After Friday’s 1-0 friendly win over Drogheda Utd, I caught up with Dundalk FC Chief Operating Officer Martin Connolly to discuss a new sponsorship agreement with John McCabe Motors, the difficulties of hosting games behind closed doors, his hope of having some fans at matches and his thoughts on the league’s return on July 31st.
James Rogers: We’ll start with the good news… the club announced a deal today with John McCabe Motors. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Martin Connolly: Yeah, we’re delighted to be involved with another successful local company and it’s great that John McCabe’s of Nissan have decided to team up with us. We’re looking forward to a successful partnership now between both bodies.
JR: So moving back to the football, this is the third game you’ve run behind closed doors. What are you learning about hosting these games now? It’s a process no doubt.
MC: I’m learning that it’s difficult. I’m learning that I don’t think that I’ll be anybody’s friend at the end of this exercise because it’s very, very difficult. Up until last night we were allowed 200 spectators into the ground and then last night it turned into 200 in total which probably will give us about 100 spectators at games. That’s going to prove very, very difficult. We hope to announce things next week regarding season tickets and streaming and all that sort of thing. That all has to be finalised and hopefully that will ease the pain a wee bit for people. We know that we have very loyal supporters and we want to do everything that we can to get them into the ground but we also have to be safe, keep everybody healthy and do all that within the guidelines and that is going to be very difficult, there’s no two ways about it.
JR: Can you see fans being let in on account of the restricted numbers? I’m sure it’s going to be tight when you factor in TV crews etc for the likes of the first game back against Pat’s?
MC: Listen, there’s no beating around the bush, it’s going to be very difficult but we want to have fans here. What we’ve tried to do is to look at different options and we’ve tried different things but let’s put it in its place… there’s only going to be 200 people allowed into the ground. Between both sets of teams you could be talking 60 or 70 people so realistically you’re not going to have many more than 100 people. We’re still learning and we will get it but you have to look at the likes of the atmosphere in the ground which is poor with only 100 people. We have to make sure that everybody is safe and healthy. That’s the most important thing to us but we will have people in the ground. I just don’t know how many at the moment but it’s going to be small numbers, without doubt.
JR: And how do you do that fairly? Is it a lottery system or something else?
MC: Well, we’re looking at options. We’ve looked at all the other options from a lottery, to alphabetical order and people opting in or out but we’ll sit down now next week to work out how exactly we’re going to do it.
JR: Obviously depending on the game I’m sure the numbers may vary because depending on the game there may be different media demands etc?
MC: Look, this is no disrespect to anybody, but we have 1,600 season ticket holders or there or thereabouts. All of those 1,600 season ticket holders would want to be here to watch the Shamrock Rovers game whereas maybe only half of them might want to watch another club and I don’t want to name any clubs when I say that. That’s where you have the problem but whatever way we decide to do it is not going to suit everybody and we understand that. That’s why the streaming is very important to us and that’s why we experimented with our own streaming before the FAI streaming comes on board and to be fair it was quality and proved very successful. We got great feedback from our supporters and the streaming might be some sort of compensation to people but we also understand that it’s not the real thing.
JR: Obviously the FAI have announced they would be using the GAAGO system but is there a possibility you might do your own streaming?
MC: I don’t believe so but that could change. We’ll have a look at that and see.
JR: Will the season ticket holders have access to the stream whatever format it might be in?
MC: Yes, that’s the plan that all season ticket holders will have access. I understand that there’s an element there and some of them have contacted me to say that they’ve no email addresses but my only answer to that is get an email address and we’ll get the stream to you. The plan is that they will have access to the games though as season ticket holders.
JR: You live locally so you’re obviously dealing with fans every day. They’re just mad for a bit of football aren’t they?
MC: To be fair, and I totally get it, I think people just want a wee bit of normality and we’re trying to do that. It’s not an easy process but we’re a community club and we want to be an integral part of the community and part of that is helping people to get back to some sort of normal. That’s part of the process.
JR: There was a report in The Star during the week about an appeal from the club over the decision to restart the league. Can you tell us where that is at?
MC: We’ve withdrawn the appeal.
JR: So as far as Dundalk are concerned, it’s no secret that this isn’t what the club wanted, but you’re prepared to come back on July 31st and play the 13 remaining league matches?
MC: No, there’s no secret in that. We’d prefer more games and we’d prefer it to be a more normal season but we’re looking forward now to the league starting and getting back to playing football which is what it’s all about.
JR: Have you had any guidance on Europe and how it will work operationally? Obviously it will be behind closed doors no matter what.
MC: Yeah, I’m reading a 31 page booklet on the protocols for Europe and it’s going to be challenging. I’ve a very exciting weekend lined up reading that document and working out how we do it. Even things like testing has to be done two or three days before the games, there’s no supporters at all, you have to enter and exit by different zones etc so it’s going to be a challenge.
JR: Is it true that if you’re drawn away that management and other staff have to travel separately to the players? There were rumours about that.
MC: That depends on the charter. The management can sit in certain areas of the plane depending on the size of the charter. I don’t think it’s designed for the management of the team, moreso the directors and non-footballing staff.
JR: It was this night last year when we were celebrating a shoot-out win in Riga. It’s going to be some difference no matter what happens this year isn’t it?
MC: Yeah, it’s really tough at the moment and there’s no two ways about that but from what I understand we’re not the only ones finding it tough. The country in general is finding it tough but all we hope for is that we can do our very best to try get some normality back into people’s lives.
JR: You set up the Patreon members’ scheme in recent weeks and the sign-ups have been good so far but is there any other ways that people can support the club at the moment?
MC: The Patreon is a big part of it and we hope to unveil other plans and commercial ideas as we go along but we’ll wait and see how things go at the moment because we want to get back playing football first and foremost and we’ll see how it goes then.
JR: Can you be excited about the league?
MC: You know what, that’s a great question. I’m excited at getting back to play football but am I excited about the league? I think everybody knows that a Friday night in Oriel is a special night and when it’s not going to be as full and the atmosphere is not going to be as good it’s slightly different. I want the club and the team to be successful and that’s most important but I think it’s going to be difficult for everybody. It’s going to be a completely different experience for the League of Ireland in general but all we can do is see how it goes. I think the country has a lot to look at too because we’re in a bit of trouble if the numbers continue going the way that they’re going but we’ll see. I guess yeah I’m excited to get back to playing football and getting the league up and running but it’s going to be different.
JR: Brilliant, thanks for your time Martin and best of luck in the days and weeks ahead.