Dundalk FC first team coach John Gill believes there is a lot to look forward to at Oriel Park as the Lilywhites prepare to play their first game in more than four months this Friday.
Vinny Perth’s side will welcome Derry City to the Carrick Road venue for the first of a series of friendlies to help prepare the side for the now confirmed return of the league on July 31st. The 4pm kick-off will be played behind closed doors but is expected to be streamed live via YouTube. Bohemians will also visit Oriel Park on Tuesday for the second of the games.
After five weeks back in training, Gill said he was looking forward to helping to prepare the side for a game having not done so since the 4-0 win away to Finn Harps on March 6th.
“It’ll be a good test for us,” he said of the Derry game.
“They gave us problems last year and they’re always competitive games against them. They’ve a good squad as well so it’s going to be a good test.
“We’ve a few other friendlies lined up for after that that just need to be confirmed.
“Teams are kind of nervous about travelling but we’ve Derry on Friday and then we’ve three or four others that just have to be confirmed this week between time and venues but we will definitely have four or five games before we get back into the cut and thrust of the league.”
The Dundalk squad played an 11 v 11 training game last Friday which the ‘home side’ won 1-0 courtesy of a late goal from substitute Lido Lotefa. Gill was pleased with the standard on show.
“Both 11s that we put out on Friday, both of them would challenge, that’s how high the quality was.
“There were some really great passages of play in the game and it was exciting to see some of the new lads who are bedded in now – the likes of Nathan Oduwa, Stefan Colovic, Will Patching and even Josh Gatt who came on for 30 minutes and looked really good.
“They’re new to the group but you could see on Friday the undoubted quality that they have so that was good and it means we’re in a good place.”
Sean Hoare and Patrick McEleney sat out the game with minor niggles while Aaron McCarey was also unavailable as his wife gave birth to baby boy Harry at the weekend. Irish underage international goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran, who is training with the squad at present following his recent release from Preston North End, took his place in the ‘away’ goal.
Dundalk can now begin preparing officially for the return of the league on July 31st but, while happy to have football on the way back, Gill said he was disappointed it would be just for a further 13 matches.
“Personally speaking, I don’t like it,” he said.
“Obviously we’re bowing to democracy because it’s what most teams wanted but if you’re telling me we couldn’t have extended the season until the end of November or first week of December and got in an extra round of games, I think that would have been more tangible and credible but it is what it is. We’ll get on with it but I’m just glad that relegation is there because I think we would have had a lot of meaningless games if there wasn’t a sanction for not performing.
“What it does now is that it puts a lot of so-called big teams in a very precarious position but that’s not our worry. We’ve got to worry about ourselves and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll worry about the league and we’ll also focus on Europe so we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
Gill admitted it would be hard to keep players happy with regard to game time given there was so few games on the horizon.
“It’s going to be hard, there’s no doubt, but as I said to the group aren’t you better being here than somewhere else.
“Our club has handled the whole pandemic magnificently. I think they’ve led from the front. Our owners have been absolutely magnificent and the players haven’t wanted for anything. We haven’t suffered any setbacks and that’s a credit to the owners.
“You could be somewhere else where you might be a regular every week but you’ve also got a family to look after and provide for. For me, you’re better being here fighting for a position.
“Okay, the league format is not going to help us but everyone here has a chance of putting their hand up and getting into the team. It’ll be based on performances in training and the one good thing about this squad is that the competition in training has been frightening.
“I just hope our supporters will be able to get back. I don’t know what the timeframe is for allowing supporters back into grounds but it’s important for us and them that they get to see what we’ve assembled,” said Gill.
Dundalk FC first team coach John Gill is hopeful his side can avoid the injuries which plagued the start of their season last year when they kick-off the 2020 campaign on St Valentine’s Day at home to Derry City.
The Donabate man has admitted that the Lilywhites face a “tricky start” with a meeting with newly promoted First Division champions Shelbourne the side’s first away trip of the season a week later.
They then face old foes Cork City at Oriel on February 24th before rounding off the opening month of games with a trip to Tallaght Stadium to face last season’s runners-up Shamrock Rovers on February 28th.
