GERRY MALONE: Contract conundrum as attention turns to matters off the pitch at Dundalk

Gerry Malone

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Gerry Malone

GERRY MALONE: Contract conundrum as attention turns to matters off the pitch at Dundalk

Dundalk Chief Business Officer David Minto, left, and Sporting Director Jim Magilton during a Dundalk press conference at at Dundalk Merchandise Store PIC: Sportsfile

As the 2020 season finished for Dundalk last Thursday night with the last game of the Europa League group stages against Arsenal at the Aviva, attention turned towards what will be a very busy period off the pitch for the club during the close season.

As the referee blew the final whistle at the Aviva, eight Dundalk players were no longer attached to the club as they were out of contract. This was a ridiculous situation to be in as many of them can play a key role in the continued success of the club. Their contracts should have been tied down long before the end of the season.

Instead it has left these key players in a position that they can be enticed away as other clubs hover like vultures to take the Dundalk players like prime pickings.

However the confirmation that Jim Magilton has been signed as Director of Football was good news. It brought calm to the club supporters as they knew before the Arsenal game that one of the ex international players who won many caps with the North will initially be taking charge of negotiating new contracts with the players the club wishes to keep.

Farewell, Gary Rogers

But all of this attention on who the club will be keeping dwarfed into insignificance with the news that Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers was retiring. We all knew this day was coming but when the announcement came on Friday afternoon, it still came as a shock.

Gary told his fellow players and managerial staff on Thursday evening at the Aviva before the Arsenal game that he was hanging up his gloves and retiring. Gary has always had a strong connection with Dundalk. His late Uncle Liam Devine played with the great double winning team of 1978-79. Liam scored the equalising goal against Linfield in the first leg of the European cup qualifying game at Oriel Park in August 1979. The game was marred by serious crowd violence. Remarkably, trouble with supporters broke out on and off the pitch.

Linfield led 1-0 but with 12 minutes remaining Gary's uncle popped up for an equaliser. The referee continued the game from start to finish no matter what trouble was happening. Linfield had to play the second leg behind closed doors in Harlem Holland. Dundalk won 2-0 and went through. Sadly Gary's uncle was dead within a year struck down by cancer. The Dundalk keeper's uncle will be forever etched in the history of this great club.

Gary played in the Arsenal game on Thursday night. It confirmed his status as the League of Ireland player with most European appearances. Gary has been playing soccer for the past 23 years. Gary said on retiring that he won't miss the sacrifices but will miss the game.Rogers arrived at Oriel in December 2014 in the wake of Stephen Kenny's first Premier Division title. Gary came in as a replacement for the popular Peter Cherrie. Supporters were annoyed then at the fact that Kenny had let go one of the best keepers to have played for the club.

But Stephen Kenny wanted his own man and in came Gary at the start of the 2015 season.Gary had already won an FAI cup medal with Sligo Rovers and a Setanta cup medal. He also won an FAI cup medal with Drogheda United, the first big trophy the South Louth club ever won. Gary played in what to me was the best ever Dundalk team I have ever seen in 2015 and 2016. He played a key role in the great European run of 2016.

Gary won four league titles in all with Dundalk and three FAI cups. He also won two doubles. Gary also played a key role in the PFAI. This is an organisation which fights for the right standards and working conditions of players. Gary has represented players very well in his role in this key organisation. But Gary has also helped people involved in the game that are not just players, but who benefitted greatly from his help, advice and support. Gary is also a person who always found time for supporters. Never once would he turn down requests for photos and autographs.

To reporters too he was a God send. When results may not have gone right on the day, naturally some players just did not wish to talk. Gary never once refused to do an interview with me or any of the other local media for that matter.

Gary was a great ambassador for the club. He will be greatly missed around Oriel by players, supporters and reporters. I will never forget the text he sent me when I was let go by LMFM due to job cuts by the Rupert Murdoch organisation that owns the station. Gary thanked me for all my hard work and wished me all the best for the future. I was flummoxed at such kindness and appreciation at a time when I felt what one feels when you are let go from a job. I had covered all of Dundalk's games away and at home from 1989 to 2017.

To get such a message from a Dundalk player was so kind. It meant an awful lot.

On a final note about Gary, supporters should always remember the three great saves he made against Shamrock Rovers in the FAI cup final last Sunday week. Dundalk were one down at the time. Had even one of the efforts gone in, it would have been Rovers who would have done the double.

Filippo full-time

Dundalk this week confirmed that Filippo Giovagnoli was being appointed to the club on a two-year deal as head coach. The decision did not come as a surprise as the Dundalk boss has more than exceeded expectations since he arrived in the summer at Oriel.

He managed to get Dundalk into Europe by finishing third in the league and winning the FAI cup. He also got Dundalk to the group stages of the Europa League.

Dundalk were just brilliant in the FAI Cup. Beating Bohemians away in the quarter finals so impressively was fantastic. Then they went on to play Athlone and beat them 11-0 before beating champions Shamrock Rovers in the final 4-2. It was superb.
Yet in the league under Filippo, Dundalk were often far from impressive, winning just three League games out of nine, losing three and drawing three under his stewardship.

Filippo's constant chopping and changing players also cost Dundalk and saw them just scrape third position by two points.
He changed the team formation as well which worked in some games and not in others.

The three at the back system and the continual changing of goalkeepers played a huge part in Dundalk not getting out of their group in the Europa League.

Dundalk had the ability to get past Rapid  Vienna and Molde. They lost both games to Molde when they could and should have got a win in the Aviva and at least a draw in Molde.

