Stephen O'Donnell before the FAI Cup Final. (Pic: Sportfile)
It’s been an amazing week of managerial merry-go-rounds this sparked by the departure of Stephen O’Donnell from FAI Cup holders Saint Patrick’s Athletic to head to Dundalk. The dogs in the street in Dundalk were very aware last weekend that O’Donnell was coming to Dundalk.
I was amazed by the reaction of St Pat’s. As a club that they had no idea that their manager would be heading back up the M1 to return to the club he captained to three FAI Cups and five league titles.
The news broke around Dundalk that O’Donnell was returning on the Friday before the cup final. Well to say news might be too strong.
The rumour mill pointed to just one man, that Stephen O’Donnell was returning to the club he led to its most successful period in modern history. I knew while writing the column last weekend that this was to happen.
However, I decided to wait to see what exactly was going to happen and let the story appear elsewhere before I made an official comment. As it was, our reporter Niall Newberry got the concrete information needed and broke the story to Democrat readers last Tuesday.
The FAI Cup Final
I watched the FAI Cup final penalty shootout and the celebrations afterwards. The winning penalty came from the boot of another former Dundalk hero Robbie Benson.
Despite the victory for Pat’s, and the ensuing celebrations, for the short time shown on TV, Stephen O’Donnell was not interviewed, nor did he appear live on TV either. That immediately led me to suspect something wasn’t right and led me to suspect O’Donnell was on his way back to Oriel.
Alan Mathews, the Pat’s head coach took the after-match TV interviews. But Stephen O’Donnell was with his players. He gave each of them his individual attention which showed the class of the man.
The first action he did post-match was to console his former Dundalk FC player Keith Ward who was inconsolable with disappointment. The Bohs midfielder had missed one of his side’s two crucial penalties that allowed Robbie Benson to score the all-important penalty.
Benson’s penalty also propelled Derry City into the Europa Conference League for next season. Bohs needed to win the cup to qualify for Europe.
I felt so sorry for Keith Ward too. Keith won an EA Sports Cup medal with Dundalk in 2014. The Dubliner, instead of keeping the medal handed it to a young Dundalk supporter giving up a prize that most players in the League of Ireland would never win.
This was why I wanted Keith to get his FAI Cup medal. But O’Donnell, still known as the Skipper among Dundalk fans, comforted his former club colleague before going to his own players. It shows the humanity that is there in abundance among the next Dundalk manager.
It was to be the post-match press conference where the first signs appeared O’Donnell was moving to Dundalk. He was asked about the rumours. His failure to deny them were a clear indicator that something was happening.
Stephen O’Donnell told the Pat’s board on Tuesday officially that he was leaving. Despite that announcement, he has yet to be unveiled to the media as manager of Dundalk.
This is because there is a dispute around the terms of his contract with Pat’s and whether that gives him the freedom to take up the Dundalk job.
Dundalk are of the belief that O’Donnell’s two-year contract at Pat’s was up and that he was free to go wherever he wanted to go. Pat’s dispute Dundalk’s belief of what the terms of O’Donnell’s contract were.
It seems the cup holders do not believe the terms of his contract with them gives O’Donnell the freedom to continue his managerial career at Dundalk. Dundalk and Pat’s are equally confident of their position.
It seems inevitable that Pats will seek legal compensation unless the two clubs can come to an amicable agreement. That seems highly unlikely. But Dundalk need to get this sorted as they need to start signing and resigning players immediately.
It’s expected that Robbie Benson will return to Oriel along with another former Dundalk player Paddy Barrett. There will be others too as many of the Pats players are out of contract.
It’s hoped that many of Dundalk’s players who are out of contract may now stay. Among them could be striker Pat Hoban who earlier in the season was being linked to a move away from the club. It’s felt that the club’s leading scorer for many seasons may now stay put.
Stephen O’Donnell formerly resigned as Pat’s manager on Thursday. In his resignation letter he said he could not have worked any harder at the club. The supposedly new Dundalk boss said he was so proud of the exciting team he had built over the past two years.
O’Donnell said he could understand the club and supporters’ disappointment. But the new incoming Dundalk boss said he hoped they recognize that he has given them everything during his time at Inchicore. The Galwegian stated that Sunday’s cup win was one of the proudest moments of his life.
Other LOI News
Pat Dolan says that Bohs, Derry City, Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Bohemians, Dundalk and Shelbourne will spend big for next season. He rightly says if one fails to compete as a big boy next year it will be a disaster for the manager.
Tim Clancy became the new Drogheda United manager in place of Stephen O’Donnell. Interestingly in their statement Pat’s described him as an addition to the management with no specific role as of yet. But there is no doubt he will be the new Pat’s boss.
He will have the arduous task of trying to persuade out of contract Pat’s players to stay and not go to Dundalk or other clubs. Clancy said he was delighted to join the Pat’s management team and was looking forward to helping the club achieve its great ambitions.
Clancy was hired by Drogheda in 2017. They were promoted to the Premier Division on a shoestring budget. Last season he led his club to seventh position in the table in the top flight. He gave the club the stabilization it needed.
Tim had an escape clause in his contract and was able to leave the Drogs with his head held high. He had earlier ruled himself out of the Dundalk job two weeks ago. But it’s believed that if he had been offered the job he would have come to Oriel.
The new Dundalk owners originally did have him as their number one. But when it was clear that O’Donnell was available they rightly moved for the Pats boss.
He is taking Pat Cregg as his assistant to Dundalk. Pat was Stephen’s assistant at Pat’s too. Aged 35, he played for Arsenal, Falkirk, Hibernian, Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic. Pat was born in Dublin.
The managerial merry go round continued in an unreal week with Kevin Doherty being announced as the new Drogheda United manager on a three-year contract. He had been Tim Clancy’s assistant. Former Longford Town manager Daire Doyle is the new Drogs assistant.
