Right decisions need to be made at Dundalk following Devlin’s departure

Right decisions need to be made at Dundalk following Devlin’s departure

The announcement that Mark Devlin is to step down as Dundalk FC CEO to return to the UK leaves the clubs at something of a crossroads heading into the close season.

The former Brentford chief’s departure means the club could potentially be looking for their third CEO in the space of 21 months with his seven month spell at Oriel Park even shorter than that of his predecessor Mal Brannigan.

While Devlin had high hopes of making an impact at Oriel Park, a series of factors – many beyond his control – meant that he will depart without much of a legacy to discuss.

While Dundalk have had a fine year on the pitch, things behind the scenes have been chaotic at times with a series of rows threatening to overshadow the good work that Vinny Perth and co have done on the field.

As well as Devlin, the club have also dispensed of the services of consultant Andy Burton recently. That particular six figure investment proved to be disastrous and with the two Englishmen now gone, there are several more roles to fill heading into 2020. Long serving volunteers Simon Blackmore and Colm Murphy have departed the club of late, although there remains hope that the latter can be convinced to return.

Certainly, now is the time to look at what the club really needs and how to drive it forward. The club can ill-afford for the next appointment to be the wrong one. Through no fault of their own Devlin and Brannigan before him didn’t know the league, didn’t know the FAI, didn’t know local business and didn’t know local politics. While candidates of high profile from outside of Ireland cannot be ignored, there’s no real appetite among fans for a new CEO to spend months getting up to speed on things before potentially departing again.

That’s why the club need to be clever, leave ego aside and look at what is really needed to drive things forward. Most of them don’t even require the kind of investment that the club put into Burton and Devlin.

Some sort of supporter liaison role where the club have an individual who can listen to and interact with fans would be a plus. In recent times there has been calls for a supporters’ club to be formed but a supporter liaison officer or a similar role could help fill this void. There are a lot of fans at Oriel Park with expertise with a wide range of fields with plenty of contacts. The right person could tap into these to improve the link between fans and the club.

In recent years there hasn’t been any fundraisers at Oriel Park. While the owners might feel such things are beneath them, simple events such as quiz nights, Q&As, golf classics, club draws etc all improve the atmosphere around a club.

It summed up how much this area has been neglected that one of the most recent fundraisers ended with the money raised being donated to charity because the organiser couldn’t find anyone willing to take the sum from them at Oriel.

About a year ago I was at a neighbour’s birthday party when I met a local businesswoman who had an array of questions for me about the club. This individual had no interest whatsoever in football but loved the feel good atmosphere it brought to the town and was interested in ways to support it. A proper club brings these sort of people into the circle. While football will always be what Dundalk FC is about, there’s no reason other events can’t attract other people to Oriel Park on occasions other than a Friday night.

The club have got complacent off the field. Back in the dreary First Division days, you’d be almost tortured by young club members selling lotto tickets. These days, it is barely promoted and one long-serving player commented recently that they didn’t even know the club had a lotto.

There is equally an appetite among fans for events at Oriel. Many aren’t in a position to travel around the country on a bi-weekly basis so it can mean they go weeks on end without their Dundalk FC fix. Giving them a reason to go to Oriel Park benefits all parties.

Dundalk should be tapping into its history more. Last week, for example, was the 40th anniversary of the famous European Cup match against Celtic in 1979. Members of that team could have been brought back to discuss the occasion and it would have been the perfect build-up to the two-legged affair with Linfield given that side defeated them on that memorable European journey. Simple ideas like that cost little or nothing but build an atmosphere around the club that has been sadly lacking.

Other areas where the club can improve is in terms of education. Already Shamrock Rovers players have been around most schools in their area with the FAI Cup. One of the longest serving players at Oriel admitted recently they had never seen the inside of a school in Dundalk.

Everyone loves success, particularly kids, but while it’s fantastic to see the numbers of youngsters supporting Dundalk, there are surely many more being missed out on by not linking up with schools enough. Given the success of Fyffes’ Fit Squad, a joint proposal to fully focus on this could perhaps be arranged.

A player liaison officer would also be welcomed. Players are after all the club’s biggest asset but they are also human. They have their ups and downs off the field like anyone else and someone to ease burdens on them could be beneficial. This role could possibly be interlinked with others but having someone to be there for the players at all times would be hugely welcomed among the playing staff and would be of particular help in assisting any new signings in integrating into the area – particularly given a proportion of new recruits are most likely to be from outside of Ireland.

