Getting the chance to sit down and pick the brains of the CEO of a Premiership club is rare enough in this day and age but when that person actually makes the effort to come and see you in person, then you know you’re in a very privileged position.
That is the situation that members of Woodview Celtic found themselves in before Christmas when Sunderland AFC CEO Margaret ‘Mags’ Byrne arrived in Dundalk to sit down and give the club’s 16 coaches and managers a talk on player development.
From the outside, it seems like a strange link-up. However, when you examine things a bit closer, you can see why the chief executive of a club based in the north east of England and a member of the FA’s Council - the first woman ever to be voted onto that board - would offer her time to a junior club based in Dundalk.
A native of nearby Dromintee, Margaret has close ties with the club. Her brother-in-law, Stephen McArdle, is manager of the Woodview U16 team while three of her nephews play with the Woodview U10, U12 and U16 teams respectively.
A discussion between Stephen, Margaret’s sister, Ann Marie McArdle and Woodview secretary Kevin Magee followed and it wasn’t long before 36 children and 17 adults were invited to the Stadium of Light for the game against Cardiff City in May of last year.
As well as that, Margaret offered the management committee of Woodview her help and advice at any time. Magee took her up on the offer before Christmas and he admits he was blown away by her response.
“I was at home one night thinking of something that could help our coaches and it came into my head that maybe Mags could send over some training manuals that they use at Sunderland,’ he explained.
“However Mags, being the kind of woman that she is, said she’d do one better and not only bring them over personally, but also sit down and talk to each member of our coaching staff.”
The Black Cats supremo arrived in Dundalk on December 22 and gave a presentation at the Community Hall in Muirhevnamor. However, her generosity didn’t end there.
“She said that Sunderland AFC will continue to give us any help that they can when it comes to coaching,” continued Magee.
“The offer is there for five or six of our coaches to go over to Sunderland every year and spend a weekend with their academy coaches, in the classroom and on the pitch, and see how things are done.”
Byrne has put one condition on the offer; that the club’s underage coaches are in possession of the required coaching badges. Magee, though, said that would act as an extra incentive for the club’s mentors.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” he said. “I would say we are the only club in Ireland to get something like this offered to us and we won’t let it slip. The lads know that if they want to make the most of this, they will have to start taking their badges.
“As well as that, it’s a huge thing for any young people out there who are thinking of becoming managers or coaches of a football team. With this in place, hopefully some of them might decide that Woodview is the right club for them.”
The relationship with Sunderland is another milestone in the club’s relatively short history. At senior level, the club’s first-team are regarded as one of the strongest in the north east but it’s at schoolboys level where they have shown rapid progression.
Since launching their underage sides just five years ago, they now have over 130 children playing in the Dundalk Schoolboys League. It is this sort of progress that the Sunderland CEO is delighted to see.
“She wants to see us develop. That is important,” said Magee. “Progression is important and any time she comes over or we go over there, she wants to know what steps we have taken.
“Mags had advised us that we should have a coach at the club with a UEFA B coaching license and we have put plans in place for one of our lads to go the whole way and get that.
“The next step is obviously getting a pitch of our own,” he added. “Local TD Peter Fitzpatrick has been helping us and we thought we were close to something recently but it didn’t come off but we will keep looking for something.
“We have more children playing with us every year and they need a ground. Mags says that Sunderland will help us with things like sponsorship and plans if we can get somewhere sorted.
“She has really gone out of her way to help the club and everybody is so grateful for that.”
q All players, both boys and girls of any ability, from the ages of four to 16 are welcomed to the club and anyone interested should contact Kevin Magee on 0871311457. Woodview are also on the lookout for a permanent home and anyone with any information on potential land available can contact that same number.