Vinny Perth’s side managed just six points from the opening 12 on offer in the first four games of last season and, while the hope will be to no doubt build on that, Gill said the most important thing was to avoid the sort of injury problems that impacted Dundalk at the start of 2019.
“It would be nice to get off in the first few games injury-free, which didn’t happen for us last year,” said Gill.
“It’s well documented that we had some awful injuries and serious injuries to Benson and McEleney in the first game and then we lost Shields. It’s only when you look back now in retrospect, what we had to come through in the first three months was really unprecedented but full credit to the players, the staff and the club – including supporters – that we were able to come through that patch.
“We showed probably a different side than we’ve had to show before over the previous six or seven years.”
While most eyes nationally on the opening night is likely to be on the Dublin derby between Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers at Dalymount Park, Gill feels his side couldn’t have got a much more difficult start than against a Candystripes side who drew twice with the champions last season, as well as taking them to extra-time in the FAI Cup and to a shoot-out to decide the outcome of the EA Sports Cup.
“They’re the team who caused us the most problems. Not necessarily problems but they gave us some very, very competitive games last year,” said Gill.
“They were really tough nuts to crack, they were well set up and Deccy got a real feel good factor behind the town. Everybody seemed to row in behind them and they were very good. They had a great season and getting European football kind of capped it off for them.
“They’re going to be a tough nut again. I know they’ve lost some players, like ourselves, but he has made some shrewd acquisitions.
“The only good thing is we’re at home on our own patch and our home form is there for everybody to see. It has been magnificent for the last seven years but particularly the last two years. It’s a game we’re looking forward to but we know it’s going to be a very tough test.”
Gill said the matches away to Shelbourne and at home to Cork could potentially be tougher ties than the first league meeting with Shamrock Rovers at the end of the month.
“It’s a tricky start. You’ve got Shels as our first away trip and they’ll be full of beans after being promoted back to the Premier following a long sabbatical.
“They’ve kept the nucleus of the squad they had and added some very shrewd signings like Sheppard. They’ve signed well so that will be a difficult test but it’s a great ground to go to. I love going to Tolka. I know it’s a very dilapidated ground but it has great history in it and it’s a place I love going to because there’s always a great atmosphere. We’ll bring a big crowd to it too.
“It’s Cork after that. Okay, they’re not the Cork that we have known but they’re still going to be a very tough nut to crack. Fenny will have had more time to get his ideas across. It’ll be a very young, vibrant and passionate team so they are three very, very tricky games.
“The Rovers game after that will look after itself, as those games always do. We never fear going up to Tallaght. Our lads like going there. I’m sure it will be a really, really good game but no matter what kind of start we got it was always going to be a tricky one.”
Having briefly met up with the squad before Christmas, Gill said he was excited by the club’s new signings to date, Darragh Leahy, Greg Sloggett and Will Patching.
“The new lads that have come in, Sloggett, Leahy and Patching are three very good players and I think they’ll add to the group.
“They’ve all got different qualities. Leahy is obviously a current U-21 international and he has had a great two seasons at Bohs after being away in England. He’s a very dedicated but quiet lad but I think he’ll definitely bring something to the table.
“Then with Sloggett, in all the games he played against us for Derry last season he had a big influence in them and he scored probably the best goal that was scored against us last year up in Derry in the Cup.
“He brings a lot of energy, physicality and technical ability to the team. After losing Benson a lot of people would have been worried but I think Sloggett is more than an adequate replacement.
“Patching then is a bit of technician. Anybody that has been at Manchester City for as long as he was and was capped at every level up the way by England has to have a lot of quality. Hopefully we can give him the chance to reboot and push on in his career and we probably aren’t finished yet in regards to what we’re looking for. We’re still looking to strengthen in certain areas but all is looking good at the moment.”
Departing the club over Christmas was young defender Dylan Hand, who has signed for Longford Town, while U-19 goalkeeper David Odumosu has moved down the M1 to Drogheda Utd.
A year ago today, November 10th 2018, I rang John Gill to discuss the upcoming 10th anniversary of Dundalk’s First Division title win on November 15th 2008. He admitted at the time he thought he was finished with coaching. A year on he’s played a small but pivotal role in a hugely successful season for the club and is aiming for another winners’ medal at Oriel Park tomorrow night. Here’s that article a year on…
There have been more than a few sliding doors moments for Dundalk FC over the last few years.
