Ambition won’t take you all the way in sport, but you won’t get off the ground without it.
t Mid and East Kerry (MEK) Galaxy Football Club, they’re not short of ambition, and while they’re not at the finish line yet, the desire to get there gives them a better chance than most.
And there’s a pragmatism about them as well. Their seniors were relegated last season from Kerry soccer’s top tier, but the fact that they were there at all at this young stage in their existence is what matters. They know that the season just gone was as much about learning as anything else and they did plenty of that while still making most games competitive, all in the knowledge that the cameras were on them – literally – thanks to a new four part documentary on their journey which will be screened over the Christmas period.
“We came all the way from the bottom up,” senior manager Darragh says of the club’s ascent under its former Cedar Galaxy (CG) banner. “With the under-age you might have three divisions, but with the seniors you could be playing in Division 3B, which would be seven divisions down.
“We went through the divisions, up into Premier A last season with the long-established clubs…Our best wasn’t enough at the time, but we’d be very ambitious to get back to the Premier again and have a better stab at it.
“We’re not as focussed on results as we are on improvement. We’re still a young club, and you can’t aim to win the Premier A in your first year up there, we have to be a little realistic with our targets. What we lacked was experience, but we made up for that in effort and other areas.
“We might have lacked a little bit of quality, but we saw over the course of a season that we’re not that far off a lot of the teams in the division. With a bit of luck we could have stayed up, but it’s all a learning curve.
“It’s not unknown for a team to fold after making some progress, and we’re determined not to let that happen.”
And the safeguards are in place to reduce the chances of that happening. 2019 was an historic year for both senior-focussed Cedar Galaxy and under-age outfit MEK United as they merged to create a club with a clear structure from the bottom of the age groups all the way to the top.
Mergers don’t always work – sometimes they can be disastrous – but while there are always issues to iron out before such moves, and this was the case with CG and MEK United as well, an amalgamation did make sense.
“We had a senior team since, probably, the early 2010s, and MEK was formed around the middle of the decade,” Darragh says. “For them [MEK United] it would be very hard to set-up at under-age and get a team all the way through to senior; you’d be relying on not losing any player. For us [CG] it was going to be very difficult to start an under-age set-up.
“The opportunity arose through communication between the two of us. We’d have known each other from different things over the years, and there was always a bit of a connection between the two. We would have been friendly with each other, shall we say.
“We had a bit of a sit down. They were sceptical about some things, we were sceptical about some things, but eventually, when you put it all together, it worked better for everyone. They are getting a couple of us for coaching, and we’ll be getting a couple of players coming through. Everyone is based out of similar areas, Mid and East Kerry, and we’d be able to get certain structures in place within the community.”
While CG’s progress from early days playing astro-turf soccer at Killarney Celtic’s grounds some 10 years ago was impressive, similar can be said of MEK United’s ascent at various age levels. Some groups had earned the right to play top-tier football last season, and that will again be the case in 2021.
There are hundreds of people registered with the club from senior all the way down to under-sevens, with male and female soccer catered for, and people such as Darragh are keen to make sure that the transition from under-age to senior is as smooth as it can be.
There’s a focus, for example, on having strong relations between the under-17 outfit and seniors so that the younger members get a taste for what could be ahead, and even when COVID restrictions prompted Zoom classes involving the senior players, the under-17s were there, sitting in.
It all makes for a very good story, one that took the eye of sports-coverage company ‘Full Time Productions’, who brought their cameras to the club and filmed the ups and downs of MEK Galaxy’s first forays into life n the senior ranks after a merger. The company sat in on 12 games throughout the season, including an away trip to Clare in the FAI Junior Cup, as well as attending some fund-raising initiatives and providing profiles of several players.
The MEK story will be broadcast over four evenings – December 20, 24, 27, and 31, each at 8pm – with the official release taking place on the ‘Full Time Productions’ Facebook page.
There was a certain amount of convincing required to get MEK on board but, as is the club’s pragmatic way, the benefits were clear, and they went for it.
“Kevin Kelleher [of Full Time Productions] would have filmed a few league finals on the live stream a couple of years ago, and he always seemed interested in what we were doing,” says Darragh.
“He always kept relations good, he kept picking away at me, and eventually I said, ‘go on’. I thought it could be good, you get the most out of a player when there’s a camera on them and, in fairness, fellas did step up to the mark. Once you’ve started your training session, or you’re in a game, you’re focussed on your game and not the camera.
“Good or bad, it was going to be a nice memory to have. These kind of club profiles have become very popular on Netflix and Amazon, people are interested in what teams are doing.
“It should be an entertaining watch. I love watching those things and, look, a lot of teams might have a picture from 20 years ago to look back on, but we’ll have a whole documentary!”
Darragh paid tribute to all the unsung heroes involved with the club, without whom he said progress would not have been possible. MEK Galaxy is always on the lookout for people willing to get involved in some capacity, and contact details are available at mekgalaxyfc.com. You can also find Full Time Productions on Twitter @fulltimeproduc2; and on Instagram at ‘fulltimeproductions’.