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28 May 2022

The Commentary Box: The find of the season might not be a player but Dave Mackey

The Commentary Box: The find of the season might not be a player but Dave Mackey

Dundalk FC first team manager Dave Mackey. (Pic: Seb Daly/Sportsfile)

When I heard that Dave Mackey was to join Stephen O’Donnell’s management team, it gave me a great boost in confidence that the new season could be a successful one both on and off the pitch for Dundalk.

I remember Dave playing for Turlough O’Connor on the great league winning side of 1991. I remember the strength that Dave gave that Dundalk team at the back. He is a highly intelligent person both on and off the pitch.

I remember his great leadership qualities in the 1991 team. He was a marvellous motivator; communicator and one could see how much he was involved with the key players on that team from how they would approach each game. He engaged superbly with all his teammates.

In defence Dave was the perfect choice to have at the back with greats like Martin Lawlor, James Coll and Ronnie Murphy. He was very quiet off the pitch, but on the pitch his communication with the players around him and the way he motivated them at the right times was top class.

This type of skill has obviously been remembered at Oriel and was one of the main reasons why it was decided to bring the great Dave Mackey back to Oriel after an absence of 29 years.

Dave has his full coaching badges, and this allowed Stephen O’Donnell to take up his role as head coach at Oriel. In 1992 Dave broke his leg while playing for Dundalk. He fought his way back from that horrific injury he picked up.

But despite several attempts to continue his career on the pitch, constant recurrences of his injury finally saw him having to retire. However, he still had so much to offer off the field. Dave had a passionate interest to continue his contact with soccer.

He went on to get his coaching badges and ultimately also got the pro license that would allow him to graduate to league of Ireland management should he so wish. Dave worked in soccer at schoolboy level and coached many teams and helped players continue onto senior football in the League of Ireland.

The Lillywhite legend did take up management in the league of Ireland for a short period. He managed Bray Wanderers for a time. But after a period, he returned to coaching underage teams and had his successes. Dave also worked in the banking and finance industry, a career that would be both challenging and rewarding.

The Interview

I spoke to Dave in a detailed interview last week. The first stand out impression I got was that Dave was a man of great vision and who has a considerable talent to forward plan.

His passion for football and his love of Dundalk FC was clearly apparent. Dave told me he always knew he would return to Oriel at some stage. He thought the opportunity would have come around sooner than it did.

But he said he took the chance when Stephen O’Donnell came calling and that his dream of returning to Oriel had materialized. He said once he saw the plans going forward by the club including the owners, he knew immediately they were on the same wavelength as him.

He had no hesitation in returning to the club. Dave told me that the most important thing for him was to be involved in the game. He says he had a good playing career and then aspired to be a coach.

Dave says he worked at schoolboy level and at the national underage level. He says he was able to get his coaching badges which helped him to be involved in the development of young players. This was something he said he felt very passionate about.

Dave said that once you get the opportunity to coach at the highest level that it is inspirational. He spoke about how there is a vision of a collaborative management team at Oriel and that they were looking at a management team which has strong skills across different areas.

Experience and knowledge among the management team will in his eyes ensure Stephen O’Donnell will have all the support he needs as head coach. 

Academy and 2022 Hopes

Dave spoke of last week’s 3-0 win over Cobh. It was the side’s first chance to get match practice. He was delighted with the whole team’s performances.

He was particularly happy with how the younger members of the squad did. Dave felt the Cobh game gave the Dundalk management the chance to see where they were after two weeks.

He added it was a huge bonus to bring in some of the academy players. 18-year-old defender Mayowa Animasahun, and Ryan O'Kane were training with the first team, and both got some game time. Tadhg Walsh and Jack Kavanagh also got game time and did very well.

Dave said he knew there was always great work being done in the academy. This was reflected by these young players getting their opportunity of playing and training with the first team.

His priority will of course always be the first team; however he was looking forward during the course of the season to see how the academy was developing. He said he has a great interest in the development of young players.

He knew there were very good people working in the academy and was looking forward to working with them in the future to ensure the structures that are in place remain as good as they are now.

Dave said the first aim for the senior team was for them to be competitive on the pitch. He says it’s important to ensure the players as a team have the Dundalk identity and the Dundalk DNA. It was vital that the first team have Stephen’s DNA and are attractive to watch.

He adds that it’s vital the players have an honesty of effort and are competitive. He said all of these were the initial goal.

Dave says Stephen O’Donnell’s superb first season of work at St Pat’s could be seen by what happened in year two when they won the FAI Cup and finished second in the league.

He felt the management at Dundalk will be very anxious to make as much progress as quickly as they can. He says that everyone must understand that putting the new players, together with the players staying on from last year and working together may take time.

Yet he believes the team will be fully up and running before the start of the season. Dave says he was delighted to see Brian Gartland getting game time in Cobh. Gartland missed the whole of last season through injury.

Dave says that Brian is a true professional and has been a great asset for the club. He added that Brian playing was a great credit to him and to the medical staff at the club. The fact he was able to play for a full 45 minutes will hopefully mean it’s all systems go for Brian for the start of the season.