What if Andy Connolly and Paul Brown hadn’t rescued the club when it looked to be on the brink of going out of business in the summer of 2012?
What if Michael Rafter hadn’t helped Darius Kierans’ side win the play-off that November against Waterford in the RSC?
And what if Stephen Kenny had never taken charge?
It’s easy to wonder how things would have transpired for the club, the town, its players and many of its supporters without any of those things happening. But perhaps the original ‘What If?’ moment came 10 years ago this Thursday in a game not even involving the club.
The date was November 15th 2008 and Dundalk FC had just won 6-1 away to Kildare County in their final game of what was their seventh season in the First Division. The victory at the Station Road might have been emphatic but the mood was sombre.
That’s because some 70km away in Tolka Park, Dermot Keely’s Shelbourne were winning 1-0 at home to Limerick 37 courtesy of a 63rd minute Anto Flood goal and were three minutes of stoppage time away from pipping Dundalk to the First Division title by a single point.
Then the ball broke to Colin Scanlan at the edge of the area and he squeezed a shot past Shels goalkeeper Dean Delany with a strike that arguably helped shape the modern day history of the league.
Suddenly, Dundalk were back in the big time.
Anyone who was in the Station Road that night will never forget the scenes. Grown men cried, supporters and players embraced and ‘championees, championees’ was sang long into the night.
Many had felt that when Dundalk lost 1-0 at home to Limerick 37 with two games remaining that their chance of promotion had gone but reflecting on the run-in with The Argus this week, manager John Gill revealed he never gave up hope.
“I knew we had hit a rocky patch towards the end. The Limerick game, in particular, we gave away a bad goal that night and we should have got something out of that game but I had a feeling that Shels would feel a little bit of pressure too and we just had to make sure, particularly on the last night, that we did our job.
“There was a big build up to it and a lot of doom and gloom. A lot of people on social media were giving me stick but I just said to the players go out and enjoy yourselves and make sure we keep up our end of the bargain.”
Despite a four goal salvo from Robbie Farrell and further strikes from David Cassidy and Derek Doyle to ensure a 6-1 win, it looked like Dundalk’s efforts wouldn’t be enough.
Indeed, Gill revealed it was only much later in the dressing room that the then Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern broke the news to him that his side were champions.
“The final whistle in our game went first and there was a real deflated feeling in the ground. A couple of individual people were giving me a bit of stick. I was only over a knee operation and I was walking off the pitch with two security men. Next of all I got picked up by them by the elbows and they started running. I said ‘I can’t run, I’ve a bad knee’ but I looked behind me and the cavalry were coming behind me….the supporters had run onto the pitch.”
What Gill didn’t know at the time was that those tuning into Gerry Kelly’s commentary on LMFM from Tolka Park had learnt of Scanlan’s goal. As supporters went wild, there was a further wait – for what seemed like an eternity – before referee Neil Doyle blew the full-time whistle in Drumcondra. Queue further scenes of ecstasy at the Station Road.
“I thought at the time that they were coming to try and nail me to the cross but the word had got out to them about the goal in Tolka whereas I didn’t know yet. Then when I got into the dressing room, the first man in was Dermot Ahern. I didn’t know what was going on but he came into the dressing room and he was the first man to inform me that we had won the league.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen as many grown men crying, I’ve never seen as many people in shock. Now I have to say, I wasn’t in shock because I thought we fully deserved it – not only over the season but because of what happened, not so much the previous season because we deserved to be beaten in the play-offs by Finn Harps, but certainly the first season in 2006 when the FAI did what they did and the fiasco of making us play three games in five days.”
While the IAG’s decision to promote Waterford Utd rather than Dundalk FC two years previously despite Gill’s side beating the men from the RSC over two legs of a play-off still stings with the Donabate man, he feels that experience meant promotion in 2008 was all the sweeter.
“We went up to Finn Harps and the game was called off. We were on the bus on the way back and we had to turn back and stay the night. We then had to go to win that game knowing that we had to play on the Tuesday and the following Friday. Then to go and win those games and be told they were all in vain was tough to take.
