GAA Football

From the Etihad to the Erne County, Jonny Garrity still learning after Man City experience

He spent time around some of the best during a stint with Premier League champions-elect Manchester City, and now Jonny Garrity is transferring some of those skills to his own coaching career in Gaelic football. Neil Loughran talks to the Tyrone man…

Jonny Garrity returned home from England in 2018, and is looking forward to his third year in charge of the Fermanagh ladies. Picture by Sportsfile

JUST over three months ago he helped Fermanagh ladies land the All-Ireland junior crown, lessons learned from the best the English Premier League has to offer standing Jonny Garrity in good stead as his own coaching odyssey opens out.

The Fintona native is preparing to lead the Erne ladies into a third campaign and, alongside his day job as a Games Development Officer in Fermanagh, Garrity feels blessed to be back home after 17 years across the water.

Yet while the GAA has always been at his very core, even while in England’s north-west (he managed Oisin’s ladies for five years and was also a selector with Lancashire ladies), a seven month stint working at Manchester City provided a valuable insight into what is required to succeed at the very highest level.

Completing a Masters degree in sport and exercise science at Manchester Metropolitan University, lead tutor Dr Ryan Groom – whose CV includes roles with the likes of the England national team and Tottenham Hotspur – was asked to recommend a student to take up a part-time role in City’s performance analysis department.

Garrity got the nod.

This was the summer of 2017. Pep Guardiola had just completed his first year in charge and while City finished third, 15 points off champions Chelsea, the wheels were already in motion for a complete cultural overhaul, spearheaded by the Spaniard.

Watching that evolution at close quarters was a huge eye-opener, as was the sheer scale of the operation he was now a part of.

“There’s a tendency whenever it’s mentioned about me having worked in that area to think I was the performance analyst for Manchester City, in a singular sense. The reality is it is a huge department, I couldn’t even put a number on it,” said the 39-year-old.

“I was working primarily with the underage boys, and the games would all be videoed, then either myself or one of the other analysts would be in the dugout doing live analysis, coding the game as it happened. Once you had the complete analysis done, you gave it across to the coaches and sat down with them.

“During the match it’s available for live feedback too so they may take a stat here and there if it’s something that can influence their decision-making on the sideline, but generally it was up to each manager how they want to relay that feedback to their team.

“Some would be very heavy on stats and would want an in-depth report, others would maybe only look for two or three things. Once they’re armed with that knowledge, they go back and feed that to their players how they choose.”

Following Guardiola to Manchester was an host of Spanish staff, though Garrity recalls that Dubliner Mark Kennedy – then one of the club’s academy coaches – was more than able to make his voice heard.

“What a character. You could hear him coming from miles away,” he smiles when talking about the former Republic of Ireland winger, who played for City around the turn of the Millennium.

“You’ve got Pep and all these other Spaniards, they’re all really professional and they’re brilliant guys, then you’ve got this Dub shouting and roaring and joking and laughing. It was a culture clash but he was good craic.”

One name on the lips of all the coaches around the club at that time, from underage right up to Guardiola himself, was Phil Foden.

The Stockport stylist lit up the U17 World Cup in India during the autumn of Garrity’s time at City, and this season the 20-year-old is delivering on his enormous potential as a creative focal point for the Premier League champions-elect.

Foden, though, was far from alone. Garrity recalls how the “high performance environment” gave all aspiring academy starlets the best possible opportunity to realise their dreams, equipping them for life both on and off the pitch.

“Phil Foden was the up and coming kid at that time but, working in that elite sporting environment, the biggest thing you notice across the board is the mental strength and the attitude of the players.

“There was a uniformity in terms of their culture that resonated a lot with me. Like, bad behaviour wasn’t a thing, nobody showed real ego… probably a lot of that came down from Pep too. Across the board he made changes throughout the club, including in the academy set-up, that had an overriding effect.

“But when you’re talking about culture, you’re talking about the individual attitudes that make up a culture. You have to take a step back and ask why are these individuals so positive, with growth mindsets? Why are they so determined to better themselves and make everybody else better?

“I believe that is the case because the coaching and sports science expertise available to them is on another level. All those service providers know egos and bad attitudes can’t be allowed to prevail in that kind of environment, and that’s something which is fed down to the players in the system over there.

“And you can see the result, because they’re fantastic athletes but also fantastic people. It’s surreal now looking back on it… it was fantastic to call that a place of work for a while.

“It certainly made me think about my standards and what I want to bring to any environment I’m involved with.”

Phil Foden was one of the top talents in the Man City academy when Jonny Garrity was there, and has delivered on his huge promise this season. Picture by PA

There were opportunities to remain with City but, by that stage, Garrity had decided the pull of home was too strong after so long away.

“It’s probably sod’s law that when I met my fiancée and we decided to go home, it was at that point I had got a foot in the door at City.

“It’s a bit of a regret that I didn’t get an opportunity like that when I went over first as opposed to when I was due to leave, because at that point it was evident there were opportunities to progress through the ranks with City.

“There would have been opportunities to go in there full-time and work my way up… there was a part of me that wanted to explore that, but at the same time the prospect of coming home and managing in Gaelic football, that’s my true passion. That was something I couldn’t turn away from.”

Garrity didn’t waste any time upon his return, soon taking up the reins in Fermanagh. And, looking to the future, he puts no limit on his ambitions.

“I would have aspirations to be as successful as possible as a manager.

“Up to now I’ve been involved with the ladies’ game in England and over here, that has been the case because it allowed me to play still. Long-term, I wouldn’t say I’m stuck to the ladies’ code, I’d be open to moving across at some point, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Fermanagh.

“The key thing for me was to create a positive team culture and to then start to layer things on top of that, and thankfully we’ve done that. Looking at the players we have, I’ve no doubt the girls can go on and prosper.”

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