Had you asked Filippo Giovagnoli what he wanted for his 50th birthday just over four months ago, it’s hard to know what he would have asked for.
The Italian’s life has changed greatly since being appointed Dundalk’s interim head coach 99 days ago.
Turning 50 today (Tuesday), Giovagnoli now has only one desire: an FAI Cup winners’ medal.
That’s something that his side can achieve when they go head to head with Shamrock Rovers in the final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (kick-off 6.40pm, live on RTÉ Two) and Giovagnoli feels such an outcome would make all the sacrifices that he and assistant Giuseppe Rossi had made in recent months worth it.
“I hope that it’s going to be a gift for me at the end of this 100 days or so of me being here,” he laughed.
“It’s been tough to be here without our families. We’ve sacrificed a little bit of our lives to do this job and fulfil this mission and I hope it’s going to bring something special at the end of it. A Cup medal would be nice.”
With Dundalk facing a Europa League tie away to Molde in Norway on Thursday night (kick-off 8pm, live on Virgin Media Two) before the final, Giovagnoli said he would not be prioritising one game over the other.
“I don’t know how to prioritise,” he said.
“We need to understand that to win a game in Europe or to get a result economically is more important than winning a trophy. Also the exposure you get from Europe is unbelievable but of course now that we’re in the final we will be really focused on that.
“It’s not going to be like any other league game. It is a final and there’s a trophy so we want to be ready and prepared for that. I think the players will be naturally prepared even if we don’t train until the day of the final. We’re not going to have great preparation because we are in Molde for four days and we’re going to come back and have only a few hours to prepare. That doesn’t matter at all. I know that the players are going to perform in this game.”
Giovagnoli described the semi-final win over Athlone on Sunday as “an incredible result” and hit back at critics of his side for some of their displays under his reign.
“It’s nice to be in this position. I don’t know who is judging the work of our season but it has been successful because we’ve played all the games that there were possible to play. This means the season was successful because we’ve been in all the competitions until the end.
“That was the target when I arrived. When I arrived the situation wasn’t the best but I remember saying we have to target playing all these games and that will mean we’ve done really well. We did that and now we can potentially win a trophy this season. For the players this can become fantastic.
“I don’t know why people are critical. I don’t know what they want from this team. I don’t get it. I don’t know what they expect.
“The objective was to qualify for the group stage and we did. When I arrived I think we were in fifth or sixth position in the league and the club asked me to get us to Europe and we got third position. Now we are in the final of the Cup. I don’t know what people expect but to be honest, at this point, I don’t care.
“I want to just do the best for the club and the players. We are all happy with the work that we are doing. If we can make the fans happy good but if not then it is what it is.
“We have to try and enjoy this final run of games and and do our best.
“People were critical because we were not winning or dominating every game. I don’t know where they’re coming from but until the end we’re not going to give up. We’re going to do our best and if we can bring home a trophy that will be fantastic.”
Giovagnoli said he had sympathy for his opposite number on Sunday, Stephen Bradley, who is serving the second match of a touchline ban but the Italian revealed he had voted for him as Manager of the Year.
“It’s really frustrating for me not being on the sideline for the European matches and I’m sure it’s going to be frustrating for him.
“I’m looking forward to meeting him before or after the game. I voted for him as Manager of the Year because he did well and won the league. I don’t know him personally but he was one of the two coaches I voted for.
“A win would help set us up for next year though and I hope together we can have this joy as a team.”
Giovagnoli said he expects Daniel Cleary to be available this week despite the defender limping off injured against Athlone on Sunday.
“It was just a little bit sore on the neck. I don’t know what really happened but in a couple of days he is going to be fine.”