“What was the point of playing them games and jeopardising players’ safety and getting players to take time off work? Then the back-handed way it was done!
“The likes of Maxi probably brought it to too much of an extreme but there was an awful lot of people hurt.
“I got a lot of stick from the FAI because I went public on my thoughts. I was in the press and I was on the radio giving my views. Then they got in touch with Des (Denning) to ask me to tone down my comments until after the IAG meeting and I was led to believe then that we were still going to go up.
“So to go up three years later after what we had been through, I think that created a great bond and I think we enjoyed it more. The only regret I have about that night is that I didn’t go back to Oriel that weekend. I wouldn’t go back because there was a lot going on behind the scenes and I had probably burned a few bridges but I should have been able to go back to enjoy the night and the weekend with the supporters. I didn’t get that chance to do that but that was mainly down to myself.
“I should have gone back and said ‘f* what’s gone on’ and ‘f* the people behind the scenes’ but I didn’t and that’s a regret. It was a unique night and a unique season. What a way to win a league! If you’re going to win a league, that’s the way to do it.”
What many supporters didn’t know at the time was that the board tried to replace Gill following a 3-1 defeat away to Wexford with five games to go.
“Not many people might know this but I was led to believe that my job was gone with five games to go,” he revealed.
“We had a wobble down in Wexford where we were beaten 3-1. We had two games in four or five days and I decided to rest a few of the senior players. I was trying to manage the group and I left them out, thinking that we’d have enough from the rest of the group to go and get a win.
“That was probably a bit of a mistake on my part and we got punished. A lot happened over that weekend and the game against Sporting Fingal, which we won, was almost a must-win game.
“It wasn’t nice what happened. I got a call from another League of Ireland manager after Wexford who was able to tell me that I was going to be called to a meeting on the Sunday.
“At the time Pat Scully had been paid off by Rovers and I was told that somebody on the board – and I won’t mention that somebody – had approached Pat Scully and basically asked him would he come and do the job if we were beaten by Sporting Fingal on the Monday.
“I went up for training on the Sunday and lo and behold I was called to a meeting before training. What went on in that meeting we’ll keep private but a few home truths were told. I was accused of losing the dressing room but I definitely don’t think I ever lost the dressing room so I refuted that claim and I responded by asking the question ‘who have I lost?’ but people weren’t prepared to name names.
“I then asked the question had anyone spoken to Pat Scully and a couple of people who will remain anonymous knew that I was onto them. I actually left the meeting, saying ‘I haven’t got time for this’ because I had to prepare for a game. The board then asked to meet the players before training but I said they could wait until after training. I then left after training with Gerry Scully and the board met the players.
“The players were asked had I lost the dressing room. Now how hurtful was that to me? Aidan Lynch, as captain, asked who has he lost and no one answered so the players got up and walked out of the meeting.
“I probably didn’t handle things well after that because I wouldn’t speak to the board but there was a little bit of a siege mentality for the last five games which worked for us. I got Enda McNulty in at my own expense, and he did a brilliant session with the players. It was just something different and a different voice and it helped lift a bit of the doom and gloom. We set ourselves a bit of a goal for the last four of five games. Enda actually said if you get 11 points from the last 15 you’ll win the league and that’s what we done.
“When we went up I was so pleased for all the supporters because it was three great years and three years of hard work. The first year, we were basically robbed of going up after winning a play-off. The second year we were beaten in a play-off but then the third year it was third time lucky.
“For Dundalk to be in that First Division for seven years was way, way, way too long.”
Gill’s admiration for Dundalk’s recent achievements are clear.
“As Stephen (Kenny) has found out now and more than surpassed it, Dundalk is a real football town. I’ve been lucky enough to work in a lot of football clubs but Dundalk to me always had that potential.
“I kind of scratched the surface of it but Stephen has brought it on to a new level. I take nothing but great satisfaction and pride in seeing Dundalk do so well. It’s brilliant for the club and brilliant for the supporters. I’ve got a great reception every time I’ve gone back there since with another club. I’ve got nothing but great support. People always make me feel welcome and they’ll always have a special place in my heart.
