Monday 19 March 2018

Daniel McDonnell: Drogheda's demise exposes folly of short-term vision

Michael Daly and goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann show their pain after Drogheda United’s relegation
Michael Daly and goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann show their pain after Drogheda United’s relegation
Drogheda United manager Paul Doolin, left, with player Declan O'Brien and the Premier Division trophy in 2007
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A decade has passed since Drogheda United secured the win that put them on the map. Their FAI Cup triumph in 2005, a Lansdowne Road success that ended Cork's double dreams, prompted scenes of unbridled joy.

Paul Doolin's side travelled back up the M1 with the trophy and local reports of the homecoming estimated that the turnout was in the region of 10,000 people.

After investing heavily in a full-time professional structure, the message was that this could be the start of something. "I hear loads of people talking that we are going to dominate," said Doolin, sounding a cautionary note. "We'll enjoy this, but I think it's another step along the way."

Two years later, a league title followed, but the collapse of plans to move to a state-of-the-art stadium sent the Boynesiders down a slippery slope that exposed unsustainable levels of spending. From there, they embarked on the slow march to Friday's relegation.

They did enjoy good days under the management of Mick Cooke, culminating with a controversial defeat in the 2013 cup final at the Aviva which proved to be his last game in charge because of behind-the-scenes tensions.


That acrimony might explain the failure of that final to generate excitement that was comparable with 2005. Whatever the result, it was a club that was clearly heading in the wrong direction.

With a small budget and a part-time schedule, they are a long way removed from Doolin's well-drilled operation. The familiar sight of ex-Premier League midfielder Sean Thornton enjoying a post-match cigarette after a game while still in his gear hammers home that point. And he's been one of their better players.

In a passionate series of Twitter posts after their 5-3 loss at Shamrock Rovers - combined with another Limerick win - sealed their fate, skipper Michael Daly suggested that a bad mentality explained their downfall.

"The day after we lost 6-0 to Dundalk, eight lads didn't bother to show up training," he revealed. "That was the day we got relegated. No fight. No passion. We were a shambles from the very start of the year and got what we deserved."

That was less than three weeks into the tenure of caretaker boss Mark Kinsella. He wants to stick around, and chairman Fiachra Kierans, who inherited a difficult situation himself, is 'not averse' to that prospect. He claims that prudently managing finances this term will soften the blow of dropping to the First Division.

Plans to move to a new abode continue to linger in the background but a series of false dawns have left weary followers in 'believe it when they see it' territory.

For now, they are stuck in a dated United Park ground that is miles below the standards which should be set for top-flight football; if the league is to progress than facilities like Drogheda's should be left behind.

This helps to explain why so many neutrals, including players and managers around the league, were rooting for Limerick to escape the mire at their expense.

Last year, Keith Fahey colourfully described his problems having a shower at the venue. "It was like a tap, and the water was scalding, going off everywhere," he sighed. In their current state, Drogheda will not be missed.

Under Doolin, they had a talented group that was inches away from one of the great all-time Irish results in Kiev in 2008. All they have from that period is good memories; it hasn't left a positive legacy in any other way.

A rapid-fire rise and fall is a recurring League of Ireland theme and this is another shocking example.

The fact their demise has run in tandem with Dundalk's jump to the top is particularly painful for hardcore fans. But the double-chasing Lilywhites have no reason to be smug just yet.

Stephen Kenny is in charge of the best team in the country with a professional mindset that has raised the bar on the pitch. Oriel Park is not much better than United Park, though, and a complicated dispute involving former owner Gerry Matthews has prevented the current hierarchy from investing in refurbishments. They cannot allow a golden opportunity to pass when the community is behind them.

Sligo Rovers have endured a rough season and face a challenge to climb the ladder again, but at least they capitalised on their stint in the top end by securing the cash to improve The Showgrounds.

The impressive supporter-driven 'Rally Around Rovers' campaign, which raised funds midway through this season to ease financial strain, suggests they have retained goodwill in the locality too.

Somewhere along a turbulent road of disagreements and disappointments, Drogheda managed to lose that. Finding a way to re-connect must be the starting point for the next phase.

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