Vinny Perth departed Dundalk for the second time in 15 months amid all the talk of an incoming boss of the club. Pat Dolan in his column in the Irish Daily Star said in bold headlines that Vinny was not fairly treated by Dundalk. I can understand the sentiment of Pat’s statement.
However, as I said last week a club’s new owners rarely keep the existing manager. It was clear when they took over that they had their eyes set on a new boss. Their target was Tim Clancy. But when O’Donnell became available they swiftly moved for him.
Vinny was a top-class manager. He had to work the job when Bill Hulsizer took over as chairmen. He was let go disgracefully by the American the season before last while the club were still in Europe.
He had nothing to do with one of the craziest times in the club’s history when last January the club’s top players were let go and others not good enough were brought in. The wage bill was €2 million but I believe it was more than that at the start.
The club stumbled down the table and hovered towards the relegation play offs. Vinny was reappointed by Bill who at last seemed to be listening to someone. The Dubliner showed great bravery returning.
The side did slip into the play off places under Vinny. But he guided them quickly away from there and to safety. To me that was all that could be expected of him. His team won seven of their last eight games at home. It was this that lifted Dundalk to a safe and respectful sixth place.
His European run netted the club close to a €1 million. When Peak6 announced they were leaving, Vinny called on them to ensure the club was left in the hands of local owners. This was a magnificent gesture by Vinny as he probably knew it would mean he would be replaced.
Perth was at Oriel from 2012 to 2018 as Stephen Kenny’s assistant. Peak6 turned to him for the position of boss when Kenny departed six days after winning the double.
Perth had unprecedented success in 2019. He won the league, the EA Sports Cup., the Presidents Cup and the Unite the Union Cup. He got to the FAI cup final only to be beaten on penalties by Shamrock Rovers.
The following season saw Bill Hulsizer’s infamous interference in team selection. Although dismissed by Peak6, Vinny had done nothing wrong bar a losing the first game on the resumption of the league after COVID had halted everything.
This season he saved Dundalk, something no supporter should ever forget. And that was keeping Dundalk in the Premier Division. Vinny did say that he did consider announcing his departure after the Derry game at Oriel, which was the last game of the season.
But he said he decided to delay it as he did not want to take from the celebrations of supporters and players after the Derry game. He did not want the spotlight to be on him. On a personal note, I’m sorry to see Vinny depart.
He always made himself available to the media. He would make himself freely available to any media outlet after games and could be there until 11:30 at night. He went out of his way and well beyond the call of duty.
Did I have my differences with Vinny? Of course I did. But we always spoke on good terms. Of all the Dundalk manager’s I have dealt with, Vinny Perth was the most approachable to the media I have ever known.
I have heard him being criticized, but that is natural. Managers will never satisfy everyone. I think Vinny is wise to depart. And he can do so with his head held high as one of the most successful ever.
Stephen O’Donnell will have to take in a coach with a pro license if he is to replace Vinny. Alan Mathews fulfilled that role at Pat’s. He is staying at Inchicore. Mick Neville had been linked to this job. But he has ruled himself out.
The PFAI Awards
Last Friday night former Dundalk player Georgie Kelly won the player of the year award at the PFA Awards night. Georgie was let go by Dundalk in 2020. He was on loan to Pat’s at the time.
He was seen as surplus to requirements by Stephen O’Donnell. Keith Long snapped him up for the 2021 season for Bohs. Out of contract and being from Donegal he has been linked to Derry City. That does not surprise me.
Bohemians Dawson Devoy won the young player of the year. Stephen Bradley, manager of Shamrock Rovers won the Premier Division manager of the year for 2021. Ian Morris won the First Division manager of the year for winning the league for Shelbourne. He has since been let go and replaced by Damien Duff.
Heather Payne won the women’s PFA International player of the year. The PFA premier Division team of the year picked up their awards. This included Dundalk’s Will Patching who has now signed for Derry City.
It has been a bizarre week where Stephen O’Donnell lifts the FAI cup and within less than 48 hours departs his club Pats for Dundalk. But he has yet to be legally installed.
The hold up with Pats may end up with them looking for compensation. They believe that O’Donnell is still tied to their club. Dundalk are 100 per cent certain he was a free agent. Dundalk cannot afford to allow this to drag on and especially cannot see it going to the courts.
St Pat’s this week came out clearly and called for Stephen Kenny to be given a new contract with the Republic of Ireland. They are the first League club to do so. All others should follow immediately and let the FAI know in no uncertain terms that Stephen Kenny is the only person for the job.
The call from Pat’s came after the FAI board of directors reviewed Stephen’s role as manager to date. They spent over four hours talking. In the end they failed to agree the new contract but sanctioned talks with Kenny to continue.
Kenny’s contract runs out three games into the nations league next summer. With two games left, the most they have on offer is to finish out those ties, bringing him to the end of the that competition.
But most people want Stephen to be given a contract for the Euros which would mean a new two-year contract. The feeling among some media people is that Kenny will get his new contract before Christmas.
Others say he may have to wait for the Nations League to finish next summer before his future is decided. It’s a disgrace that Stephen’s future is being decided by a group of people, some of whom are former internationals going back 30 years and other people who just don’t have a clue.
But I’m quietly confidant Stephen will get his new contract before the end of the year. Santa Claus may well come down the chimney on Christmas Eve and leave it at his tree.
St Johnstone this week say they want Dundalk centre Half Daniel Cleary to sign for them. Dundalk must do everything they can to keep him.
Stand and ground Season tickets for next season can be purchased from the club office Monday to Friday 10 am to 4.45 pm at Oriel. Ground season tickets can be purchased online. That’s it for another week. Please keep safe and be careful out there.
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