John Gill (right) with his assistant Gerry Scully after leading Dundalk FC to the 2008 First Division title. (Pic: Mick Slevin)
John Gill wouldn’t quite define his return to Dundalk FC as fairytale, though it certainly wasn’t an outcome he expected.
The man who led the Lilywhites to the 2008 First Division title was appointed as ‘first-team coach’ to the Oriel Park side last week - a role which will see him work with ‘head coach’ Vinny Perth and his assistant, Rúaidhrí Higgins.
Confirmation followed weeks of speculation linking the Dubliner to a post within a new managerial arrangement.
“I wouldn’t call it a fairytale return because the club that I left in 2008 is in no way shape or form the club that I’m coming into now,” he told The Democrat.
“For me to say it is would be disingenuous.
“I didn’t envisage it; I wasn’t looking for it; I didn’t go looking for it. I’ve a lot of time and respect for Vinny, I know him a long time and signed him as a player in 2007 for Dundalk, people seem to forget that.
“It’s going around that we’re the best of buddies, we’re not, by any means. We would have spoken alright, mainly through business, but also we’d have spoken a lot about football over the years and both of us have probably helped each other, looking for little bits of advice.
“He’s someone who I’d have a lot of respect and time for, something which I think is very much mutual.”
Gill hasn’t officially managed in the League of Ireland since leaving Dundalk over a decade ago, although he did enjoy successful stints as assistant to Pete Mahon at both St. Patrick’s Athletic and Drogheda United either side of a spell alongside Trevor Croly at Shamrock Rovers.
His prior term at Oriel Park was successful in that he reached the promotion play-off two years running - famously being denied a top-flight spot in year one despite defeating Waterford across two legs - before dramatically pipping Shelbourne to the championship on the last day of the ’08 campaign.
Nevertheless, he feels the manner of his departure placed a “stigma” on him and hindered his involvement in football until Mahon offered him a job at St. Pat’s.
“Time is a great healer”, though, and, now aged 55, the prospect of a return to Dundalk is mouthwatering. However, while he understands supporters may be pleased to see him back, he doesn’t want that attraction to be sympathy based.
“I’m 55 and I feel like I’m 25 again.
“I’m privileged, very humbled and I know I’m lucky because there are an awful lot of people who’d love to be in the position I’m in.
“I’ve a great affinity with the club and the supporters, and I’ve a huge amount of respect for Vinny, Rúaidhrí and all the backroom staff and players.
“I’m there to help the club and I’m there to help Vinny. I know exactly what my brief is.
“I’ve moved on from what happened. I don’t need anyone feeling sorry for me, I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
When the original contact was made, in late November, Gill was abroad on holidays, with conversations convening upon his return. Those discussions entailed various deliberations - Gill having to negotiate a “career break” with his employer before following the trail up the Carrick Road.
He has spoken to the club’s owners and highlights the great work done by Perth and general manager Martin Connolly during the process, speaking with admiration at how Dundalk is being run.
“Dundalk Football Club is how every football club should be run. I know that’s easy to say, but every club should aspire to other clubs.
“Dundalk is a real football town as I know from my time being there. But when I was there it didn’t have the infrastructure behind the scenes that it has now.
“It’s a football club that is very dear to the community’s heart and that, to me, means a lot.”
He admits there is pressure on all involved, but that is an environment, he says, he functions best in. And, despite only previously working with goalkeeper Gary Rogers, Gill senses the same feeling applies to players who have dominated the domestic scene for five seasons.
“Every year they’ve delivered under pressure so it certainly won’t affect the players that are there because they’re an extremely talented and confident bunch of people.
“Will it affect the management team, I don’t think so, I’m certainly going into it, not arrogantly, but confidently because I’m looking at what’s there. There is a great base there to build off.”
There is no need for supporters to panic, either, he adds, with the club continuing to develop itself, longer-term player contracts, etc.
So, for the man who Dundalk fans previously compared to Jose Mourinho, through chants, this is a great time to be involved.
“You can do all the coaching courses you want, but when you get the chance to work with a unique bunch of players in a unique environment you can’t help but feel excited.”