Cooke gunning for sweet parting shot
Turmoil gives Drogheda extra Cup incentive
FINANCIAL realities have made uncertainty about the future a familiar plotline around FAI Cup finals at the Aviva Stadium but the presence of Drogheda United in this year's showpiece has brought speculation about what comes next to a new level.
Even by the surreal standards of the League of Ireland, the Louth club find themselves in an fairly remarkable situation.
We have known since September that their manager, Mick Cooke, would be leaving at the end of the season after falling out spectacularly with the hierarchy.
Progress to Sunday's clash with Sligo Rovers in the Ford-sponsored showpiece has failed to ease tensions.
"If people don't want to talk to me, that's their problem," said Cooke yesterday, matter of factly.
Generally, FAI Cup media days are optimistic enough affairs, a chance to sit down with key figures for a longer chat than your average post-match natter. Broadly, it is an opportunity to put Sunday in context with the bigger picture.
For the players, it's frequently described as a shop-window opportunity and, in this case, that extends to the man in the dug-out, who intimated that vacancies at Cork City and Derry City would appeal. The Dubliner cannot chat about what Drogheda will do this winter.
"I don't know where they're going," he said. "I've had no discussions, as you can imagine, for the last couple of months.
"I don't know what their plans are. Whether they've spoken to anyone else, I don't know.
"But why should they speak about the future of the club to me when I'm not a part of it?"
When the Boynesiders reached the 2005 final, and duly lifted the trophy for the first time in their history, the buzz around the town was palpable.
It's different now, a consequence of the bruising examinership which followed that brief spurt of success which peaked at league joy in 2007.
There is some confidence that the run-up to Sunday will attract lapsed fans out of the woodwork, yet it is accepted that support levels will be nowhere near the throngs that celebrated in Lansdowne eight years ago.
Certainly the in-fighting doesn't help, indicative of a club which appears to be unsure of its direction.
The light at the end of the tunnel remains the acquisition of a new ground, a process that is of interest to both the current board and also investors acting independently outside it.
Until that gathers pace, limbo beckons.
It's a curious state of affairs and Cooke has focused on keeping the dressing room isolated from it all.
"When it came to light (his departure) my fear was that people would say, 'Well if Mick isn't going to be here next year, where are we going?'," he said.
"At this stage last year, I think I had six or seven players signed for the following season. Players want to know where they're going, they're human beings and all have commitments – mortgages, bills to pay – and football money is a great help to everybody."
The 62-year-old is a naturally ebullient character, but he admits that the episode has taken its toll.
"When you've been offered a deal and it's been taken from under your feet – and you're planning for the future and 2014 financially – it was very hurtful," he sighed.
Whatever happens at the weekend, his surviving players will pick up their fifth medal in the space of 14 months, and this is a third cup final appearance this term after defeat to Shamrock Rovers in the Setanta Cup and EA Sports Cup deciders.
Cooke is proud of his record and admitted that, if victory is achieved on Sunday, the message it would send to his soon-to-be-former employers would be one of the sweeter aspects.
"It's given me and the players that little bit extra to go out and prove people wrong," he declared.
"We're not going out with that in mind but I think at 5.15 on Sunday, if we have the cup, it will be a bonus.
"Hopefully, I'll have a club in the near future to sign players for. But it (Drogheda) is not my business any more. As my father would say, Lord be good to him, it's another chapter in the book. I'll just move on..."