Coughlan's sweet shop mentality turns City sour
Time is running out for the League of Ireland's delinquent Cork affiliate, writes Seán Ryan
Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00
ABOUT the kindest thing that can be said about Cork City chairman Tom Coughlan is that he is a messer. When it comes to football matters, he has a great capacity for turning what might otherwise be magnificent into dross.
Coughlan famously compared operating a League of Ireland club to the running of a small sweet shop, and the analogy has come back to haunt him in so many ways.
For instance, you need far more employees in a football club than in a sweet shop. Could this explain why so many Cork City employees from time to time were left short of their wages?
Again, you don't need to hire a bus for a sweet shop. Perhaps that explains the failure to pay the bus company that was to take the Cork team to play St Patrick's Athletic?
In a sweet shop, your product is inanimate; in a football club it is very much alive. In the former, it's take it or leave it for the customers, but not so in a football club. Maybe this explains how Coughlan has managed to alienate so many from what was, prior to his arrival, the strongest fanbase in the League?
Failure to comply with FIFA and UEFA regulations, which are not necessary in a sweet shop, pile on the problems for Coughlan. The lucrative transfer of centre-back Kevin Long has been delayed, and there is now a question mark over Cork City's participation in the Europa League, a prize the players fought hard to earn in a turbulent season, during which they spent quite some time waiting for overdue pay packets.
All in all, the League's best-supported team earned regular headlines for all the wrong reasons -- and there is no indication yet that Coughlan has learned his lesson.
Part of the collateral damage on his watch was the resignation of manager Paul Doolin, one of the League's most successful managers in the last 10 years. Doolin had another year on his contract but resigned, he admits, because of "the mental torture -- I had enough, and I said this was not for me. I just got fed up with it in the end. It was too much."
Out of work since, the ineptitude of Cork has even denied Doolin access to the social welfare payments he is due. "I can't get my P45 from them, never mind the money I'm owed," he said. While it is strange to see a manager of Doolin's calibre without a club, he takes a surprisingly balanced view of his present situation.
"I miss the football side because I think I am a very good coach, and players have improved from being involved with me. But I don't miss the hassle I've had in the last 15 months, in Drogheda and Cork. That's bad for your health and I couldn't keep going in those circumstances.
"The problem is the financial side of the game. It must be very difficult for the clubs in the current climate.
"I enjoyed the year on the football side, but last year in Cork was more about leadership than football. I didn't know about the money side of the club before I went down there."
Appointed just two days before pre-season training was due to start, his initial impressions were promising because the players were paid all the money they were owed, and when he pointed out to Coughlan the shocking state of the training facilities, the chairman put some money into getting Bishopstown right.
Sadly, things started to deteriorate soon after, wages were delayed and, as Doolin puts it: "Trust goes and it's very difficult to work then."
The difficult working conditions were exacerbated for Doolin when he was assaulted by a fan outside Turner's Cross after a game. "I think a lot of supporters saw me as someone who, as a player and a manager, had terrorised them down through the years, and they couldn't accept me," he reasoned.
However, by year's end, their perception of his ability as a manager had changed. In the view of some knowledgeable Cork people he was the best manager the club ever had.
As players were sold off to keep the club afloat, he introduced young players and still managed to qualify for this year's Europa League. He also had the satisfaction of seeing Kevin Long, who he had introduced in July, attracting the attention of the English scouts.
"He's quick, aggressive and strong, and in England if you have those qualities you have half a chance," said Doolin.
Long is now with Burnley, but his registration has been delayed because of Cork's inability to master the new transfer matching system introduced by FIFA, which is now mandatory.
Doolin, Long, Colin Healy, Denis Behan, Joe Gamble -- the road out of Cork City FC is well worn, as the best franchise in the League takes a bashing and gradually slips out of contention.
The mental torture which Doolin endured has not been eased as he waits at home for the P45, which will enable him to collect his social welfare entitlements, the pay which he is still owed -- and a phone call from some club requiring a very good coach/manager.
Meanwhile, the patience which the FAI has shown towards his delinquent Cork affiliate will be set its final test on Friday, when the Leeside club delivers its audited accounts for the season.
Can Tom Coughlan pull another rabbit out of the hat? Can he avoid the ignominy of his licence application being rejected? Will Cork City have to start anew, applying for a First Division licence, like Derry City?
These questions will be answered when the FAI licensing committee examines the club's audited accounts, and renders judgement on February 15, when the licences for the season are being awarded.