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Coaching is in Lizzy's blood

Kent started at young age and loves the challenge

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Lizzy Kent (left) celebrating a win with Deirdre Fox during her time as a Wexford ladies’ football team member in 2007

Lizzy Kent (left) celebrating a win with Deirdre Fox during her time as a Wexford ladies’ football team member in 2007

SPORTSFILE

Lizzy Kent, assistant coach to the Republic of Ireland women’s Under-19 soccer team, at a photo call for the squad in early March

Lizzy Kent, assistant coach to the Republic of Ireland women’s Under-19 soccer team, at a photo call for the squad in early March

SPORTSFILE

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Lizzy Kent (left) celebrating a win with Deirdre Fox during her time as a Wexford ladies’ football team member in 2007

In most sports there is a playing, a coaching, and a management mindset. While there can be some overlap, particularly in the latter two, in reality they are vastly different and need particular sets of skills.

On a variety of levels, in different sports, Lizzy Kent has experience with all three. Despite being an accomplished player, an All-Ireland finalist with Wexford ladies' footballers in 2007, in her own words, she has always had the mindset of a coach.

It has been natural for Lizzy from a young age. Part of being a teenager is being very much engrossed in your own little world, but for a few there's the bigger picture.

Call it a maturity, call it necessity, but that was how Kent dipped her feet in the coaching world.

'I actually started coaching when I was very young,' Lizzy explained. 'It was because when I started off playing initially there was no women's teams in the area. There was no football, there was no soccer, there was nothing in the area.

'We kind of went about trying to get a team together, and a guy locally helped us set up a ladies' football team at the time. Two or three years in he had given us great service and I suppose at that stage he was stepping away to do other things, so we actually had nobody else to look after the team.

'I think I was about 15 at the time. I was obviously playing, [and] I would have stepped in to do a bit of coaching at that stage to kind of keep the thing going, it kind of just evolved from there.

'I always really enjoyed, obviously the onfield part of it, but I enjoyed looking at the game, I enjoyed understanding the game, even from a young age,' she said.

'Similarly with the soccer, our soccer team set up in and around a similar time and it was kind of just part and parcel, if you were playing you were helping out with some of the under-age teams as well.

'So it was kind of initially a needs must, I wanted to play and as I began doing it, maybe unusually to other people, I enjoyed coaching and still do. I can't really remember a time when I wasn't coaching.'

While Kent was still playing for Wexford, she kept coaching away in football, chipping in right through the ages at club level, eventually moving through the grades with the inter-county teams too.

Soccer was on the radar and there were bits and pieces of coaching opportunities here and there, including with the county representative side, but a big challenge came her way just after she hung up the boots for Wexford at the start of the decade.

'How it transpired that I ended up involved with the Wexford Youths [was] I had been doing a bit of coaching but probably I had been doing more in Gaelic. It was through a friend, Trish Nolan, a mutual friend of both myself and John [Flood],' Lizzy said.

'I had worked with her with some of the under-age county teams. John was looking for someone to get involved, with an interest in the sport, with a background in it.

'I remember meeting John in the Horse and Hound actually. My initial thing going to the meeting was, like, I'm going to take a break now, I'm not doing this. [I] spoke with John, probably spent three hours with John, I was just sold on the project, sold on the whole idea of it.'

They spent three years building Wexford Youths, setting down the foundations of what was about to turn into the most successful women's soccer team in the country. Lizzy saw examples of the attitude and belief that would be vital in those successes.

'One that resonates massively, it nearly encapsulates what the whole project was about, we had played Peamount United, they would have been champions at the time and had been in the Champions League. Current Irish assistant manager Eileen Gleeson was over the team.

'We actually got beaten 7-0 and it was like "where do you go with that". I remember we re-grouped after the game and John saying to the girls "we'll get a result on these by the end of the season", and I remember myself thinking "oh God, here we go" like.

'True to the word, it was maybe the second or third last game of the season, things just rolled for us and we beat them 2-1, and that probably gives you a picture of that team. I find it sometimes hard to put into words when I talk about them.

'They just bought into everything, everything that we asked of them. There's a collective there, a group of people, you often hear them talk about that family element, and that is it, ten years later I would still be in touch with a lot of those girls and they likewise.'

When that management team stepped down after three seasons at the helm, Lizzy went back to the G.A.A. and took charge of her club side, Adamstown, all the time chipping away with her coaching qualifications in both of her chosen sports.

Lizzy acquired Level 2 coaching qualification in G.A.A. through the L.G.F.A. and is now a course tutor, passing on her vast array of knowledge to those coming up behind.

In soccer she was a participant in Ireland's first-ever female-only UEFA B Licence, an experience she thoroughly enjoyed.

'It was a great experience to be honest,' Kent said. 'I've been on plenty of courses that have been male and female. For me it was just a brilliant learning environment, with a great support network.

