A Grassroots Story

Falling in love with football again

By Matt Lowry

Since I was old enough to stand on my own 2 feet there has been a football not too far from them, some of the earliest photos of me as a child I had a football with me.

I grew up in Salford, Manchester and football was in everyone’s DNA.

Playing on the streets with the neighbourhood kids everyday after school was where the love for the beautiful game started for me.

I used to go to Old Trafford regularly and would watch my father’s pub team play Sunday league at the local park every weekend, football was a big part of my life from a very early age.

My family moved home to Galway when I was 11, setting up home in Kilconly a small village near Tuam.

It was tough moving from inner city Manchester to the countryside. I attended the local primary school for 6 months to get to know the local kids whom I would be going to secondary school with.

I was shy at first, it was a big culture shock for me. I was used to busy, noisy streets and getting into mischief but now it was fields of cows and going to bed early hearing the birds singing at night.

I remember being in school on my lunch break the first week I was there, a few kids were kicking a football, one of them approached me to join in as they had uneven numbers.

This was my “in”. I immediately made friends through football, and not too long afterwards I joined the local team.

Kilshanvey United was the closest team to me and I registered for the underage team that year. I loved playing football there and played with Kilshanvey until I moved to Galway city upon finishing my leaving cert.

I am still friends with some of my old teammates even today all these years later.

I played for a lot of small 5 aside teams and even a few city teams in the lower leagues over the last 10 years in Galway. As I got older it was harder to keep up the football with work commitments and life getting in the way. Football became a spectator sport for me.

I was resigned to watching football on the TV and playing the odd 5 a side game with my work colleagues and friends.

2 years ago, myself and my fiancé purchased our first home in the beautiful village of Moycullen.

My fiancés family have been living in Moycullen for over 25 years, so she had roots here and was never too far away from a familiar face.

For me it was the opposite, I didn’t know anyone and spent the first year exploring what the community was about.

As I am now surrounded by lakes I got into fishing again, something I did a lot of in my youth, and I even owned a boat for a couple of years and would spend whole days out on Lough Corrib.

Fishing is great but it is a solo pastime, and I was itching to get back to doing something more physically challenging and maybe meet some people.

I was talking about this to a work colleague of mine who happens to be an official Galway FA referee.

He suggested getting in touch with Oughterard AFC as he heard they were thinking of entering a team into the over 35s league for the first time.

I had turned 36 the previous year so I thought why not give it a go.

He put me in touch with Dan Tuck and Dan gave my details onto Jody Daly.

A few days later Jody texts and asked would I like to come to a training session/kick around at Newvillage.

I went into town and bought a pair of boots for the first time in years, there are a lot more colours to choose from now than when I was young.

I arrived up at New-Village early that evening and was a little nervous as I didn’t know any of the lads.

A lot of the lads already knew each other through playing Junior football with the club or from their weekly kick about on the Astro on a Monday evening.

As soon as we kicked off, I felt my nerves dissipate. Football is an amazing game in that you can play with complete stranger’s and within 15 minutes you are having a laugh together.

It really is a language unto itself.

The training session went well, and I was asked to register for the season that was starting in a couple of weeks.

Football had sparked the fire in me again and I was so excited to be out on a pitch playing
competitive football.

We trained weekly until the first game of the season and I had started to get to know the lads better.

Our first game was away to Loughrea.

I arrived at the pitch early and the grass was being cut and the sweet smell hit me as I got out of the car.

The pitch was bobbly, and the lines were far from straight but that’s over 35s football for you and it was great to be part of it. It was amazing to be on the pitch playing proper football again.

The results were up and down all season, but we got to a semi-final which we lost to Loughrea and finished 3rd from bottom in the league.

By the time the last game of the season came around our team had become a solid group of friends that would give everything on the pitch for each other.

The Junior men’s team appointed Gareth Gorman as the new manager for the upcoming season, and he had asked for anyone eligible to attend training.

We had a big squad of all ages from over 35s to the under 16s team up at the first training session.

I still felt like I could play at that level, so I threw my name in the hat and joined the squad.

Training was intense and well structured, and it was great to be challenging myself at junior level again.

Trying to keep up with lads half my age was the kind of challenge I was looking for.
I played a handful of games and I made myself available for every game off the bench. My fitness improved and I loved the training sessions and the buzz around the games every weekend.

Our season was very up and down. We were on the verge of relegation coming into the last 3 games of the season, but fortune favoured us, and we survived by 1 point above St Pats to stay in division 2 for another season.

We reached the semi final of the Joe Ryan cup and were unlucky not to reach the final.

The journey with the junior team was amazing and my love for playing football had turned into an
addiction again.

We bonded as a team and had so many laughs and a few rows with each other.
Along the way memories were made and our bond as a team was cemented.

At the beginning of the junior season, I was approached by Johnny Higgins.

He asked me would I be interested in an assistant coach role with the under 12s B team alongside

I decided I would take him up on his offer not really knowing what I was getting myself into.

We have 2 under 12s teams and they both train together on a Tuesday evening.

I arrived up at New-Village 20 mins before training to get a feel for how the other coaches set up,
the session and what drills and games we will do.

I have never coached a team in my life and as I don’t yet have kids of my own I hadn’t a clue what to
expect and I full of nervous excitement.

At first the kids were kind of looking like “who is this guy” but after the first few weeks training the
got to know me and I got to know them.

It was tough at first trying to remember everyone’s names as we had such big squads.

On more than one occasion I called lads by the wrong names, and this was met with a good slagging
off from the kids.

Slowly I grew in confidence as a coach and started to play a more active role in training sessions
even creating my own drills.

I got so much enjoyment watching the kids improve their game over the season.

I will never forget my first game standing on the side-line with Johnny.

You get a sense of pride watching the lads play that is unmatched by anything I have experienced
from playing the game.

We lost to a very strong Gort team that day, and you could see the lads were feeling down after the

I watched as Johnny said the most poignant thing to the lads in the huddle following the game, he
explained that we as coaches didn’t care about results, we just want to see the kids improve week by
week and apply what we teach in training and most importantly to have fun.

This really made me think of when I was a kid and how too many mangers and coaches and even
parents are too focused on success and results.

It puts pressure on kids and the game isn’t about that, it’s about growing as a team making friends
and enjoying the lifelong journey that is football.

As the season went on, we suffered more bad results, but we started to see massive improvements
from the lad’s week to week.

Eventually we got our first win of the season at home to East United.

I will never forget the final whistle when we all ran on the pitch in celebration.

The smile on the lads faces, the cheers from everyone on the team. We had won as a team, and I was bursting with pride.

With the season ending, I look back at the incredible journey I have been on in the last year and a
half with OAFC.

Playing for the over 35s gave me back my love of the game, Junior football sparked my competitiveness again and coaching the under 12s made me realise how important grassroots is to the beautiful game.

I want to say thanks to everyone involved with the club for making me feel so welcome.

I have made new friends and made memories and have experienced the highs that only football can give.

I am looking forward to being part of this amazing club for many more years.

I am not hanging up my boots just yet. Up Oughterard.

Every good story should finish with a quote so here is mine,

“It is not just a stadium, it’s our home,
It is not just a kit, it is our skin,
We are not only 11, we are also millions,
We are not just a crowd, we are family,
It is not just 90 minutes, it’s a lifetime,
It is not just a game; it is our life”.