“Unfortunately we’ve lost a few special people since then like Brendan Conachy, Des Denning, Marty Shields. They were people who were on that journey who unfortunately aren’t with us anymore but it was great to give them a little bit of happiness and help move the bus in the right direction.
“To me Dundalk and Cork are the two biggest clubs in the country so it’s probably right that they are where they are at the moment. I know there are Dublin clubs who will claim they are but Dundalk is a real football town.
“I was up there yesterday on business and it’s great to see flags on every window. It was a little bit like that when I was there. Dundalk people are proud of their football club, particularly when they’re doing well. There were times when I started off where we weren’t doing well but they still came out and supported us.
“The crowds that we brought to away games in the First Division, other teams used to rub their hands because they knew when we played them that they were going to make a few bob from us. We were bringing 300 and 400 people to away games.
“They were incredible times and it’s incredible to see where the club has gone since then between the European run, winning two doubles and then to see in 2012 how near they were to going out of business. It’s incredible.
“The current side are certainly the best team that I’ve ever seen and I’ve been involved in the league as a coach or in a management capacity since 2001. You could argue, they’re probably the best that has ever been and Stephen is probably the best manager there has ever been.
“I actually spoke to him before he got the job because he rang me just to get the lay of the land. Other clubs go on about money being spent but Dundalk have earned the right to spend whatever money they want in whatever way they want. Stephen doesn’t go out and squander money. Anybody that he buys has delivered. I’ve seen other teams with similar resources who haven’t delivered so people in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones. Worry about your own club and don’t be worrying about what other people have. You’ve got to try match what they have and surpass it but nobody has been able to do that.”
Does he ever wonder what would have happened had Colin Scanlan not scored?
“Of course,” he said.
“I probably knew I was a dead man walking that night. I knew in my heart I wasn’t going to be there the following year but it was important that I left it in a better place than what I found it and I did that.
“Football is a funny game, you only have to look at that night and that season. That particular night, probably two minutes of football changed the fortunes of Dundalk and I’d hate to think what might have happened had he not scored. If we hadn’t gone up that year it would have been a long, long road back.”
Unfortunately the dream promotion ended with Gill being let go, with Sean Connor coming in to replace him.
“No disrespect but when I saw who was appointed after me and the budget that he got, that was a little bit hard to take.
“When it ended, and I’m not too proud to say it, I shed a few tears and I would have been 44 at that time. The way I was treated was really poor. It took three to four weeks before I found out. I was left hanging on and I was asked to apply for my own job.
“I did shed a tear because it was a special three years and I felt like I had given my soul to the place and to the detriment of other parts of my life – my work, my family. It was literally Dundalk for three years but do I regret it? No.”
Gill believes the Dundalk story is now one of the great Irish sporting tales.
“You could write a movie script on it,” he said.
“I don’t think a lot of people outside Dundalk fully comprehend what has gone on there in the last 10 years. It’s incredible, absolutely incredible. It’s a football town which has rightly received its rewards in recent years.
“It has been brilliant since.”
Indeed, it has and all thanks to that famous night November 15th 2008.
“I believe that weekend was unique up there,” laughed Gill.
“You wouldn’t believe it but myself and Dermot Keely spent the Saturday together on the piss in Swords. He was devastated and I was obviously on cloud nine but it was great that we were able to share the time together.
“I still keep in touch the odd time with a lot of the lads. I said at the time after the game that in years to come we’ll remember this night and this season and to this day that happens. We always remember the great year that we had that year.
“The club have been incredible since but for me personally I think it was a pivotal moment because if we hadn’t got up that year I don’t know when it would have happened.
“It could have been another two or three years before we got back up because we had been through so much the previous two years. It was imperative we got up but we did and the rest is history.”
History indeed. Dundalk have achieved so much over the years that, looking back, a First Division title can often pale in significance. Anyone who was in the Station Road that night knows just how important it was though. To the side of 2008 10 years on: Thank you.
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.
Vinny Perth says it was a ‘great honour’ to be entrusted with continuing his mentor Stephen Kenny’s legacy with Dundalk FC for the next two seasons at least.
The 42-year-old was officially appointed the club’s new head coach on New Year’s Day having taken over the running of the club following Kenny’s departure to take up the Republic of Ireland U-21 manager’s job at the end of November.
