TheLiberty is a local paper for Dublin's south inner city

February 2001

Mitch-Craft transforms St Teresa's soccer

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Mitch Whitty is the new full-time soccer coordinator at St Teresa's Gardens Football Club. Alison Lynch meets the man charged with reversing the club's fortunes.


BEHIND a desk, a charming young face smiles nervously at me. His athletic build immediately indicates his sporting prowess. Earnestness etched onto his face, you know he takes his job seriously. However behind this exterior lies a warm and interesting person.

Mitch Whitty is the new full-time soccer coordinator at St Teresa's Gardens Football Club. Hailing from Dorset St, this young Dubliner knows his stuff, with a level three soccer coaching qualification (the highest qualification in Ireland) to his name.

Currently a part-time coach with Shamrock Rovers FC, he has also worked with Home Farm FC and in the USA. The development of youth soccer was one of the main reasons Mitch joined St Teresa's Gardens FC. "The whole idea of me coming in was that we were going back to basics. That was the aim of the project. We get the kids at a young age, develop them into good footballers and keep them with the club."

Youth development is vital to the existence of St Teresa's Gardens FC. Last year only one team, the Under 10s, entered any competitions. The club had a successful team in the 1980s, their best achievement being victory in the FAI Junior Cup. Since then there has been no senior team at the club. However, this season has started much more positively due to the renewed commitment within the club. Four teams ranging from the Under 8s to the Under 12s are competing in the D division of their leagues and are currently topping the tables. Much of this success is due to the dedication of locals and some help from the FAI.

Like most clubs, voluntary help is essential in its development and growth. St Teresa's Gardens FC is no exception. Each team has a different manager who helps out on a voluntary basis. As Mitch points out, "they're people in the community that were good enough to come down at the start of the year and volunteered their own time. They're sacrificing two evenings and one morning every week".

Leading the way are Henry Fitzgerald, who coaches the Under 8s, and Liam Hicks, who coaches the Under 9s. The duo of John Lennon and John McCarthy manage the Under 10s, while Paul Byrne and Ger Devereaux coach the Under 12s. Girls are not being ignored either, with the club planning to enter under 10, under 12 and under 14 teams in the Ladies Summer League this year.

The FAI has helped St Teresa's Gardens FC throughout the year. Last year each of the coaches took part in an introductory coaching certificate, which gave them the basic managing skills. This ensures that a high level of professionalism will be maintained at the club. In the summer, the club will host another level one coaching course for up to 25 coaches in the Dublin 8 area.

Last summer, the FAI also helped Mitch organise a soccer camp for the players. "When I was here only a couple of weeks, I got a Garden of Soccer going," Mitch recalls. "Brian Kerr was very good, he gave me some FAI coaches and we put on a camp for a week. We had over 150 kids from Dublin 8 and 110 of the kids were from St Teresa's Gardens." There are already plans to hold another Garden of Soccer, due to the resounding success of last year's camp. This year they are hoping to put on two-week camps for about 100 boys and girls, which Mitch adds, "would be absolutely fantastic".

However, off the pitch things do not look so good. Mitch explains at the moment "the facilities are very poor". The club uses a PE hall to train in, but this building is unsuitable because of its poor condition. Dublin Corporation was supposed to build an all weather pitch for the club, but this did not go ahead due to escalating building costs.

The club owns two full-size grass pitches, but these have no floodlights which means they can't be used in the wintertime after it gets dark. Also the pitches get very wet and can't be used for training when they are water-logged. Despite this, training still goes ahead whenever possible and during the summer the pitches are in perfect order.

St Teresa's Gardens FC currently has 40 registered members. Working with so many young players can sometimes take its toll. Mitch admits it can get a little stressful at times. "The kids can be very aggressive and their attitude can be a bit in-your-face, at times." He adds, "when they're giving you a bit of lip, you have to give them a bit of lip back". However, growing up in the city has helped him cope with these situations, and he is used to the varying temperaments of the kids. He feels that is a great outlet for the kids and that it's their way of "expressing themselves".

It is obvious that Mitch has a real passion for the sport. "The thing that I'm really enjoying at the moment is seeing the teams do so well. All four teams are winning their leagues," he enthuses. He has also noticed great progress in the players' skills. "Football-wise, they are all developing. All the basic skills are coming together".

Working with children requires a special talent and it is clear that Mitch has a way with children. "You have to be a bit of a kid sometimes. If you go in and you're serious all of the time, the kids think, hang on a minute, he's a bit of a crank and a bore. You have to have a bit of craic. You have to enjoy your job and if you don't, you're banging your head against a wall. I enjoy my job because I love football."

St Teresa's Gardens FC have high ambitions for the future. As soccer co-ordinator, Mitch has first-hand knowledge of the players and their abilities. "There's an unbelievable amount of talent within the flats and the area. It's just a matter of going out and persuading the kids to join the team". Mitch feels there is great potential in many of the players to play at a high level of football in Ireland and even in England.

With a lack of adequete facilities, St Teresa's Gardens FC have their work cut out, but with Mitch's blend of experience and dedication there is no doubt they will succeed.