Dundalk FC chairman Bill Hulsizer has said the club will require grant supports to fulfil the long standing ambition of upgrading Oriel Park.
Qualification to the Europa League group stages has once again brought the dilapidated state of the Carrick Road venue into the spotlight, with Filippo Giovagnoli’s side unable to host home matches there as it fails to meet UEFA requirements.
With over €4 million income guaranteed from the club’s second group stage qualification in five seasons, fans had been hopeful that it would lead to a long awaited upgrade of a venue which has virtually remained untouched for more than half a century since a major redevelopment in 1966.
However speaking to The Argus at the weekend, Hulsizer admitted that club owners PEAK6 would be unwilling to cough up the full amount for an upgrade and would need financial support from one or a number of parties including Louth County Council, the FAI and Government.
“Would I love to see a Category 4 stadium half way between Belfast and Dublin? I absolutely would but do I think that we’ll win enough money at Dundalk to build a stadium in the next five years? No.
“We’ll make some improvements – we’ve already made a bunch – but our goal is if we invest money it’s to invest it in something that we’ll get a return on.”
While club owners PEAK6 have a current portfolio value of over $23.4 billion, Hulsizer said it would not make sense for the Chicago-based investment firm to pump money into a stadium project without having support behind them from various sectors.
“We need support to make it happen,” he said of any potential upgrade.
“Investing in a stadium is probably the worst thing a club can do because it’s just property and it’s not an asset unless it can make money. I don’t know that Oriel Park is situated where it can make money. It’s not big enough.”
Asked was there a ball-park figure to bring Oriel up to UEFA Category 4 standards, the chairman said: “If there is I don’t know what it is. “We’ve had architects look at it and we’re in the process now of getting other people to look at it.
“People look at it and say well they’re getting €3 million from Europe but let me tell you when all is said and done of that €3 million less than half will reach the coffers.”
While Hulsizer’s comments will undoubtedly come as a blow to many fans hoping for a long overdue stadium upgrade, he said the club had approached the FAI for support for a future upgrade project.
“The FAI is working hard to get a major grant to develop stadiums outside of Dublin and we have put our wishes and hat in the ring just like Finn Harps and Cork and others. I don’t know for a fact that either of them did but every team in the League of Ireland was asked to submit what their needs would be for improving the infrastructure.”
Dundalk FC owners PEAK6 had drawn up plans to upgrade Oriel Park prior to the lockdown of the country due to Covid-19.
While the plans did not meet board approval, chairman Bill Hulsizer revealed that work has been ongoing behind the scenes looking at options to improve the heavily criticised Carrick Road venue.
“That’s high up on the list,” Bill said, when asked where the stadium stood in his plans for the club’s future.
“Our commitment is long term. We’re trying to do some things for Co Louth and Dundalk town and hopefully after this virus is settled, we’ll get on with it.
“We had to put them on hold for a couple of reasons, none of which are really financial, but the man in charge of it had a personal issue and I made the decision to put that on hold while he had something to take care of. We’re now moving slowly because quite frankly we don’t know what the future holds or what is going to happen with Covid-19.
“At the moment everybody has to have a wait and see attitude.
“Do I think Oriel Park can be improved? Oh, absolutely. We’ve had designs done. They weren’t exactly what we needed and they weren’t presented the way we wanted but it was a good start. We have a committee that is actively looking into it.
“More than that, I can’t say much because everything is on hold right now but my desire is to have boys and girls from 12 down to six playing on those three pitches in the Lilywhite Development Centre. That’s not what we call it now but maybe we’ll rename it.
“It gives them something to do and it’s inside so they could play all winter long. We just have to do the detail but we’ve talked to the council and we will get it done,” he said.
As well as improving the ground, Bill also hinted at another facility which would cater for an improved youth structure at the club.
“We’d like to improve the capacity and we’d like to improve our commitment to youth,” he said.
“We have three indoor pitches inside in the YDC and we should have every young man and woman in there every weekend playing football. We’re looking to develop all of those things.
“We’re on the border with Northern Ireland and we’ve tried to promote a bunch of cross border things. We have a schoolboys’ league in Dundalk and I don’t think there’s enough connection with Dundalk FC. I think we’ve got better at it and we’ll get better still.
“There are lots of issues. We have four official teams in our underage group but I’d hope that by this time next year we’d have eight because the jump between U-13 and U-15 is a big jump. There are 14-year-olds that are men and 15-year-olds that are still boys and that’s a crucial time so if we can spend the money and make that gap more narrow then it can only be a good thing.”
