AS a club man, a fan, a coach, a volunteer, and an administrator, Ray Claffey has done it all.
For 30 years soccer has benefited from his love of teaching and developing kids as footballers.
Now, in his new role, he has come full circle, back working with youngsters and grassroots coaches and he couldn’t be happier.
Here he tells us what this is and how the opportunity came about.
“I came on board as a Community Development Officer for Cork City Council and the FAI and I am loving the role to date,” said Claffey.
“The goal is to increase participation, incorporate social inclusion, develop emerging talent and to educate coaches and volunteers in relation to best practice. My role is to promote the game in Cork city and to prove the game can be played by all, regardless of background, age, or ability.”
Claffey started out playing in Togher before making the move to Wilton United where he spent most of his years as a player, coach, and administrator.
“As a player, I enjoyed a lot of success with the AOH title being a memorable occasion. While still playing, I got involved in coaching and running teams. With Wilton, I went from being the secretary to the treasurer, while still playing. I got involved in coaching with the U12s and also started off the first women’s team in Wilton in 1990.
“Pat Bowdren began with a young Wilton team a few years later and from there, it grew into a very strong women’s club. Through running the women’s team, I then got involved in the Cork Women’s League where I acted as chairperson and fixtures secretary.
Other roles I held were treasurer of the Munster Senior League, WFAI committee member, and match delegate for the FAI.”
Claffey’s involvement in local soccer continued to grow and during his time he was responsible for the progression of women’s soccer in the city. He was part of the committee to see Cork women’s first victory in the Bracken Cup tournament (now the Gaynor Cup) in 1996.
He managed three consecutive titles in the Gaynor, he was responsible for the first senior women’s international coming to Cork, against France, when Cork girl Caroline Nagle captained the team and Pat Kelly was referee. He also helped start up the Carrigaline girls academy, along with myself.
Throughout the years he has gained a lot of experience working with international teams, tutoring at the FAS ETB programmes, and now he hopes to bring all his knowledge to his new role.
“In 2007 I took on a new role with the FAI as development officer alongside Colin O’Brien. That’s when the FAS course kicked in, I got involved and it has been a fantastic experience.
“For me, I would be a firm believer that football is for everyone. Giving everyone the opportunity to play. Last week we got to coach a session to local kids, some of whom don’t play football but they got to participate in activities for an hour and that was so important with the few months they’ve had.
“In response to Covid-19 and the fact that many summer camps, programmes, and activities have been cancelled, Cork City Council teamed up with the FAI to develop Soccer on the Green.
“This activity is aimed at young people and will be held on greens in housing estates in Cork where, as FAI coaches, we will help the boys and girls develop their soccer skills, while having fun.
“Our pilot session was held in Greenwood Estate in Togher with great help from the resident’s association. We put 12 youths, all from the estate, through their paces, practicing keepy-uppies, dribbling and ball control, while all the time maintaining social distance.
“Cork City Council’s Sports and Sustainability Section is now working on identifying further safe and suitable locations across the city for the programme to be rolled out to. I really enjoy this part of the job as it really brings it back to grassroots level. It was great to get back and see the players really enjoy the session.
“We are all aware of the social, mental, and physical health benefits that such physical activity can bring. Getting kids out and interacting again is so important and although there are still risks, it’s still important to get back out into society."
The Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Joe Kavanagh, an avid soccer fan, was delighted with the initiative.
“I’ve been really impressed by how engaged and inventive about keeping fit the young people of Cork have been during this pandemic and they deserve great credit. We aim to make Cork a responsive and inclusive city but also a fun, active, and healthy one, and Soccer on the Green meets the criteria.”
Back doing what he loves best, developing players and people, Claffey is looking forward to putting his stamp on his new role.
“Over the years I have dealt with tutoring and helping to coach the coaches and that has been my most enjoyable time. Going back into this type of role it gives me the opportunity to enjoy working with coaches again.
“Football opens so many doors, whether it’s friendships, coaching, or education. It’s everyone’s game and it’s great to be able to do this as a job.
“Boys and girls are coming onto courses just for the football side of it, but while there, they learn so much more. They developed hugely on the academic side of the course.
“This role is all about empowering people and giving them the confidence. Our job as coaches is to develop players, but more importantly, to develop the person.”