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20 Jan 2022

The Commentary Box: Dundalk board promising big changes following Strategic Review

The Commentary Box: Dundalk board promising big changes following Strategic Review

New Dundalk FC co-owner Alan Clarke is hopeful of making meaningful changes to the club after conducting a Strategic Review

It’s been a busy week at Oriel Park as the new owners of Dundalk FC continue to get their feet under the table. They won’t be given much time however as the plans for next season continue apace.

The new owners moved swiftly to announce its new board and chairman. Sean O’Connor of Stats Sports is the new club chairman. Fellow owners Andy Connolly and Alan Clarke are club directors. 

Simon Blackmore has returned as the club licensing officer. Simon has a massive experience in this area and held the post previously from 2015 to 2020. Simon’s role is key to the whole functioning of the club and it’s a massive boost to see him return.

Martin Connolly, brother of Andy is expected to return full time to his old job as club operations manager. At the moment he is back working at Oriel at least two days a week.

Colm Murphy returned to his old job of club secretary just before the end of the season. Colm is another person who has one of the toughest jobs in the club. Again, the whole functioning of the club runs right through his job.

When writing this column it’s gone completely quiet on who the manager will be next season. There is also no word on any new players coming in. Who could come in really depends on who the new owners decide on for the position of manager.

The new owners are doing the right thing and not just rushing in quickly to appoint a manager. To me Vinny Perth was the obvious choice. I would have reappointed him before the last game of the season. But the owners are casting their net far and wide and also closer to home as well.

By the time you are reading this you might all know who the boss is for next season. Without doubt I believe an announcement to be imminent and the signing of new players and the re-signing of existing players can begin in earnest.

The 2022 Budget

The new manager will have a good healthy budget to work from to get the players. It had been reported that Peak6 would leave about €250,000 in the bank for the new owners. Well I believe that figure to have been a bit more than just that.

So good is the amount that it could go close enough to the players budget that most of the top teams in the league had last season. However, it’s nothing near the €2 million budget of last season.

But to be fair to Peak6 they have left more than enough money in the bank for the new owners to be able to pay for or keep a decent manager and also to assemble a good squad of players for next season that will be able to challenge for Europe.

Dundalk will have enough money that will allow them to operate a team on a full-time basis next season. Thus, the new or existing manager will have to work with a budget that top league of Ireland clubs should be run on. Not the at least €2 million that was spent on players last season.

The money that some players got in the season was grotesque. I’m glad that is history. I’m also happy players will be getting paid the same as their counterparts in other clubs.

The next Dundalk manager must be allowed to give out two-year contracts to players as well. It would mean that our best players could not be plucked out from under the club’s noses.

The two year contracts are vital as they will help the manager to have the much needed stability in the club and thus be able to plan accordingly.

Will Patching

This week it was hard to look on and see Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney and Will Patching all being unveiled as Derry City players. Michael Duffy got a four year contract.

The new owner of Derry obviously sees the possibility of Michael being picked up by a cross channel club and wants to ensure he can’t be snatched away from the Brandywell for nothing in the manner in which he was enticed home.

I’ve said over and over again that that Derry did nothing at all wrong in signing the three players that they did. Derry would never have got near them had they been on extended contracts.

Incidentally Will Patching has been named on the Players Premier Division Team of the Season. This is great recognition for a young player who is highly talented and will do well for Derry next season.

Will missed most of the previous season with Dundalk having been signed by Vinny Perth. He returned to Oriel at the beginning of January of this year just a month before the start of the season.

In what proved to be a dreadful decision, Will was let out on loan to Derry City until July. He returned to Oriel mid-summer and immediately became a huge boost to Dundalk.

Their midfield was that bit stronger. But as in the cases of Michael Duffy and Patrick McEleney, Will signed a pre contract deal with Ruaidhri Higgins. Patching was unveiled as Derry City’s third new signing this week.

I saw some Dundalk fans say this week that Patching will not be missed that much. That’s just daft. The fact that Will has been selected by the players, his peers in the Premier Division, to be on the team of the year, spanning all clubs shows how highly he is regarded.

To add to that Ruaidhri Higgins knows what he is doing when he signs players. Thus, in one swoop he was able to unveil three of the best players Dundalk had on their books last season.

Daniel Cleary could also be on his way to Scottish club St Johnstone. If Cleary goes it will leave a massive hole in the centre of the Dundalk defence. The Saint Johnstone manager says he is very interested in Daniel. How that story develops we must wait and see.

Hopefully the new owners are discussing a new contract with Daniel. He must be persuaded to stay as he is one of the best centre halves in the country.

Alan Clarke

Newly named Dundalk board member Alan Clarke told the club website this week that the owners have two main goals this season. The first was to stabilize the club in every department while simultaneously building a competitive team that will challenge for honours in 2022.