'I don't know whether that's the fact that it was female only or maybe that's how it goes on a lot of cases. For me it was great in the sense of, there's elements of the course where you can get involved and play, really learn by doing.

'Would I have been inclined to jump in and play if it was a men's and women's course? I probably wouldn't, I would probably have been more stand-offish. I got a huge amount from being on the field and getting involved.

'I'm still in touch with a lot of girls that I did the course with so it's a great support network when you are trying to navigate your way through coaching and all the different challenges that you face. The course itself just gives you such a vast amount of knowledge to go away with.'

In the meantime, Lizzy had plenty on her plate in a coaching capacity. She spent last season as coach with Anthony Masterson and the ladies' football side, with Alan Browne and his Youths Under-17s, as well as training W.I.T. ladies and her niece's Under-14 team.

She had great days and big disappointments with the county Senior side, the Leinster title being the highlight. Kent also believes there is still more to come from the group, despite the disappointing start to 2020.

'I think it's very easy for me to pick the highs. The Leinster final last year was just a phenomenal experience, in the sense of, that day things just came together, things just landed,' she explained.

'I was only just looking at a clip of video from that game, what I would describe as the perfect score, things just landed that day, it was like that day was the day everything just came together.

'Then obviously with the two hurling groups winning and the homecoming the next day, I'd never experienced another like that, it was just fantastic.

'There was a steady progression, winning the National League in the first year gave us great impetus. It galvanised the group as well, as success does. Staying in Division 2 was another step on the ladder.

'We haven't got through that quarter-final stage, it's been a little bit of a barrier to us. To me I don't think it is [like that], if you look at it on paper it looks like a barrier we've hit and we are not able to overcome, we have just been fierce unlucky a number of times.

'Why that is, it's hard to put your finger on it. If you ask me I would have hoped this year there would have been that progression to pushing on. It was nearly like momentum was gathering, they got the league final under their belts, the Leinster final.

'Meath were able to turn the momentum last year. It is frustrating, it's one of the things, its hard to get over because I believe we were in a really good place last year and in a really good position.

'I genuinely believe its only small things and it's just getting over the line once. I would have hoped that the momentum would have continued to build. I believe there is plenty more in that group, we have terrific players.'

Talking to Lizzy, it's clear there's still a great love for Wexford football and it would be no surprise if she was to come back at some stage in the future and take the reins. However, in the immediate future her focus is on soccer.

Wexford Youths are certainly a huge part of that equation. At the moment, being a coach with Alan Browne and the Under-17s is perfect for Kent, as she's able to continue to grow and learn, while working with a hugely talented side.

'I guess what's really nice about the 17s, I had been involved prior to that with a lot of adult level, so I suppose it's back to more of a development level at 17s again. I like that environment, where you are trying to help, where you are trying to facilitate for players to improve and learn their trade.

'Last year's group was a terrific group, we had a great year with them on and off the field. This year similarly we were shaping up to kick-off, like we were due to start the middle of April, it looks like we will get back the end of August now.

'I've really enjoyed that development element of it. It's great to see young girls come in and confidence level and belief in themselves, you see them come in heads down, shoulders down, and by the time the season finishes they are leading video analysis sessions for you.

'I love that. We were beaten in the All-Ireland final last year but what we would have got out of the year in terms of all that other stuff. Yes, finals and medals are great, we all love winning, but the whole experience has been really, really good.'

Lizzy finished the season taking another step in her coaching path, making the move into Dave Connell's Ireland women's Under-19's management team. A promising campaign was cut short by Covid-19 but, with a new crop coming through, Kent is looking forward to qualification later in the year.

'It looks like it's going to be full steam ahead which again is positive,' Lizzy said. 'We were concerned if there was going to be any football before Christmas, but it looks like there will be.

'Our plans are in place for qualifiers in Greece in October so it's exciting. I'm only a year in so I'm very inexperienced in the sense of being around the set-up. It's great learning and a great environment to be honest.'

For the immediate future, Lizzy is content in her roles but does have half an eye on gaining a UEFA A Licence at some stage. Management may also be in her plans, but for the moment coaching is her immediate path.

'I work in Waterford, in W.I.T. At this moment in time it suits me to come to a field, plan my sessions and work around everything on the field, whereas at the moment it's not feasible on a management level.

'You need to be more contactable all the time. Right now it's not something I see myself moving towards. Do I have a grá for it? Yeah, I do, at some point. Feasibly right now it doesn't work with where I am at the minute.'

The thing about a coach's brain is that it is always developing, always learning, always looking towards a route to improve their charges.

With her experience and knowledge, Lizzy Kent will never be short of offers. One thing is almost certain though: she'll not accept five of them in one year again!

Online Editors