Saturday 20 July 2019

Gill delighted to return to the club he loves

James Rogers

Just two months ago John Gill thought he was finished in football.

Now he's working full-time for the biggest club in the country as first team coach and eyeing up a domestic treble and an assault on Europe.

It was November 7th when Gill spoke to The Argus at length reminiscing on the famous night in Kildare 10 years earlier which saw Dundalk pip Shelbourne to the title in dramatic circumstances to end their seven year hell in the First Division.

Towards the end of that conversation, Gill was asked what his future plans in football were. His response was that he thought he was finished and that 55 he didn't think anyone would want him.

Then Stephen Kenny took the Republic of Ireland U-21 job and Vinny Perth came a-calling.

'You couldn't write a book on it,' Gill laughed about a crazy few weeks.

'I genuinely did think I was finished.'

The Donabate man is thrilled to be back at Oriel Park though and feels he can prove a major help to new head coach Vinny Perth and assistant head coach Ruaidhrí Higgins.

'I'm 55 now but I'm a lot older and a lot wiser,' he said.

'I was only looking back at it after I spoke to you and it was the year 2000 that I started. In that time I have over 500 games as a manager or a coach. That doesn't mean you're a good manager or coach but it does mean you've built up a lot of knowledge.

'I had a grá and affinity for the club because I came here when it was on its knees and with the help of a lot of people, including the supporters who were magnificent when I was here, we improved it a little.

'That's one thing about this town that is unique. Probably the only team like it in the country is Cork because when you're in a provincial town football is a massive part of it and I get that and I got it when I was here. That's probably why it was such a bitter pill for me to swallow when it ended the way it did but I left here with my head held high. I didn't leave with any bitterness so to be able to come back and be able to help the club is great. Not that it needs much help but hopefully I can help Vinny, the backroom team and the players. That's what I'm here for.'

So what does Gill feel he can add?

'I'll bring a bit of grey hair and the average age up,' he joked, before getting serious.

'I think I can bring a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of calmness. There's calmness here anyway, I mean Vinny knows the game inside out. You don't work as long in the game as he has and won what he has won without having that knowledge. He has been a very studious individual, very ambitious and very hungry, the same as young Ruaidhrí Higgins.

'They're the up and coming coaches and the future of the game in this country and the game is in good hands when you look at people like those two. I think I can help them, even from learning from mistakes that I've made.

'I've seen it written about what have I achieved but I've achieved over 500 games either coaching or managing, I've worked with some of the best managers who have graced this league like Dermot Keely, Pete Mahon and Trevor Croly and I've managed myself. People say what have I achieved but I went to Dublin City in 2003 and won a league on a shoestring budget, I came here after the club being in the First Division for seven years and got them promoted in my first season. Okay, we didn't get up for obvious reasons but we got a play-off in the second league and won the league in my third year.

'People still say I was lucky but either I'm very, very lucky or else I know what I'm talking about and I'd like to think it's the latter.'

While Stephen Kenny's loss will be mourned by fans, Gill believes the new holy trinity in charge can continue to build on the success.

'Some people have said to me are you mad. Yes, there are big shoes to fill but I'm not the only one that has to fill them. It's going to be a collective thing here.

'Through no fault of Stephen's, there's a perception here from the outside that it's a one man show and it was a one man band. Yes, Stephen had a big part to play in it but so did the backroom team, so did the club and biggest of all, so did the players.

'There have been a lot of ingredients that have made Dundalk successful for the last six or seven years of which Stephen Kenny was a big part of it but so was Vinny Perth, so was Ruaidhrí Higgins, so was the Martin Connolly's, the Paul Brown's and the Andy Connolly's. It was a huge collective effort. That's what this club is about and I think at times, through no fault of people themselves, we lose sight and think it's down to individuals.

'When I was here, I probably got too much credit but it's not about individuals, it's about the collective and that's the one thing that this town has going for it, the collective. You've got a great bunch of supporters behind the club, the town gets behind its football club, there are really good people here and the biggest thing is there's an unbelievable bunch of players here.

'I was in there this morning and it's frightening. The environment that has been created for them is superb but they've earned the right to create that environment. They're a unique bunch of players. I don't know a lot of them. I worked with Gary Rogers in a previous life but from the outside looking in I've always been envious saying 'how have they created this culture'. Now Stephen Kenny and Vinny Perth had a big part to play in it but the players also had a massive part to play in it. The players create a culture and there's a really good culture here. Now we've got to harness that and cultivate it even more.

'People ask how do you improve on winning a double? I'd say you try and do it better, you try and do a treble. There's no reason why you can't do that here. I know from looking at the players and speaking to a few of them this morning that there's a really big hunger in this football club to continue the success that has been here.'

Gill has that hunger too.

Finished? Far from it.

The Argus