He will be joined in a new coaching set up by Ruaidhrí Higgins, who has been promoted from opposition analyst to assistant head coach, and John Gill, who has been appointed first team coach.
Gill, who guided Dundalk FC to the First Division title at the end of a three year spell in charge of the club in 2008, has the Pro Licence required to ensure the new management setup meets FAI requirements.
The trio teamed up with the squad for the first time on Saturday for the start of pre-season training where Perth oversaw the backroom team putting the players through their paces as they begin building towards the opening league match at home to Sligo Rovers on Friday February 15th.
Speaking on his appointment to The Argus, Perth said: ‘It’s a great honour that the board trusted me as soon as Stephen left.
‘We’re league champions, FAI Cup champions so for the club to turn to someone like me and say we need you to play a central role in how we move forward as a club and create continuity was a real honour for me and my family. It’s amazing, we don’t tell each other too much but my wife and kids were really proud and my father was really proud that the club showed that loyalty to me.
‘It’s an honour to be head coach of this great group that we have but it has been an honour for me all along. I wouldn’t be the most outspoken in the media over the last five or six years. I believed it wasn’t my role as an assistant to be too vocal but it has been a huge honour to be part of this group. It has been one of the most successful periods of any club’s history in this league. For me to play any part of that is something I’m very proud of but this is just another milestone of what has been a great six years so far at the club.’
Perth, who played for Dundalk for a season under Gill in 2007, said he always wanted to be a manager but believes coaching players is more important. ‘I always wanted to be a manager since I was fairly young. The game has changed now. It’s not about managing a team, it’s about how teams are coached now. When you look at the top of the game from Pep Guardiola, all the way down to our level it’s about how a team is coached.
‘There’s a certain amount of management needed as well but the difference with us and say Man City is that they have four or five people who manage contracts and different things but that’s where John gives us that real managerial experience. He’ll give myself and Ruaidhrí a hand in that side of the game. We’re both very experienced coaches but probably very inexperienced at managing those finer details so I think it’s a good blend that we put together.’
While the process of appointing the trio was somewhat drawn out from a supporter’s perspective, Perth said he never had any fears that the appointment would get over the line despite reports that his lack of a Pro Licence could be a blocker.
‘I don’t think there was ever any real fear of that,’ he said. ‘For me, I just got on with the job in hand. Back in March I went full-time with the club so I’m someone who would work 10 or 12 hours a day no matter what the case may be so all I had to do was keep working hard until we put the management team in place. ‘In the middle of that madness people forget that we re-signed Robbie Benson and Dane Massey. I’d like to think I played a part in that. They showed real loyalty to the club and myself so I hadn’t any real fear in that sense.’
While Kenny’s departure is an obvious loss for Dundalk, Perth feels the structures are in place on and off the field for him to continue the success that the future national team manager brought to the club in their six years working together.
‘We have used the word continuity a lot and there’s a reason for that,’ said the Dubliner.
‘As a group we really respect the last manager that was here. A lot of people owe a lot to him. He gave me a chance, not just six years ago but a long time ago in football, and he’s always someone that I worked very closely with but I’ve partially worn those shoes as well in as much that he has been the leadership and the figurehead of the club but we’ve such a small number of staff in the club so for six years it was just me and him taking training sessions so I was right in the middle of it.
‘There’s a real sense of motivation now. People will question with Stephen gone what will happen the club now and will they struggle but the players are leading the motivation for that not to happen. People are probably questioning will the players struggle but they’re saying it wasn’t just about Stephen Kenny, there’s a whole team that made us great for the last six years and I think that’s true. I think it’s something that has probably been missed a little bit – the quality of player that we have and the quality of the backroom staff that we’ve had over the six years.
‘It would mean a hell of a lot just to retain our title and be back in the Champions League the following year and that’s our target. Anything other than that is going to feel like a disappointment.
‘Personally there will probably be a bit more motivation but I felt that last year, winning the league back after losing it to Cork. Doing that and rebuilding the team as part of the management here meant more to be probably than the other ones. The next one always means the most and that’s what motivates top sportspeople I think.’
There’s no question Perth is a top man and coach. 2019 is a year where he can blossom even more.