Should Dundalk achieve the result they desire in Riga on Wednesday night then there will likely be many joyous scenes at Skonto Stadium.
While we can only imagine the celebrations that would come with advancing to the second qualifying round of the Champions League, the likely exchange between Vinny Perth and John Gill will perhaps be a little more low key than others.
“It will just be a look, a little nod to say well done,” said Gill.
That’s not to disguise the feelings that will lie behind that nod. While Gill may be a little more reserved than others on the sideline, deep down he will be bursting with pride for a man he has almost a paternal love for.
As is well documented by now, the 55-year-old returned to Oriel Park at the start of the year in a first team coach role which would enable Perth to take over the reins from Stephen Kenny in a new head coach position.
While a return to the club which he guided out of the First Division after seven years in the wilderness in November 2008 had its romantic tones, it was ultimately the UEFA Pro Licence which brought about Dundalk’s call. If Perth was the replacement to Kenny, then Gill was the Kingmaker.
Theirs is more than a marriage of convenience though. There’s a real respect there with Gill taking particular pride in seeing his young apprentice growing in stature week by week.
As much as Perth owes so much to Stephen Kenny for his current status in the game, it was the intervention of Gill that led to his first permanent job in management with Leinster Senior League side Malahide Utd in 2010.
“I signed him as a player here in 2007 and I let him go because in fairness to him he was constantly injured. Then Malahide Utd rang me looking for a manager and I couldn’t do it at the time because I was at St Pat’s so they said could you recommend someone as manager.
“Vinny at that stage was working over at a club called Sacred Heart, who are his local club. He was working as Director of Football there and had done a lot of good structural stuff with them.
“He met them, took the job and did a brilliant job for them. He got them promoted in his first season and got a few ex-League of Ireland players playing for them like Glen Crowe, Alan Murphy and Paul his brother. Then when he came here I took his job in Malahide because I was out of football.”
The pair stayed in touch over the years but Gill admits he was as surprised as anyone when he was approached about a return to the club to work alongside his former player at the tail end of last year following Kenny’s appointment as Republic of Ireland U-21 boss.
“I did an article with you at the start of last November talking about the 10 year anniversary of the First Division win. If you rewind to then and said to me I’d be sitting here now talking to you about Champions League football I would have said to you that you need to go see a psychiatric doctor,” laughed Gill.
“We’ve always kept in touch along the way. I would ring him and he would ring me. We’re not bosom buddies and we don’t go out playing golf or go to the pub or anything like that but we’d have a lot of respect for each other.
“I certainly have a lot of respect for him because he’s a very intelligent guy, more intelligent actually than some people give him credit for and he has come up the hard way because Vinny wasn’t handed anything with regard to his career.
“He’s a very, very strong guy mentally. He has great self belief.
“Obviously working with Stephen Kenny for so many years, he has picked up an awful lot of great traits but he’s also not a clone of Stephen’s. Vinny has his own style.”
While many outsiders have often questioned Gill’s involvement in the new management setup which also involves Ruaidhrí Higgins and Stephen O’Donnell, the man himself has never been confused about his role.
“I was ridiculed when I took the role,” he said.
“A lot of people in Dublin and maybe even some people in Dundalk didn’t want to see me back here. Then managers who were out of work were giving out asking why are Dundalk doing this but they’re doing it because that’s the way they wanted to go.
“I get involved with people or clubs if it suits me. I’ve turned down jobs before this, including from the Premier Division, in different roles because I just didn’t feel I’d be able to make a contribution. I felt if I came here I could help a club which I had a lot of affinity for because I had three great years here. It didn’t end well but I remember the good times here.
“When we started off we had nothing here. Gates were down, the place was on the floor and it nearly went out of business before Gerry Matthews came in. We went on a journey together and had three very good years so for me to be able to help and give something back to the club and to help three young up and coming coaches is something I’m proud to do.
“It’s been a whirlwind but I think I’ve been able to deal with it because with experience comes a bit of calmness and composure. When I used to be here I would have been more fiery and I would have been a ball of nervous energy but I’m not like that any more. I take things in my stride and I’m very reflective. I think that’s maybe what I bring to the party but the lads have been magnificent this year.
“I think Vinny has taken to the role like a duck to water and him and Higgins compliment each other so well. With Stephen as well, the club have a really good young management team here who I think will go on to do great things.
“I fully believe that the three of them will go on to have great careers in this league and it’s great to be part of maybe helping them a little bit and being part of that journey with them.”
While the new setup was unorthodox for the league at the time, Gill has little doubt that Dundalk made the correct choice in going down the continuity route by appointing Perth the new head coach.
“If the club had made the wrong decision in my view and brought someone in from England or the wrong appointment it could have de-stabilised what was a very stable and good environment here.
“The lads know that environment, particularly Vinny. They know the environment and they know the players and I just think by me coming in it has given them time to develop and breath and to get and get their qualifications which is what they’re doing.”
Rating someone is one thing but seeing them up close and personal day in, day out is quite another. It is this insight into Perth which has convinced Gill that he is working alongside one of the future greats of League of Ireland management.
