Galway United Technical Coach Theresa Keane: 'I was like, what do I have to give Lynsey? It's a big gig and Phil put a lot of trust in me to go in and deliver'

Phil Trill

Theresa Keane (right) as part of Galway United's backroom team. Credit: Peter Fitzpatrick (ETPhotos)

There are times when you’d think that this is going to work really well and then you do it and you think ‘what the hell just happened’… you question everything about yourself as a coach…and you will always have those moments but you don't give up…you don’t just abandon an idea because it didn’t work the first time.”

Theresa Keane is a team player - that much is clear from the outset of our conversation when the Galway native corrects my reference to her as the ‘lead’ technical coach for the women in maroon.

“Last year was very much a lot of learning for me - it would have been one of my first big coaching roles,” She clarifies.

 There will be no showboating here.

With Keane’s status on the coaching staff at Galway United clarified the former Bawnmore National School pupil relaxes into the conversation and talks about where she calls home.

Situated between the picturesque village of Claregalway and Corrandulla - a townland in the civil parish of Annaghdown to which Keane pledged a lifetime of Gaelic allegiance, the mum of two lives within 1km of her former club.

“I could have been put anywhere,” she tells me, recalling her days spent in maroon and white, “I spent time in the forward line…and the older I got, the further back I went. I would have played the whole way up.”

Like many players who can master the punt of a ball, Keane would operate in a dual role, playing soccer in the Women’s National League, as it was, for Castlebar Celtic and Galway WFC, before lining out for local club Corrib Celtic  - “You can always tell the ones that are playing [soccer too],” she confides, “they are that bit more technical.”

The self-described ‘sports fanatic’, who grew up as the only girl in a house of three boys, retained her position with the soccer club until three weeks ago when she made the tough decision to hang up her boots.

Keane at least, went out on a high.

“We won the Connacht Cup,” she states, allowing a glint of pride to shine through.

“There’s a bit of denial but you have to. I have two kids now and it's time to concentrate on them. Especially my daughter…she plays a little bit of football, a little bit of basketball. And she's like ‘Will you come to my stuff now?’ So, you know, she wants her mum there watching her.”

Keane qualified from the University of Limerick in 2007 with a degree in physical education and mathematics, yet found the prospect of teaching in the classroom too daunting.

On graduating, Keane would opt to take up a full-time office-based role, before slowly returning to teaching (albeit in another form), her coaching journey taking shape through her involvement with various underage sides and culminating in an unexpected offer to oversee the Galway United Women’s senior team.

“I'd been doing a little bit of academy soccer out in Corrib Celtic, and I started to do my badges,” she begins, “A guy out there, Jarlath Hennelly…he was involved with the Galway League Centre under-12 girls and asked if I would go in with him first.

“It was through Jarlath that I met Phil (Trill). A few weeks later Phil asked if I would have any interest in coming in with him.”

Keane talks about her reluctance to take Trill up on his invitation to coach, citing her lack of experience as her main concern.

“You're going into a League of Ireland team and these girls have Irish caps. It's the likes of Lynsey (McKey) and she's been there since the league started. When I was at Castlebar, I was chasing her up a pitch.

“I was like, what do I have to give Lynsey? It's a big gig and Phil put a lot of trust in me to go in and deliver. In fairness to him, he took an awful chance!”

The former University of Limerick footballer commends her past mentor Hennelly along with Galway United manager Trill and her colleagues for their unwavering support.

“Jarlath was a fantastic coach, still is a fantastic coach,” she enthuses. “There was Gabriel Darcy and Adrian Cronin…they really encouraged me to try things out for myself.”

Keane, ever the straight shooter, is not ashamed to admit that it took a period before she felt settled in her new role.

“I won't lie, I think it was probably halfway through the season before I found my confidence,” she states plainly.

“Even with instruction… during a session or whatever I found that the players were that bit more receptive to it.

“Or if one of the lads were missing or whatever - you can have a wedding or something crop up - it would be me stepping up to take it and I’d have the confidence to say, ‘Don't worry about it, I've got this session’.”

United began to train three nights a week at Moyne Villa FC in Headford at the start of this campaign, where the women from the west have access to facilities Keane describes as “fantastic.”

It is here that she and former Galway United senior men’s team captain, Paul Sinnott, execute their technical segment of the sessions.

