of its once proud self. These are far from unbalanced or bias views from a writer with natural allegiances towards the League of Ireland club, as the last Galway FA chairman, Ger Gibbons resignation letter of 2018 will indicate. Citing a “toxic attitude of his own association towards Galway United”, Gibbons public statement opened the doors and windows into the Galway FA’s unveiled agenda against the counties national league representatives.

Ger Gibbons resignation letter from the GFA in full:

It is with regret that I have to announce that I am standing down as Chairman of the Galway FA with immediate effect. The main reason that I am doing this is the constant negative attitude towards Galway United. I would nearly go as far as saying that some people on the Galway FA hope that Galway United as a football club would collapse.

When the catering contract came up for renewal, Galway United offered more money than the other bidder, but the lower bid got the contract.

When Galway United inquired last year about putting in a bar in the old dressing rooms in EDP, there was serious opposition to it, but practically no opposition to renting out upstairs for 3 years, which I agree with, as you have to get a reasonable length of time to recover your outlay on renovations

The contract I signed with Galway United for the bar on behalf of the committee was for one year at a reduced fee, so that Galway United could recoup some of the €10,000 they spent renovating the old dressing rooms. The fee for the next season was up for discussion at around the end of this year, but an email was sent to Galway United telling them to remove all their stuff from the bar area and to restore it to its original condition. This in my opinion was not what was agreed earlier this year.

The decision to restore the dressing rooms was seemingly taken by some members of the football committee and other people who are not on the Galway FA and without consultation with the full committee of the Galway FA, so that this new academy could use them. Why would we need this when we have the finest dressing rooms in the League of Ireland?

The academy, I agree is the right thing to do, but it should be in conjunction with Galway United, who despite comments on social media did make contact with a member of the Galway FA about running this jointly, but was told that he would discuss with the committee and get back to him. When he did get back to Galway United he said the committee were not interested.

I am not sure what committee did discuss this, but it was not the full committee. Also the academy was seemingly launched last weekend and the first I knew of it was when I saw the picture on Facebook of all the coaches in EDP. Not sure who knew about the launch but I as chairman definitely didn't

Finally, work started this week on the removal of the bar and I do not know who gave that instruction to remove it.

So, after 10 years on the GFA and 2 years as chairman, that's it folks. All I ever wanted from my involvement with the GFA was to improve things in Galway football. We succeeded for a while but things seem to be going back to the old ways... fighting and bickering and the only ones that suffer are the people that are the most important, the PLAYERS.

Yours in sport,

Ger Gibbons.

A year on and it not only appears that little has changed, despite such a public PR disaster for the Galway FA, but just this week, it has emerged Alan Murphy’s Galway United team were forced to train in Athlone as the club could not secure a training pitch in its own county. This was an issue highlighted greatly by former manager and cuurent newspaper columnist, Shane Keegan last season but again even bringing the matter to public attention has failed to save Galway United from organisational woe. So, who is to blame for such an ugly and embarrassing situation? Again, a number of factors have brought us to this point. Paying what was believed to be a substantial fee to Mervue United for the use of their training facilities in recent seasons, a public fall out over youth players and the battle for their services quickly brought such an arrangement to an end and left United out in the cold, quite literally. But there are plenty of other clubs in Galway who could offer up their pitches you say? Quite unbelievably, there is far from an array of playing surfaces to choose from with most local sides only able to provide smaller sized pitches.

Speaking to the Irish Independent almost exactly this time last year, Shane Keegan summed up the Galway situation perfectly.

"We are probably in a situation where if something isn't sorted in the next 24 hours, Galway United are probably looking at training in Athlone (AIT) or UL in Limerick, the two closest full-sized astros to us,"

"The politics in Galway football is causing us havoc."

"I'm stuck for alternatives. It sounds ridiculous,"

"This is going on for three weeks and I'm out of other ideas.

"Some of the other clubs have been great. People can promise us a pitch but, if I'm going to bed knowing if it rains tonight I've no venue for training in the morning, that's no use."

So what next for Galway United? Well, the good news is a €20,000,000 football centre of excellence is on its way to the county but with the ink barely dry on such a deal, it will be quite a while before United can benefit. On the pitch, the return of experienced campaigners Iarflaith Davoren and Vinny Faherty has raised supporters hopes of a much improved showing in 2019. However, with pre-season preparations already being disrupted by this on-going pitch saga, relations between the club and the GFA are expected to remain frosty and this is not to the benefit of anyone passionate about football in Galway. As such, surely it is now time for the highest power of the game in Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland, to step in and try to sort out this toxic mess before it ends up raising serious questions over another League of Ireland clubs future? After all, it was the FAI who oversaw United’s reintegration into the League of Ireland family, yet at this moment in time, football in the County resembles something much more in line with a dis-functional clan.