“The one thing that he is is obsessed,” said Gill.
“He’s obsessed with football. He’s either reading up on it, looking at on his computer, going to games… he’s just consumed by it and I think if you want to be successful in football that’s a quality that you have to have. Stephen Kenny had the same quality.
“If you’re going to be successful in any walk of life, particularly football management, you’ve got to do the hard yards. You’ve got to get in your car on a Friday night when you’ve no game and drive to Cobh. I know because I’ve done it. You’ve got to make sacrifices with everybody. Your whole life is consumed by it. Your family is affected by it and your personal life but he is certainly consumed and I think if you’re consumed and obsessed by the game and you’ve got a little semblance of intelligence you get a really strong individual.
“I’ve obviously a lot more experienced than the lads but I’ve actually learnt more off the three lads and I’m not afraid to say that because the game evolves and you’ve got to evolve with it. I’d like to think I have but like I say I’m just here to help them fulfil their undoubted potential.
“Vinny just leaves no stone unturned. He might have this strong persona on the outside but he’d die for any one of his players and the club. He’s very protective of his football club and his players and his players respect that.
“He’s 42 and he’s going to have some career. He could go down in the same echelons as Kenny and McLaughlin at this club if he’s given the time and the backing to do it and I think he will.”
Gill’s faith in Perth strengthened further on April 12th last when the side lost 2-1 away to Sligo Rovers in The Showgrounds, leaving the reigning champions 13 points adrift of then league leaders Shamrock Rovers. Rather than bury his head in the sand, Perth came to face the media openly and honestly. It has coincided with a 17 match unbeaten run in all competitions which has seen Dundalk surge eight points clear at the top of the table.
“That night in particular I offered to go out and deal with the press,” revealed Gill, “but that’s a night where he grew bigger for me.
“Because of the way this structure works I’m the one who has done and has to do a fair bit of the media. That night I wanted to go out and try and protect him because I knew how low he was and I felt for him because I’ve been there.
“I said to him I’d go out and he said ‘no, I’ll do it.’ That to me said more about him than anything.
“You were there, he didn’t make excuses, he didn’t sugar coat anything. He didn’t say too much to the players in the dressing room either. He could have gone off at them and the old me probably would have done that if I were in his shoes and there’d be tables and chairs flying about the place but he kept a cool head.
“While he was out facing up to the media, myself and Higs had a few words with the players. It was nothing bad but we just said we owe this man. We felt we had let him down as a group and while he was out with the media we had a good, frank discussion and touch wood we came back from that.”
Despite that turnaround, rumours continue to circulate about a possible changing of the guard with Perth, Gill or perhaps even both being moved on at the end of the season.
Gill has no crystal ball to predict the future but he insists he is enjoying the ride right now alongside Perth and won’t be continuing on it without him – whenever that might be.
“It’s just a joy to be around here again and that’s irrespective of whether we win the game on Wednesday or not.
“I’m enjoying it. Nothing lasts forever but it’s nice for me to be able to come back and maybe this time when I do leave I can hopefully leave on good terms.
“My role here is to help him and I’ll do anything I can to help him and anything I can to protect him.
“I don’t pretend to be the most popular person within the game. I’m a very private person and I don’t have many friends. My wife is probably my best friend and my brother but apart from that I probably spend more time here with these lads than anyone else.
“I don’t play golf. Football is my passion and I’m an exceedingly loyal person. I left Shamrock Rovers when I did because the manager who brought me in (Trevor Croly) left. I could have stayed there but I left because my loyalty was to him. How could I have stayed there if he is deemed not good enough for the job? If that’s the case I am equally culpable.
“I’ve seen too many assistant managers and too many staff members in this league hang around and trample on the bones of a previous guy who gave them a chance. I don’t like it. I think it’s a bad trait to have but that’s their choice.
“My choice is that the day Vinny Perth walks out this gate through no fault of his own or by whatever means, I’ll be right behind him.
“I think he knows I have his back.
“I’m a grandfather in real life and I’m probably a little bit of a grandfather here. I’m really protective of the people here because I want to see this group doing well.”
Part of that process would be advancing past Riga this week.
“We badly want to get through on Wednesday and I think it would really set us up because if we do that we’re guaranteed four more games. If we don’t we’re guaranteed a very difficult tie in the Europa League and we’re well aware of that but we’d like maybe a free hit in the next round because the team that we’d be playing would be seeded and if we lose we take that seeding with us into the Europa League so there’s a lot of connotations riding on this game on Wednesday but we’re well prepared for it and we’re confident of getting a result out there.”
John Gill has played his part in making a manager.
It’s clear he fully believes in what Vinny Perth is trying to achieve at Oriel Park. He’ll be far from the most vocal or emotional should Dundalk get the result they crave this Wednesday but you can bet there will be few in the ground with more pride than Giller.
He says he doesn’t have many friends but it’s fair to say as they prepare for battle in Riga, Perth has few greater allies.