This is so positive and with the money left to the club by Peak6, Dundalk can achieve this aim. It was also great to read Sean saying that the club has also placed a big emphasis on rebuilding the links between Oriel Park and the club’s supporters and the community.

The STATSports co-founder also said that the club is about to commence a strategic review of many areas of the club. This includes supporter involvement. There will be no problem with this as a new supporters club has been in existence for some time now.

Youth development and women’s football gets a great emphasis from the chairman. Existing club Academy manager Stephen McDonnell departed the club last week. He was appointed by former Dundalk Sporting Director Jim Magilton.

Stephen said on social media that it was a pleasure to not only work for Dundalk for the past twelve months, it was also a pleasure to play for the club in the past. Stephen said he wished the new owners the very best in the future.

The job of Academy manager is vital as he/she deals with the underage players, boys and girls coming into the club. Dundalk have a good underage structure. The aim is to see them progress to the men’s senior team in relation to the boys and a senior women’s team in relation to the girls.

Women’s football quite rightly is at long last being held in the same regard as the men’s teams in most cases. There is still work to do to reach that equality. However we are getting there.

It would be great to see a Dundalk FC women’s senior team compete in the same league as Shelbourne or cup holders Wexford Youths or Dublin club Peamount United. Many of the top League of Ireland teams now compete in this Women’s league. It’s time Dundalk did so as well.

Clarke also spoke about how he wants to look at club infrastructure and stadium development. This is a must. Oriel has seen no real stadium development since 1966.

The club will also look at Media, Content and communications. They will also look at Commercial strategy and match night experience.

As part of the process the club will be seeking engagement and consultation from supporters, players, coaches and individuals with high levels of expertise and experience in their respective areas.

Clarke emphasized that regular updates on the club website and various social media channels will be given as they move along the process.

He says it’s the club’s intention to shape a new vision for the club so that Dundalk FC will flourish and excel on and off the pitch for years to come.

The Dublin League?

Waterford were dramatically relegated in the Premier Division Promotion/Relegation play off last Friday night when they were beaten 2-1 by UCD at Inchicore. It now means there are five Dublin clubs in the Premier Division out of 10.

The most southerly club in the country is now Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght. Dundalk will only face three long journeys next season away from home. That will be to Finn Harps in Donegal, Sligo and Derry.

They have a short journey up the road to Drogheda and just 50 kilometres further they have Dublin with the five teams. So for the first time in many years there will be no club represented in the League of Ireland top flight from the province of Munster.

The FAI need to act rapidly over the next twelve months to correct this. They will have to expand the current ten team league format.

Our second and third biggest cities, Cork and Limerick and now Waterford are in the graveyard that is the first Division. Limerick, bar a couple of seasons have been languishing there for over two decades.

They have since been replaced in the first Division by another Limerick City club in Treaty United. The first Division has destroyed senior soccer in Limerick.

Cork City were relegated in the 2020 season. It’s incredible when one thinks how well they competed with Dundalk in the league and cup during the Kenny era at Oriel only a short time ago.

They managed to qualify for five FAI cup finals in a row against Dundalk. They won two cups and one League title. They need to get out of that Division next season.

Waterford Fiasco

It was an unbelievable week at Waterford. Three days before the big play-off game against UCD they sacked manager Mark Bircham. Ian Hendon was installed as caretaker boss a day later. There seems to have been tensions between the manager, the club owner and the club academy.

Whatever it was, it was ridiculous to sack the manager three days before the play off. Waterford bounced back from a dreadful start to the season to at one stage be above Dundalk in the league.

They came to Oriel with three games remaining and Dundalk beat the men from the southeast. After that they slumped in their last two league games and ended up in the play offs.

The caretaker boss on Friday night who replaced Bircham dropped club captain Niall O’Keefe from the starting side and played defender Greg Halford up front. Waterford went in front, but UCD deservingly ended up 2-1 winners and earned their promotion on merit.

For UCD Coach Andy Myler it was full reward for the beautiful passing game he has instilled in his team over the past few years. It was also a very poignant night for the UCD boss as his dad had passed away just a few days earlier.

To add salt to Waterford’s wounds former youth player Colm Whelan got one of the two goals that secured UCD’s promotion. The problem with UCD getting promotion is that they do not have a strong fan base.

Waterford had a crowd of 3,000 attending their last league game at the RSC. At most UCD would have around 250 of their own fans attending home games and around fifty at away games.

After the match Stephen Kenny got on at least two of the Waterford supporters buses commiserating with them on their loss. He gave them very encouraging words on the future. It really impressed the Waterford fans. They took to social media in their droves praising the Irish boss.

To the suits in the FAI neither Martin O’Neill nor Mick McCarthy would have been anywhere near that game on Friday night let alone be on the Waterford supporters’ bus afterwards commiserating with them.

It will be a big week in the Dundalk FC social diary with the possible announcement of a manager. The dogs in the street are barking out a number of names. One stands out. But I am saying nothing. Have a good week. And please do not forget to look after yourselves.

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