The First Interview: On Sunday evening, James Rogers sat down with new Dundalk FC sporting director Jim Magilton to discuss his hopes for the job, where he stands on contract renewals and how opening up the Youth Development Centre will be one of his first major ambitions at Oriel Park.
James Rogers: Jim welcome to Dundalk. Can you give me a bit of background on how the job came about and what sparked your interest in it?
Jim Magilton: Well (chairman) Bill (Hulsizer) contacted me and we had a conversation asking would I be interested in the role and right away I said yes simply because of his passion and his enthusiasm about the club. I knew that they were in the Europa League which immediately sparked my interest because some lovely memories came flooding back because of my connection with Michael (O’Neill) and the whole Shamrock Rovers thing because I knew what a wonderful journey that was. The conversation couldn’t go any further until Bill had contacted Patrick Nelson, who is the Chief Exec of the IFA. He did that and it was well appreciated. Then I did my own little bit of homework to try and find out as much as I possibly could but what stuck out for me was the success that this group of players had had. Stephen (Kenny) had built up a fantastic squad of players who have been so successful in the league. Knowing how well they had done this year and how well Filippo had done coming in, I felt having set up the IFA Academy and with our Coach Education Programme being in such a strong position that it was the right time for change. You and I both know that timing is everything, in football and in life. It just felt really positive and it started my juices flowing again. I just felt really good about it and the more conversations I had and the more I found out about things, the more it just felt right but I’m the type of person who, if I start a job, I want to finish it. There were things that had to be finished within the IFA before I fully committed and once I fully commit, that’s it, you have me 100 per cent.
JR: It’s a four year deal so both on the owners’ behalf and from your own point of view, this isn’t a short-term arrangement by any means?
JM: Definitely not and if you go into my background, any contract I’ve signed I’ve seen it through bar at Sheffield Wednesday where things didn’t work out, as can happen in football. I’m a builder. I love going into projects. I love working at what’s happening and how I can make things better. I love being very much part of a team. I’m just a cog in the wheel and I just felt this was a blank canvas built on tremendous success. The Cup final win was huge. For me watching as an outsider looking in, the character of the team shone through. The character of the players shone through and that just really hit home with me because it epitomised everything that I’m about in terms of that sort of character as well. If I look at even the academy side of things, I want to build from within. The stat that you hit me with about no local players playing for the first team for the last two seasons after 92 years of always having at least one local on board was scary. I want to build a solid foundation and a future for all the young players in this county that want to come and play at Dundalk and to try and build on it.
JR: You’ve touched on some of the elements there but sporting director is a vague enough title, what do you see your responsibilities being day to day?
JM: Well day to day, from a footballing point of view, it’s about making sure that the manager is well supported and, as a result, that the players are well supported. Obviously a topic of conversation at the minute is around contracts and we’re in the process of dealing with contracts. We’ll do the very best we can to secure the right people at this football club because we have to be competitive. Shamrock Rovers have thrown down the gauntlet and every other club now in the League of Ireland has got to pick it up and raise the standards. So from a day to day point of view, it will be managing that but allowing the manager to manage and I’ll be there then as a source of support. Then from the office-based side of things, it’s to help support all that staff. I want to get a feel from them what the club is all about because, without knowing too much about them, they’re all supporters. Dundalk is in their blood and I hope they’re going to do everything they can to drive the success off the pitch. I’m there to oversee that but also to create that lovely buffer between Bill and the board of directors and the staff. I’ll hopefully build those bridges, if in fact the bridges need to be built, and have a real connection with the town. I want to get the town back into Oriel Park and to really build that closeness and develop relationships again.
JR: Obviously in the short-term fans are probably most interested in the topic of re-signings. How confident are you of keeping the players you want to keep?
JM: I’m confident that negotiations are going to take place. I’m very confident of that but in all negotiations it’s about both sides. We will sit down and make offers and listen to what the player wants and if we can match that, fantastic, but if we can’t then obviously we have to be prepared for replacements and we have to be ready to bring them in. We’re in a little bit late, in terms of me, but I will listen to Filippo and I will listen to the chairman and between the three of us we will come to conclusions. Again, if you look at Stephen Kenny’s time here, he obviously had a winning template and, for me, regardless of who manages this club we have to have a certain type of player and without changing managers too often. A manager might come in and say I want seven different players but, for me, that’s not a winning model. The winning model is hiring a coach that fits the identity of the football club and, again, we’ll look at that and form our identity. It’s not far away as it is. If you look at this bunch of players and the huge success that they’ve had, from the early conversations I’ve had with them, they want more. They’re actually ravenous for more so I think the model that we’ll build is around the club and not the manager but obviously the input from the manager will be crucial in that.
JR: Will your role mean that you’ll be heavily involved in bringing in new signings if and when they come in?
