As the shadow of Stephen Kenny continues to loom large over Oriel Park, and the new League of Ireland season draws ever closer, it’s time to usher in the new era at double winners Dundalk.
Former defender Vinnie Perth and returning coach John Gill are the men in charge of leading the Lilywhites, along with assistant Ruadhri Higgins, in a post-Kenny landscape at the club, in what is a new coaching structure for the division.
Perth will be the head coach, but his lack of coaching badges mean that former manager John Gill has been installed as the first team coach, with Higgins acting as the assistant coach.
The role represents a timely return to Oriel Park for Gill, who left the club in unusual circumstances in 2008 following Dundalk’s promotion to the Premier Division.
The former Drogheda United and Shamrock Rovers assistant Gill outlined that although the job offer was “unexpected” he feels that he is more than experienced enough, alongside Vinnie Perth, to lead Dundalk into a new era.
“Yeah it’s unexpected,” Gill told Pundit Arena.
“I feel lucky to be back. I got a phone call off Vinnie Perth, when I was away on holidays.
“I know exactly what my brief is. I know what’s expected of me and that’s what I’ll do. I’ve been brought in because of the licencing situation with Vinnie, but also for my experience.
“I don’t know whether people are aware but I’ve either coached or managed in over 500 games so it’s a lot of experience and a lot of games and I’d like to think that it builds up a lot of knowledge.
“Some may argue very little knowledge but I would say differently! Obviously, others agree with me because people keep asking me to come in and do jobs.”
Four league titles in the last five seasons, including two doubles as well as an unprecedented European run, means that since Gill’s departure in 2008, the club has come on leaps and bounds.
After leading the Lilywhites back to the big time, Gill was astonishingly relieved of his of duties, despite three seasons of undoubted success.
The 55-year old outlined that despite his unceremonious exit over 10 years ago, the club that he will now coach at is completely different to the one he departed.
“Dundalk is a different club now to when I left in 2008,” began Gill.
“The club was always fantastic don’t get me wrong I had a real grá for it. I had three unbelievable years up there but I had three difficult years. If you remember we got promoted in the first year via the playoffs and they didn’t put us up.
“The second year we got beaten in a playoff and in the third year we won the league, obviously in dramatic circumstances, but we were the best team in the league over 36 games. The club that I left in 2008 no way, shape or form mirrors the club that is there now.
“The infrastructure, the professionalism, don’t get me wrong I worked with a great group of players but they were part-time players.
“This group of players, they’re ultra professional, they’re very driven, I’m actually very humbled and privileged to get a chance to work with these players and the backroom staff so it’s really exciting.”
Gill’s excitement is palpable as he discusses the opportunity that his new role has presented him with. He knows, however, that despite the size of the role he must now undertake, this season, just like his last in 2008, is all about the players, not about him.
“I’m not naive enough to think that I should go in and wave the magic wand,” conceded Gill.
“That’s not my brief, there’s very little that needs to be fixed. It’s all about players, it doesn’t matter where you go. Dundalk have assembled a tremendously hungry and humble group of players.
“That’s the biggest prerequisite, they’ve a great backroom staff and a fantastic group of supporters who are really passionate. It’s a great town, a real football hub.
“It helps that I’ve been there before I have a knowledge of the club and an idea of how passionate the supporters are and the running of the club. There’s still a lot of people who were there then that are still there now.
“It’s like going home. But it’s not about me, and it wasn’t about me in 2008.”
The man that Gill and Perth must replace, will leave a looming shadow over the club for years to come. Stephen Kenny delivered unprecedented success to Oriel Park before his departure to the Irish U21s.
Gill outlined however, that is important to remember that despite how it was portrayed on occasion, Dundalk’s success was not all down to one man’s doing.
“Don’t get me wrong Stephen Kenny did an unbelievable job and he has deservedly gotten his reward but it wasn’t always about Stephen Kenny.
“It certainly wasn’t Stephen that portrayed the idea that it was. I think it was the media who made it out that it was all to do with Stephen, it wasn’t, it was about the players and the backroom staff, the infrastructure at the club and the supporters. All of that as a mix made Dundalk successful.”
Does Gill feel pressured to follow in Kenny’s footsteps? Yes, he explains, but this is the positive pressure that comes with such a big club.
“Someone said to me the other day it’s a big job to fill and it’s huge shoes to fill but for a start, I’m not exactly the one that’s filling them, there are other people filling them.
“But what I will say is, people, talk about pressure, to me, pressure is not going in and getting to work with the best group of players in the country.
“That’s not pressure.
“Pressure is if you’re a club who is struggling with a budget who is struggling to attract players who know they’re going to be in a relegation scrap, that’s pressure.”
“There are different kinds of pressure and to me this is a good kind of pressure. It’s going into a club that has great foundations, a great backroom team, tremendous players, great supporters and a magnificent infrastructure behind it.”
Pre-season day 1 ✅ pic.twitter.com/R4YbMf3WPR
— Dundalk FC (@DundalkFC) January 5, 2019
But do Gill and Perth find themselves in an unenviable situation? Taking over a double-winning side, is surely an impossibly high level to maintain?
Gill though is quick to point out that no matter how good a side is there is always room for improvement. How? Just win the double again. Or the treble this season. But most importantly, do it better than it’s ever been done.
“People have said to me “how do you improve on a double?” well let’s win the double better. Let’s do it in more style. Let’s do the treble. But let’s do it better. I think the players will be thinking along the same lines.
“There’s no reason why they can’t. Listen we are going to be the team up there to be shot at. We’re the team that everybody aspires to catch.
“It’s great motivation as well to know that ‘let’s go and prove that it wasn’t just a one-man show, it wasn’t the Stephen Kenny show.’
“I’m not being disrespectful to Stephen because I don’t think he thought that, but let’s go and prove to the media and some of our supporters that it wasn’t all about the individual.”