Mackey is happy with Dundalk’s preseason games that have been arranged. They play Waterford on Saturday and Galway United on another date. Both games are away from home.

They finish their preseason build up with a game against Drogheda United at Oriel the week before the season starts. Dave thinks it’s great to have the Jim Malone Cup game against Drogheda as part of the build-up.

He says he played in one of these games and that there was always an edge in them even though it is a friendly. it’s of course a local derby and the best game possible to have just before the start of the season.

Mackey mentioned that with the lifting of the restrictions it will be great to have a large crowd back for the Drogheda game. He says all the fans are looking forward to the new season and that the supporters and the team can make Oriel a real fortress.

Dave says there is no pressure being back at a big club like Dundalk. He says that it is more of a challenge than anything else. When you are involved with a big club, it’s not about pressure It’s about having good abilities and the qualities of perseverance, character, reliability and being able to adapt to these when needed.

He says that it’s vital that the players have a safe environment when they are playing at a club where the expectations are so high and that’s what the club are setting out to achieve.

When asked about how well everything has gelled together between the new management, new players and the new owners he said that yes it was good but that the journey had only just begun. There is a lot of work to be done, but that everyone understands what the goal is.

He said the goal is to have a successful, sustainable, community-based football club and that they are always striding to be competing at the top level. He mentioned that Stephen O’Donnell was always trying to improve the squad.

They are looking at one or two areas, but also confirmed that they are satisfied with the squad. They will always be on the lookout to see if there is an opportunity to bring someone in if there is a specific area in the team that needs to be looked after.

The former defender felt it is hugely important for Dundalk to continue to develop women’s football at the club. He revealed there is a five-year plan in place to develop a Women’s National League side at Dundalk. This plan starts with the Women’s under 17 team this season.

Mackey clarified that there is work being done behind the scenes by the FAI In relation to the soccer academies. He says it’s vital that clubs need to have the infrastructure for academies which he sees as vital.

He said that it is also vital for clubs and the FAI to define what an academy is. The criteria for each academy he believes must be set out. It was particularly important to define the minimum criteria for an academy.

Infrastructure for the academies he said means the best coaches and the best facilities. He said Irish soccer academies are now coming to a crucial moment, particularly in relation to Brexit.

Clubs are going to have to make sure they have the ability to develop, improve and produce the best Irish players in Ireland. He says there is a lot of work to be done there.

In terms of the league itself, facilities and infrastructure has to be the top priority. He says benchmarks within the league itself would be Tallaght stadium. He says League of Ireland clubs need to be hitting that benchmark.

He says that there are other grounds within the league that have moved forward and that clubs need to have a benchmark in terms of the quality of their facilities.

Dave said in relation to who would be the main contenders for the league in the new season that it was hard to look beyond Shamrock Rovers. He said that it has to be remembered that Dundalk finished mid table last season in sixth position.

In the coaches’ eyes there is a lot of work to be done from Dundalk’s point of view to ensure they are competing towards the top of the league. Shamrock Rovers are the league champions and they look to be in the strongest position.

Mackey said that all clubs will find out where they stand after the first few games in the league. The former Dundalk full back said that anybody who finishes ahead of Shamrock Rovers could well win the league. He says this is the benchmark and Rovers have set it over the past two seasons.

Final Thoughts

I have to say that my chat with David Mackey would give one much confidence.  His views are very enlightening. His views on facilities are so correct. His emphasis on academies gives one great hope of what can happen at Dundalk.

Facilities are so important. I’ve kept on saying that Dundalk must improve and basically develop a new stadium. If Oriel is not fit for purpose to develop, then that stadium must be located elsewhere.

One can only be impressed with what the new chairman of the club has said about facilities and improving them. But the club must move on this now and not wait for a period of five years or ten years to decide on what they are going to do. It must not be a long-term aim or a medium-term aim.

The new owners must move now to start preparations on planning to redevelop Oriel. Sadly, the ground is just not fit for purpose. It’s now that we need to move on ground facilities.

In relation to the academy, I believe as many local players must go through this key development route as is possible. In the past I would often hear of very talented local players signing for Dublin clubs because they were not being picked up by Dundalk.

This must not happen going forward. And another key point, the other underage teams in the club should also be bringing in as many local players as possible. It should not happen that young players from the town are going to Dublin clubs as they are not being picked up by Dundalk.

It’s good to see there are plans to have a women’s senior team in the National League within five years. It’s also good to see that there is an under 17 team playing in the national women’s under age league next season.

I know that there are people working very hard on setting up the women’s football wing at the club going forward. I’m very disappointed to see that it could be five years before there is a senior team from Dundalk in the Women’s National League.

The powers that be in Oriel do know what they are doing in relation to this, and I respect them for that. But surely it would be possible to have a women’s team in the senior league even within three years.

Please everybody, look after yourselves and those who are closest to you. And remember as usual to be very careful out there.

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