“We’d focus on a lot of... well even down to the basics of their first touch and their passing ability - their long ball ability. And then even the small-sided possession stuff, the intricate passing and combinations and all that.

“How they work that out… their body shape. It's working on their shooting, it's working on their passing, their first touch. How they scan…”

“Before you go looking for the ball you know,” she explains, her words rushing out, “you have a quick look over your shoulder to make sure that you're in a position to receive and know what your next pass is. [You need to] receive it in a way that you have an option to go more than one direction with it.”

So what are the key traits that a successful technical coach must possess? Keane pauses, deep in thought.

“I think it's just knowing your players, knowing what they can or can't do and trying to make that better.

“And then knowing what it should be - which I am still learning, I won't lie.

Some players will do it naturally. But some players won't, or just aren't there yet.

“So it's developing them to have that trait, or to have that ability to do that particular skill or particular movement.”

Given Galway United's blistering start this season (they have won 5 of their last 6 League games and drawn one, netting a total of eighteen goals), something has clicked between Trill’s staff and the Tribeswomen.

“We had a really good end to last season,” Keane reflects, referring to their Avenir All Island Cup win at the Showgrounds in July and their string of six wins from eight in the league while conceding just one goal. 

“I think that just instilled a bit of belief into the girls. There was such a short break between last season and preseason and the belief has carried over.

“We believe that we are going to be a team that will be fighting for the league. We won't get carried away with ourselves, we take every game as it comes and you're only as good as your last game…but there’s an incredible bond between all the girls - it's fantastic to watch.”

For all the squad's success, however, on the pitch, Keane insists that the coaching philosophy at Galway United is always person first - player second.

“We do our work on the pitch and we expect the girls to work hard in every session,” she concedes, “But we like to look at the players as a whole…they’re people, they have outside factors that might impact their sessions. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. We look at them as people and not just as machines on a pitch.”

A quarter of an hour into our conversation, I hear a door creak over the other end of the line, the enquiring tenor of a child’s voice following suit.

Keane politely excuses herself before returning to our phone call a minute later.

“He's only up for the nose,” she says by way of explanation, referring to her five-year-old son.

Despite Keane's assurances, I take this as my cue to wind down the interview.

But not without first asking the open and frank technical coach about the reaction in the city and county to the success of their senior side.

Given the record-breaking League attendance secured by Galway United last weekend, with 2,861 people attending Eamonn Deacy Park for the Tribeswomen’s clinical dispatch of DLR Waves, Keane’s response is all the more apt.

“I think last year and this year there's been an incredible media team in Galway United promoting the ladies game,” she reflects, “and the girls have worked hard…getting out in the community to build on the awareness and our visibility. The board too is giving everything in its power to promote the ladies game.

“The fans coming…it’s fantastic to see and all the young girls afterward too, asking for autographs, then the girls signing bits of paper and jerseys, having even a quick chat and taking a selfie.

“The players love and feed off that. It makes them want to do better for those young girls watching - and the young lads who can see the standard of the women's game in Galway. I've had a few people say to me ‘Woah, I'm going to start coming to your games - you're incredible to watch.”

The compliment hangs in the air and I can tell that self-praise does not come easy to the down-to-earth coach.

I then ask Keane about her badges, and what the next step is in terms of their attainment. A sheepish laugh at the other end of the line.

“Well eh…I’m currently only beginning my UEFA C so… I've got quite a bit to go considering,” she says, “But the fact that I’m with the lads and learning so much from them - I’m hoping they won’t be too much of a hassle.”


Keane will take a women-only introductory course with the FAI on the 29th of July, before spending a week in August at their HQ.

“I’ve yet to break that to my husband,” she qualifies.

As the clock hands signal ten past nine, I thank Keane for her time and in turn, she thanks me for mine.

Before I know it, we’re discussing the lack of media coverage in the mainstream media of the women’s game in Ireland.

“It needs that exposure…” She reiterates, “It’s one game every few weeks on TG4 - which is great, but you’d love to see a little bit more. Even the documentary ‘Pass it on’…the number of people who are like ‘I saw you on the tele’ and I’m like ‘well you know what now, we’re playing Saturday, come in you know.

“We just need to get them in once, then I guarantee they'll come again to any of the games when they see the standard that we are at across the country.”

A standard that Keane, and countless other coaches like her, dedicate hours (often voluntarily) of their own time, to help craft and develop.

The future of the women’s game in Ireland will forever be in their debt.