INTERVIEW | Stephen McDonnell on Warrenpoint experience, his departure and coaching future


Caoimhín Reilly


Caoimhín Reilly


INTERVIEW | Stephen McDonnell on Warrenpoint experience, his departure and coaching future

One could say that Stephen McDonnell had earned a slice of fortune as manager of Warrenpoint Town.

For all his good work and given the clear signs of progress last season, one could say that Stephen McDonnell had earned a slice of fortune as manager of Warrenpoint Town.

But, as he openly admits, that’s now how football works and as the 27-year-old ponders his next move, a month since parting ways with the Milltown men, the former Dundalk FC midfielder is continuing to digest the harsh lessons dealt.

“I’m understanding of how it ended and why they have done it,” McDonnell says of his dismissal just 12 games into the new campaign, with the Point sitting bottom of the NIFL Premiership.

“If they feel that that was the right decision, then that’s ok by me because it’s part and parcel of the game.

“The new manager has gone into a squad that’s very light on its feet and with a lot of injuries.”

Therein lies the core problem, ultimately. Your writer met with a Warrenpoint player during pre-season, where they made a bold prediction in claiming their ability to “surprise a few” this year. But McDonnell acknowledged the reality was different.

Having lost Simon Kelly, his captain, to retirement, Mark Griffin and Philip Donnelly for personal reasons, Seanna Foster to Cliftonville and seen long-term injuries hamper Jake O’Connor and Fra McCaffrey’s roles, the manager’s task was an unenvious one.

Not that McDonnell feels the outcome of his only full season at the helm can or has been underestimated, or forgotten either.

The Point easily avoided the drop last season, ending on a record points’ tally as the County Down outfit closed in their highest-ever league position, to go along with an Irish Cup semi-final appearance.

“I still think people will look at the overall package,” he adds. “Football people will understand (the subsequent struggles).

“To get a job like that so young was something that I don’t think any lad in the same position would say no to. It certainly came ahead of time, but we did a good job, enjoyed it and learned a lot.

“Even now, being relieved of the duty, I can reflect back and say that I’ve had that experience. It’s good.

“We came through our first full campaign having put a squad together and been able to bring in some big names, but ultimately losing those big names to bigger clubs is what cost us on the pitch because we weren’t able to replace them with similar quality.

“When I reflect back, we’ve been relieved from our duties after 12 games. It’s not like 25 games when the club are dead and buried. They felt it was right to make the change, but we’ll only know that come game week 38.”

Warrenpoint “were the smallest club in the league by a country mile” and “always the underdog”, which seems to add to McDonnell’s sense of satisfaction at the positive work he managed.

“It’s been an invaluable experience that many people out there, at 27, probably haven’t been in the same position. For me going forward, it’s going to be a great foundation for my coaching career.”

That career, he hopes, will take off in the new year as he targets the start of his UEFA Pro Licence qualification, the final badge McDonnell needs to complete his coaching set.

There have been “a few opportunities” since his parting of ways with a club who he worked for in a full-time capacity, doubling his first-team commitments with the managing of the club’s overall youth structure. So, at present, he’s out of work and actively seeking another chance.

“Getting into a full-time role would be a preference of mine and hopefully something isn’t too far away,” says McDonnell.

“I’ve no particular niche in that I’m very hands-on and creative in terms of being either a manager or a coach. There is a difference in the roles, but I try to approach it with a similar mindset.

“It’s not about whether I’m a manager, or an assistant, or a first-team coach, or an academy manager… I’m not going to pigeon hole myself as a manager, I see myself as being capable of filling every one of those positions. I’m very open to the right project and being in the right place; that’s the next progression for me.”

The country’s youngest professional manager. The Passionate One? He won’t be out of the game for long.