Hulsizer said he was “flabbergasted” at the fact there were no municipal pitches in the Dundalk area.
“I live in a small town outside of Fort Lauderdale. I don’t know what the population is but we have at least 12 municipal pitches in my little town and Americans don’t play soccer apparently. Now that’s the past and it’s changing. I’m told more Americans are playing soccer now in Texas than football.
“If we want to develop football here then we should have places for the kids to play. If we wanted to have a schoolboy tournament with teams from Warrenpoint and Newry and other nearby areas, where would they play? We need more fields.
“We’re working on it and hopefully the county and the people will say ‘let’s do this’. I’d like to see Dundalk to be the centre of football in all of Ireland at every level. I’m a dreamer but I always say that if you’re going to dream, you may as well dream big.”
Asked would this be at Oriel Park, Hulsizer suggested it could be an additional venue.
“We don’t have enough time to have that kind of an event at Oriel Park. Oriel Park is used almost non-stop so there would need to be other places where the kids could play.
“Let’s say we took every club team within 25 mile between Drogheda, Newry, Warrenpoint etc. Let’s say that’s 30 clubs and we’re going to have a tournament involving them all. To play that over a three day weekend, how many pitches would you need? I’ve never organised one but I’ve been to many and my feeling is we don’t have enough pitches to do that.
“I worry sometimes too that, if we built them, would the kids use them?”
The 77-year-old said he was well aware there would be critics of his plans but said he was looking purely for an outsiders’ perspective at what he believed could be achieved.
“You need to give me a little slack because I don’t look at Dundalk like someone who grew up in Ireland. I have no pre-conceived notions of what it should be. I have only the background of being around the whole world and growing up in America with an Irish mom so I guess I’m the sum of all those inputs and I see things that maybe someone who walks down the streets of Dundalk every day doesn’t see but I love the town, I love the people, I love the team and I love football and the rest is to be determined.”
The owner of Oriel Park have insisted there is “no impediment” on Dundalk FC in upgrading the ground due to the club not owning it.
In an exclusive interview, Des Casey – whose family have leased the Carrick Road venue to the club since 1936 – said he would be happy to support PEAK6 with any plans they had to upgrade the stadium.
However, he said he has had no approach from them regarding any plans to renovate what has become the most criticised ground in the League of Ireland.
Last month Dundalk FC chairman Mike Treacy called for local and national government support to bring the stadium up to the standard of the team.
He told RTÉ Sport after Vinny Perth had guided the side to their fifth title in six seasons: “We have explored near-term quick fixes for Oriel Park, but the reality of the situation is we are not going to spend €5m to €6m to build a piece of real estate on land we don’t own.
“We need help from our county. We need help from our national, local government and the FAI. If you think about this place and Dundalk, Dundalk Football Club is a fabric of this community. This town deserves to have a stadium that is up to the standard of what we see on the pitch every day,” said Treacy.
However, Casey says owning the land is “no impediment” to upgrading Oriel Park, insisting that the rent of the ground for the six beneficiaries from the family is nominal with 73 years of a 99-year lease still to run, making it as good as their land.
“There is a 99-year lease on the ground and they can build or expand as part of that. They have a total licence to improve the place if they wish,” he said.
“The lease is totally geared for the viability of the football club and it will still be in place long after we’re all gone.
“The Casey family have not been approached with any regard to a development in Oriel Park but in the event that we were, we would be – as we were in the past – totally supportive.
“There’s no elephant in the room. As in the past, any improvement would just involve a consultation. There are certain impediments such as they can’t have any habitation on the grounds but any proposal to upgrade or do a makeover of the ground would have the full support of the Casey family,” said the former UEFA vice-president.
Casey also dismissed the suggestion that the club could not receive grants due to not owning the ground, pointing out that the Department of Tourism and Sport invested €1.25 million in Oriel Park in 2006 towards the installation of the artificial surface and Youth Development Centre.
“There has been no sports capital grant in Oriel since 2006, which is 13 years, but that is as much to do with management not seeking it as anything.
“The ownership of the land wasn’t an impediment then, nor is it an impediment now.”
Casey also re-iterated that his family had every intention of making Oriel Park available for the club as long as they wanted it.
“It’s for football as long as they want it,” he said.
“If they decide to leave that’s all right too but it’ll be there after we’re gone.
“It’s water-tight the lease. It gives them total and absolute control of everything within the four walls of the ground,” said the club president.
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.
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.”