At Saturday’s Dundalk FC kit launch at Oriel Park, James Rogers sat down with the club’s general manager Martin Connolly to discuss recent criticism of the club, its owners and the gear. In an open and honest conversation, Martin admitted the club had not got everything right in 2019 but said several things were in the pipeline to address that. He also said the appointment of Bill Hulsizer – father of PEAK6 owner Matt – to the board was a positive and called on fans to bare with the club over the next few weeks as they look ahead to what will hopefully be a brighter 2020 off the field. Have a read of the interview below…
James Rogers: So Martin, it’s the jersey launch today and there’s a good crowd here. Does a jersey launch whet the appetite for the new season and what is to come in 2020?
Martin Connolly: Well I think what we have seen is that a new jersey and a new kit supplier you’re always met with a body of opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion but the amount of people who have turned up already just shows that their is an appetite for good appetite, good gear and the jersey seems to be getting a bit of interest. We’re delighted with it and the crowds have come out so we’re very grateful for that.
JR: I suppose there has been that bit of criticism of the general, some of it over the top. I’m not saying the club got everything right last season but I think there’s an attitude from talking to you and Bill Hulsizer that you recognise some of the things that need improving and you’re willing to do that and move forward into 2020 with the mindset of New Year and new start?
MC: Yeah, I think that’s a fair comment. The club accepts that we did get some things wrong but I can say the same about the club for the last six or seven years. You never get everything right and you’re never going to satisfy everybody and that’s fine. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I do think some of the criticism at the moment has been a wee bit over the top but that’s probably down to the fact that social media has a great effect on that. That’s fine but we are now preparing for next season and this is the start of us for us and we’re looking forward to it. The shop is now open right through until Christmas Eve where everybody can get their season ticket and their merchandise under the one roof, which was a previous criticism. We’ve listened to that, taken it on board and tried to address it.
JR: The gear in general, I know the jersey gets the headlines, but it’s good stuff. I’m sure you’ve memories of wearing Umbro gear yourself on the sidelines here.
MC: Yeah, I do, and some of them not so good but they’re memories nonetheless and that’s what a football club is made out of, its history and all that sort of stuff. We have been with Umbro before and we look forward to the next two or three years with them and hopefully it will be another successful spell for the club.
JR: Can we expect anything else in terms of announcements over the close season from an off the field perspective?
MC: Yeah, we’re working hard on things to be fair. Bill Hulsizer is now on the board and he has taken an active role on stuff within the club. We are going through a sort of transition at the moment but we are looking at things and we are looking at a number of different areas. The improvement of facilities is one of them. We hope to announce a few things over the next couple of weeks but I sort of go back to where it was a number of years ago and I’d prefer not to say anything until I can say everything but we are working hard and we are listening to supporters. As I say, we didn’t get everything right last season and we never do but hopefully over the next few weeks we’ll see a positive change in the mood of people around the club.
JR: You mentioned Bill there. The fact he is Matt Hulsizer, the PEAK6 owner’s father, some of that criticism we mentioned earlier is an attitude that maybe the Americans don’t care about the club but the day you put your father in to be more hands on, it’s surely not a case of they don’t care when he’s coming in and getting involved and meeting people within the community as well?
MC: I think our owners have come in for a little bit of unfair criticism over the last couple of weeks. It’s like every business but in a football club you have opinions – and people are entitled to their opinions whether they be supporters or season ticket holders. We do recognise that we haven’t done things right and we’re trying to address that. People think we don’t listen to them but we do listen to them. We just can’t jump in and do everything at once. We have recognised that there has been a wee bit of a disconnect with supporters and we are trying to address that. Some of the criticism was unfair in that it wasn’t true. We had people saying that we weren’t in the community but we’re very strong in the community. People say we should get around schools with trophies but the truth of the fact is that we couldn’t get around with the trophies last year because the FAI had them for nine months because they were doing the EURO 2020 tour and we hadn’t got them. This year within the first few weeks the trophies are out and about and we’re organising a school campaign now in the next couple of weeks and the trophies will be going out to them. Over the next few weeks we do hope to announce a couple of things that I think will excite people and will show that our owners really recognise that we need to do things a wee bit better.
JR: Obviously the CEO, Mark Devlin, has departed since the end of the season. Who is running the show here now on a day-to-day basis? Obviously the Americans have a massive part to play in the ongoing process but on a day-to-day basis what’s happening?
MC: The day-to-day things are nearly as they were with myself and Ailish Kelly and Liam Burns and a few other full-time staff looking after the operation. There is no CEO at the moment and I don’t think things will change much but again, we’ll wait to see what happens over the next few weeks.
JR: Are you happy with your team off the field at the minute? Obviously if the budget was there you’d add more staff but are you pleased enough with how it’s going?
MC: Well what we’re doing over the next few weeks is looking at all those structures and how we feel best we can improve things and make things that wee bit better for everybody. The people who work in this football club are amazing people who go beyond their duty at times. Even with the kit launch today, there were people here until 11 o’clock last night organising the shop and tidying up the shop. It’s a credit to them and they’re a credit to this football club and I just hope people understand that.
JR: Obviously it’s a busy time as well preparing for next season. There are two new signings in already. I’m not going to ask you about targets but I’m sure the club will continue to back Vinny and we’ll see a few more in before the start of the season?
MC: Well that is Vinny’s department but I have been working with Vinny on a few things because sometimes it takes more than one person to get things sorted. We have been working hard and hopefully we can get a few more across the line in the next few weeks.
JR: Just to give them a mention because I know they have their night tonight but the volunteers, I know they give so much throughout the year. As you say some of them were here until 11 o’clock last night but it’s important to acknowledge them and I’m sure it’s open for anyone else who wants to get involved and lend a hand.
MC: Yeah, again we’ll go into it more in the next couple of weeks, but our volunteers are a vital part of any football club. When the negativity comes in I worry that it effects our volunteers and that they sometimes think that people who are paid to do a job here aren’t doing their job properly and it may reflect on them so then they say why should we give our time to that? That’s what worries me and that’s why when things appear that aren’t necessarily true, that upsets me a wee bit. Our volunteers are an amazing group of people. Some of them have been with us 15, 20, 25 years and others not so long but we always look to improve and increase the number of volunteers because there is always something to be done in a football club whether it’s from people making tea, to people writing programmes, to people scanning tickets and they all do an amazing job and I hope that they know they’re respected by the owners and staff of this football club alike.
JR: There’s a lot of reviews of the decade at the minute but when you look back on where the club has come – and you were there for all of it – from nearly going out of business in the early part of the decade to all the success we have had, you couldn’t have dreamt of being where you are now going into 2020?
MC: I actually haven’t thought of that. It’s only when you’ve said that to me that I realised I came back here as a goalkeeping coach with John Gill in 2008 so I’ve been here the full decade, plus some more. The whole time has been unbelievable and it’ll be an interesting book when I sit down to write it. I’m following these threads where people are picking their players of the decade and I just wouldn’t like to pick mine at the moment. I’ll review that one again at a later stage.
JR: But overall, just finally, you feel the club is in a good place and there are good things to come hopefully?
MC: Yeah, the club is in a great place. We have very enthusiastic and willing owners and we have great supporters. I understand where some of the negativity is coming from at the moment but I ask them to bare with us. We will reveal things in the next couple of weeks. We’ll listen to their views, we’ll meet with them and we’ll talk to them. We’re not going to agree with everything. People never do but just bare with us. Get behind us and support the team on the pitch but also give us a wee bit of support off the pitch because we’re human as well.
JR: Brilliant, thanks Martin.