JM: I will be involved in the recruitment side of it but I’m not going to select players, as such, unless there is major communication. There’s no point. Down the line that will always be the case because we have to be on the same page but from the early conversations I’ve had with the manager, we’re very much on the same page.
JR: And that’s what I was going to ask you, obviously it’s very early in your relationship but what are your initial thoughts on Filippo?
JM: My initial thoughts on him are that he is a really generous patience with his time and a really nice guy. He left me feeling that I want him to do well, him and Giuseppe. I also got the feeling when I watched the Cup final and saw the relationships and the reactions after the game that the players genuinely want him to do well. Again, Filippo is under no illusion that this is all about performance and if you’re Dundalk, you’re under a bit of pressure because you’ve got to win football matches and there is huge expectancy to win football matches but there will be no pressure from me in terms of that. I want him to go into next season with the best squad possible and for us to really go and be competitive.
JR: The other side then is off the field. I know it’s very early days and you’re only meeting staff tomorrow morning but have you anything in mind in that regard?
JM: It’s about improving the match day experience first and foremost for me. We want it to be better. The match day experience is crucial for the town. We want people to return to Oriel Park and we want people to come and enjoy it. There are various commercial aspects to that but definitely one of the first things I want is the YDC open. That will be one of my first aims, to get people in that building. I want people to come in and enjoy the experience. The only people we don’t want to enjoy the experience is the opposition. We’ll welcome them and we’ll look after them but we obviously want them to go home disappointed. That’ll be the first sort of thoughts I’d have without speaking to the staff.
JR: So when you say open it up, what would that entail exactly?
JM: Offices and entertainment. We need a better working environment but from the public’s point of view we want people to come, connect with the town but ultimately to come and enjoy the experience. They’ll be able to come have a drink, have some food and that sort of thing. There will be entertainment and part of that involves bringing back ex-players who have a connection to the town. I think ex-players are crucial to any football club. I was very lucky to play and manage at Ipswich and they had a fantastic connection with their ex-players in terms of inviting them in for Q&As and little things like that to bring back really good memories.
JR: It’s a question that is going to be asked of you in relation to the stadium. It’s critiqued every year and people say it’s not good enough etc. Have you the authority at this stage to do anything on that?
JM: Not really at the moment but the way I’ll do things is sit, listen and watch. I’ll listen to the relevant people and the main stakeholders in all of this and then take a view on it. I’m not going to rush into anything. Obviously I want people to come back, to really enjoy coming to Oriel Park and say wow. At the moment it hasn’t got a wow factor but it certainly can be improved and we can make those improvements without having to drastically overdo things.
JR: In terms of PEAK6, have they set you any particular goals for the first year?
JM: Not really. Not at the minute. The conversations I had with all the directors were really positive and they are really positive about the club. They want to push Dundalk on. I didn’t come away from any of the conversations I had thinking there was any negativity to them. In fact, it was quite the reverse. I think this will be an ongoing process for me. I’ll ask all the relevant questions and I will be continuously speaking to them. Whether that is once a week or once a month, it won’t matter. Everyone will be kept up to date. It’s definitely a work in progress. I know people have probably heard that before but certainly with me I will be pursuing it.
JR: You mentioned possibly utilising supporters and their expertise to help grow the club. Can you say anything about that at this stage?
JM: I think it’s a bit early for that. I just think that there are so many brilliant people around and so many fantastic businesses around here and it would be remiss of us not to really link into that and get a real jist of the place. The thing about me is, if I don’t know something then I’m going to ask and if I think that there is something worthwhile pursuing then I’ll go after it. I think sitting around a table with bright minds, bright people and successful people can be important because ultimately we want to drive the success through. We want to be as successful off the field as we are on it so sitting down and listening to people will be important.
JR: Short-term Covid is going to be an issue in terms of meeting supporters. Is there a way you can get around that?
JM: At the minute we’re led by Government and the powers that be. If we can get people back in the building as safely as possible then we’ll do that but, like everybody else, we’re hesitant to make decisions. I know the restart date is set for the league but if a vaccine is being rolled out we just have to be prepared and ready for any eventuality.
JR: On a personal level, how much are you looking forward to the challenge?
JM: I just can’t wait. Honestly, I can’t wait. This has come at the best time of my life, both personally and professionally. I’ve left a programme in the IFA and I can honestly say I’ve walked away from it very proud. My pride will only increase once we see future internationals and future footballers. Our coach education, for example, we had 118 applicants for our Pro Licence and we can only get 18 on it. You walk away from that with no regrets. There are no regrets there so this has come at a fantastic time. I can’t be happier off the park. I’m ready for it. I’m really ready for the challenge. I’m going to do whatever it takes and I’m not going to ask anything of my staff that I’m not prepared to do myself.
JR: Brilliant Jim and best of luck in the job.