While many Dundalk fans would give their right arm to be in the Emirates for the Europa League clash with Arsenal on Thursday, one familiar face around Oriel Park has a genuine outside chance of being there.
Eoin Clarkin was the club’s strength and conditioning coach in 2018 and into 2019 but these days he is the Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach at Arsenal’s women’s team.
Now he is hoping his close ties to the Gunners’ mens team can lead to being reunited with some old friends when the Lilywhites play in London this week.
Speaking ahead of the Group B encounter, Eoin said: “I couldn’t believe it when I saw they got Arsenal.
“I don’t know if I’m going to get to it to be honest because they’re so strict here with the protocols that I don’t even know if the lads who are outside the squad are getting into the games. I’ve asked can I get in but I’m just waiting to hear back now and hopefully it’ll happen at the last minute.
“It’s probably unlikely but it would be nice to catch up with the lads and the staff that are left from my time there,” he said.
Eoin, who is also working with the Republic of Ireland U-21s at present, said he still keeps in contact with a large number of the squad at Oriel Park.
“I keep in touch with some of the boys. Not as regularly as I would have at the start but I’d still be in touch with a lot of the staff, the likes of David Murphy, Danny Miller, Steve Williams and even Graham Norton.
“I was involved with bringing Graham in as I left so I’d keep in touch with him a bit and we’d bounce ideas off each other. I’d be chatting to the guys quite regularly and then even with the Irish U-21s at the minute, Darragh Leahy is in the team so I’m in regular contact with the likes of him. Even some of the lads who’ve come in since I’ve left I’d know, the likes of Greg Sloggett who I’d have known from UCD.”
While gone from Oriel Park around 18 months now, Eoin admits to regularly following the side’s games and considers himself a Dundalk fan nowadays having struggled with the idea of leaving the club initially.
“Since I’ve left I’ve probably watched about 90% of the games and I signed up to the new streaming platform,” he said.
“When I left originally I left half way through the season and I think I watched every single game because I still felt part of it and involved. I had done most of the pre-season for that season so you naturally want to see the lads do well and you just become a fan I think.
“Even now, there has been a changeover of staff, but there are still a lot of the same staff still there and a lot of the same players.
“It was a special place to me. I was only there for a year but it felt a lot longer. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave. At the time when the offer came about it was probably a time in my life where I said I wanted a crack at England. I was just going into my 30s and I was single at the time so it was probably the last chance to take an opportunity and see where it would go but if you were to ask me honestly did I want to leave Dundalk at the time then the answer would have been no and any of my friends and family would tell you that.
“It was probably the hardest decision I ever had to make because I just enjoyed it so much and I was so tied into the culture at the club. I loved working with the lads and even my lifestyle there was good in terms of living with my best mate etc. Things were good and when life is going well it’s a harder decision to make to leave so I guess it was made more with the head than the heart. I just saw it as the next step for me in my career and I wanted to see where it would take me.”
Life is good for Eoin in England though. A season ticket holder at the Emirates, he has played his part in helping the Arsenal Women’s team – which includes Irish captain Katie McCabe – to the top of the league with six wins from six to date. He says he has ambitions to get to the very top of his field but feels he is in the right place to progress at the moment.
“It has been brilliant here and a brilliant experience for me so far. I’ve just been learning a lot and improving as a practitioner.
“Right now I’m working with the women’s team here and with the Irish U-21s so I’ve still one foot in the men’s game but I’m really enjoying it here.
“The player group and staff group here are brilliant. There’s a togetherness amongst the staff. I want to get to the highest level I can go but I’m in no rush to get there. Once I’m learning I’m happy in a job and right now I’m still learning so I’m very happy where I am. I’m enjoying what I’m doing now though and not looking too far ahead.”
While the difference in standards between Arsenal and Dundalk will no doubt be debated aplenty this week, Eoin insists he learnt a lot from working with a great group of professionals at Dundalk as well.
“I came in the year we won the double under Stephen Kenny from UCD and it was a completely different environment.
“UCD was great but they were younger lads. At Dundalk they were all senior pros and players who had won things for the last couple of years. They were an outstanding group to work with. They ran the dressing room themselves and set the standards.
“There were very few times that you had to step in and get on top of them. It was more about helping them from your end of things as a practitioner but the culture and environment that was in the place, it didn’t need me to step in. The players themselves would step in if any standards dropped at any time.
“There were no egos in the group. Sometimes you expect a few egos but it was a real team environment and I learnt a massive amount about that side of the game during my time at Dundalk and that was probably one of the reasons why I didn’t want to leave at the time because I was going to work every day and enjoying it.
“Even though it was intense and there was always pressure to keep winning and striving forward, it was enjoyable too. They were just a great group of lads and that would be the reason why you’d keep in touch with some of them.”
So if one of his old pals finds the net against Arsenal on Thursday, can Eoin afford a little celebration? He doesn’t see why not.
“Naturally Dundalk being the underdogs in the tie and me having worked for them, I think I absolutely could celebrate,” he laughed.
“It’s a hard one to answer but I’d be delighted for them and I don’t think I’d be able to hold it in but at the same time I have a tie and an attachment to Arsenal now. It’s all one club and you very much feel that.
“Hopefully Dundalk and Arsenal both qualify from that group. Maybe a 3-3 draw in the Emirates would do,” he said.
I think we’d all take that scenario.