They should have beaten Rapid Vienna at the Aviva and in Vienna. The three players at the back tactic utterly failed in the games he used it. Constantly changing Gary Rogers with Aron McCarey was also another reason why Dundalk failed to progress.

But having said all that, the manager may be able to grow into the job. He won't have the time though and must win as many league games as he can next season as a bad start would see Rovers build up a commanding lead.
Filippo is a very kind and patient man and you can see he has built up a fantastic relationship with his players. Oriel is a happy place under Filippo.
He loves the club, the fans and the staff. He is one of the good guys without doubt. He is also great with the media and never turns away a reporter. Whether he can bring continued success to Oriel next season, the jury is most definitely out on that.

The backroom team

It was also great to see Filippo's assistant Guiseppe Rossi getting a contract. He gets on well with his players. He is also a very colourful character. He has great charisma and there is no doubt that he will be a great help to Filippo.

Shane Keegan, the Dundalk first team manager, has also had his contract extended. Shane managed Wexford a few years ago and got them to the Premier Division.

Sadly, they were relegated the following season having been beaten in the promotion relegation play off by Drogheda. Shane moved to Galway as manager. The westerners were relegated the following season.  Shane came to Dundalk at the start of the season as match analyst for Vinny Perth.  However, when John Gill and Vinny departed the club, Shane was thrown in at the deep end taking on much more responsibilities.

He had to take charge of Dundalk's group stage Europa League qualifying games as Filippo Giovagnoli could not have anything to do with team affairs once they arrived at the stadium as he does not have the pro licence which Shane has. Dundalk were fined €50,000 over the issue with Filippo being charged with shadow training by UEFA.
Shane took on his responsibilities very well. He dealt with the media very well which was part of his duties. Shane is another good asset for Filippo.

Jim the boss

The big news around Oriel during the week was the appointment of Jim Magilton as Sporting Director. Jim comes to Oriel with the best of credentials. It was a good move by owners Peake 6. Jim aged 51 has been working as Elite performance Director at the Irish Football Association for the past seven years, developing the IFA's players and preparing them for professional contracts in the UK and beyond.

Jim's playing career spanned two decades. In total he played 550 competitive games in England. He was a household name at clubs like Oxford, Southampton and Ipswich. Jim left the north and first went to Liverpool as an apprentice. He got 52 caps playing at international level with Northern Ireland. He scored on his international debut with the north when they played Poland in 1991. After retiring in 2006 as a player, he spent three years as manager of Ipswich. He also had a spell as manager with QPR before arriving at the Tallaght Stadium as assistant to Michael O'Neill.

Under Jim and Michael O'Neill, Rovers won two titles in 2010 and 2011. Michael went on to have great success with the North while Jim took up his job of player development with the IFA. The IFA were very sorry to see Jim depart, but now he takes on a new role and is at a different stage of his career becoming Director of Football.

Filippo Giovagnoli described Jim's role of one as boss in an interview with me four weeks ago.  The boss formally took up his job on Monday. But he had already started. He was at the Rapid Vienna and Arsenal home games at the Aviva. Now Jim must decide in conjunction with the powers that be which of the eight players out of contract stay and who goes. Up to now club chairman Bill Hulsizer has been renegotiating contracts from Florida. Sadly if the speculation is right, Sean Gannon and John Mountney are on their way to Pat's. Seemingly they were due to be unveiled as Pat's players on Monday. But if this is true it should not be happening.

The manager's new three centre halves formation saw Sean being pushed into a much more forward role as wing back.
Sean Gannon is the best full back in the league. If he goes it's a backward step. The manager has also regularly either subbed him or not played him. His approach with Sean was wrong. Let's hope the young Ringsend lad stays.[Gannon has signed for Shamrock Rovers since the original print date of this article]

John Mountney should also stay. He has been a great servant to the club. Sean Hoare is being linked to Shamrock Rovers but he may stay as Dundalk have come in with more money. [Hoare also signed for Shamrock Rovers subsequent to original publication]. Daniel Kelly is believed to be staying. A week ago he looked to be on his way back to his old club Bohemians. Darragh Leahy is also staying. The future of Michael Duffy is as yet unknown. It's thought if there is no offer from the UK he will come back to Dundalk. Jim Magilton has a tough job in the coming weeks and months. I’m sure everybody wishes him well in his new job.

Former Lilywhites

Former Dundalk number two goalkeeper Gabriel Sava was given a straight red card in an off the ball incident in Coleraine after 84 minutes on Saturday. The quietly spoken keeper has been settling in well at Warrenpoint. They lost the game in injury time and were beaten 2-1. Jamie McGrath has been doing very well for Scottish side Saint Mirren. Jamie has scored a goal in each of his side's last three games. On Saturday the former Dundalk midfielder continued his good scoring run.

The last hurrah

So the curtain came down on a very difficult season on Thursday night at the Aviva. Arsenal won a very entertaining game 4-2. Jordan Flores and Sean Hoare got Dundalk's goals. Dundalk scored nine goals in the group stages. They were one of the highest-scoring teams of all the group stage teams. Yet they failed to qualify. But it was a great achievement getting to where they got. Pity they lost all of the six group stage games as well. This should not have happened.

Anyway folks as we approach Christmas please keep an eye on your loved ones. A huge fuss is made at Christmas. However, it is also a time when many are at a low ebb. The Covid virus hit at every fabric of society. There will be empty chairs at some tables this Christmas as a result of the virus as some have lost family. Please just keep an eye out on all of our families and friends. Another week over.

Yes, the season may also be over but there will be plenty to report on at Dundalk FC over the coming weeks. Have a very safe week and remember, please be careful out there.