Monday 19 August 2019

Coughlan dreaming big on a shoestring budget

Graham Coughlan: ‘This club is all about honest,
hard-working people’. Photo: Getty
Graham Coughlan: ‘This club is all about honest, hard-working people’. Photo: Getty

Seán Ryan

When Dubliner Graham Coughlan lifted Bristol Rovers from 23rd in the League One table to a respectable 15th within six months of his arrival last December in the managerial hot-seat, he performed one of the footballing miracles of the season. Now, it seems, he is being asked to produce another miracle.

Coughlan's successful run at the helm was achieved without any big-money signings, or even big-name loan signings. Shrewd budget signings and loan deals, plus an emphasis on integrity and hard work, were the principal drivers of his penny-pinching revolution.

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His reward for this display of frugality? A smaller budget, one effect of which was the loss of the club's only international player, Wales defender Tom Lockyer. "He had ambitions, so we couldn't keep him," explained Coughlan.

"However," he added, "there's many ways to skin a cat, and I believe our team will be stronger this season despite the smaller budget. We can't compete financially with the Sunderlands or Portsmouths, so we have to think outside the box.

"We have signed players from Holland and Finland - we track them, check their character references, and when we are happy with them, we sign them. Having said that, I much prefer to develop our own players. The process is fine, it works. It is tested and proven."

Another source of talent on Coughlan's radar is, not surprisingly, the League of Ireland. A deal has been done for UCD's centre-back Liam Scales. "He's a player we admire, and want to sign but because of red tape I've had to put the deal on hold and take a step back," he explained regarding a deal that was first agreed almost a month ago, but has dragged on to such an extent that Scales returned to UCD action last week.

"I'm in the market for one or two other Irish players as well, and a couple in England, but I'm not a lover of the under 23 system. What will a player learn from young players? You learn more from playing with senior pros.

"Of the League of Ireland players who came over last year to League One, Ronan Curtis and Kieran Sadlier have done brilliantly. And when we played St Mochta's as part of their 70th anniversary celebrations, they had one or two players who could do well given a chance. The Irish are very honest and prepared to work hard - they have a different mentality to some of the English kids. That's why the market in Ireland is so important to us."

As regards the most important lesson he learned as a first-time manager, Coughlan has no hesitation in responding: "The biggest part of being a manager is delegating, and in that regard my assistant, Joe Dunne, is one of my better signings. He's been and done it, worn the t-shirt. This club is all about honest, hard-working people, and that's what we try to get across all week." Dunne, also a Dubliner, had a lengthy playing career before managing at Colchester and Cambridge.

So, what are Coughlan's realistic ambitions for the season? "More points, to finish higher, and to bring a better brand of football to the club, a more offensive team instead of the defensive team we needed to stay in the League last season. I also love to develop young kids from the academy, give them first team football and help them fulfil their potential.

"The play-offs are an unrealistic target given the budget we have, but we'll give it a go."

As justification for that last optimistic streak Coughlan explained: "We kept our own League table last season for the games we were in charge and, in that, we finished eighth. We had 1.7 points a game, and Luton, who were champions, had two points, so the margins are small that we have to bridge."

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