Players and people in general always like to feel appreciated and acknowledging small landmarks can aid this.

Just on Friday night alone, Sean Hoare played his 100th game for the club, Chris Shields played his 300th and Daniel Kelly scored the club’s 100th goal of the season. You might not be able to acknowledge every landmark but contrast Shields’ achievement – which went totally unacknowledged – with that of Ian Bermingham, who was presented with an award by St Patrick’s Athletic when he reached a similar landmark for the Inchicore club recently.

There are so many simple things Dundalk can do to improve supporter relations, make players and staff happier and ensure match nights are a better experience.

Of course, someone or a team of people are needed to oversee everything. There are big challenges ahead, chief amongst them the upgrade of Oriel Park which is taking slow steps in a positive direction behind the scenes right now.

They need to be met head on and in the right manner but the simple things can have a bigger impact in the short term. The right calls now need to be made to ensure they’re in place for the start of next season. Building beyond that will take a longer term commitment from the right person or people.

Perth says new CEO is a huge positive for the club

Perth says new CEO is a huge positive for the club

Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth has hailed the appointment of Mark Devlin as the club’s new Chief Executive as a “massive positive”.

Devlin is due to meet with Perth and other club staff for the first time this week ahead of his official start date next Monday, April 1st. He comes to Oriel Park with a wealth of experience having been CEO of Brentford from 2011 to last December.

Prior to that he also worked as Chief Executive of Queens Park Rangers and Swindon. Reacting to Devlin’s appointment, Perth was excited about what he could add to the club.

“I think it’s positive,” he told The Argus. “I’ve researched some of the work he has done at Brentford and it’s outstanding but there’s also good people here as well doing a lot of outstanding work, people like Ailish Kelly in the office and the work that Martin Connolly has done in the last six or seven years has been outstanding. We’ve a lot of good people and I think Mark will only enhance that.

“I think it’s good that someone coming from the outside might see something that we’ve missed. I think it’s a massive positive and it shows you the club is going in the right direction. There’s been a new Financial Controller post filled too so we’re starting to see a lot more investment in the club behind the scenes that will only make it a better club.”

Having seen first-hand the set up at Brentford during a trip there with Dundalk in 2016, Perth is hopeful Devlin can bring some of that expertise to Oriel Park.

“There’s a lot of similarities between the two clubs in terms of the owners and their belief in the clubs. It’s a bit early to understand what Mark’s train of thought is but over time we’ll start to see that. If he can have the same success here as he had with Brentford I think it’ll be a positive.”

Commenting on the appointment, Dundalk FC chairman Mike Treacy said:  “After a thorough and exhaustive interview process, during which the board have interviewed a number of potential candidates, we are confident that we have found the right person to drive the club forward and help us achieve our goals as a business.

“While at Brentford, Mark led the West London club’s ascension from League One to the Championship. Crucially, Mark, demonstrated a number of key attributes that are important to us as we seek to take the business to new heights – amongst them, modernising club operations, increasing and engaging with the fan base and was heavily involved in the planning of the new Brentford Community Stadium.

“At PEAK6 we place a heavy emphasis on working in teams while applying data and technology to make smart business decisions. Mark also brings a vast experience utilizing data to improve marketing, retail, and ticketing operations. We are excited for him to work with existing staff to lead the league off the pitch.”

Speaking on his appointment, Devlin added: “I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to become Dundalk FC’s Chief Executive, and I can’t wait to begin work in my new role.

“Joining the champions of Ireland is a huge honour. I intend to build upon the excellent work that has been done at the club in recent years, and aim to grow Dundalk FC into a bigger, better and stronger club, on and off the pitch.

“I see this as a very exciting opportunity to work with an ownership group that is fully committed to this club, and prepared to support it’s growth and development in the short, medium, and long term. I believe the owners are building something special at Oriel Park, and I am proud to have been given the chance to play a part in that.

“My aspirations match that of the owners, in that I want Dundalk FC to be trailblazers off the pitch as well as on it. Our common goal is to ensure we continue to dominate domestic football, and make continued progress in Europe, bringing success to both the town and the country.”