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Dundalk's decline: From 'winning the Champions League' to managerial chaos

Troika in temporary charge of crisis club Dundalk for trip to Derry

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Hiring a new permanent manager will be a key decision in the coming weeks for Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer. Photo: Sportsfile

Hiring a new permanent manager will be a key decision in the coming weeks for Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer. Photo: Sportsfile

Hiring a new permanent manager will be a key decision in the coming weeks for Dundalk chairman Bill Hulsizer. Photo: Sportsfile

Just like the big clubs – who could be called the Twelve Apostates – who have decided to try and completely reshape the game of football in Europe, Dundalk’s American owners cannot be accused of lacking ambition.

Soon after he was installed as chairman at Dundalk FC, Bill Hulsizer, the American who was then well into his seventies, said he was dreaming big. 

“My goal – and it’s what I’ve told the players and coaches – is to win the Champions League,” he said in one of his first interviews.

Dundalk fans took those comments with a pinch of salt, batted them away as they set their sights on more realistic targets like dominance in domestic football and some progress on the European stage.

And even with Hulsizer claiming over the weekend, despite the team’s presence in the bottom two of the Premier Division after a return of just two points from five games, that the side could still win the league title, Dundalk supporters would now just settle for mid-table safety for a spell, at least until things settle down.

Promised the Champions League, they were delivered chaos, as their predicament now can only be described as chaotic. “Communication is terrible, big decisions, like Shane Keegan leaving, are being made and the players find out about it in the media,” says one dressing-room source. “It’s a car crash.”

And few around Oriel Park expect stability in the short term. Defeat away to Derry City tonight would leave Dundalk in real trouble, worryingly adrift of in-form sides like Shamrock Rovers, St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers.

Just as members of the breakaway Super League are well off the pace in their domestic leagues, like Arsenal and Juventus, Dundalk could very soon discover that Champions League qualification – a key demand of the owners – cannot be achieved with results on the field .

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Still, Dundalk should not stay in the relegation battle for too long, especially with the quality of some of the players available. Not all players, though.

Dundalk have used 21 players in five league games to date, more than any other club, they’ll probably hand new recruit Wilfried Zahibo a debut tonight to make it 22. Despite having two senior ’keepers on the books, both newly arrived, they were recently chasing a third ’keeper, to bring in on loan from the UK, hardly  a vote of confidence in Alessio Abibi.

That uncertainty hangs over a bruised squad heading into another week. In the space of a few days, they have seen two members of the coaching staff leave (Shane Keegan on Friday, Filippo Giovagnoli on Sunday) and to add to the confusion, Dundalk appear to have a three men in charge for the trip to Derry.

The club’s press release was short on detail on their plans for the game, saying that “Lilywhites sporting director Jim Magilton, along with academy manager Stephen McDonnell, and coach Giuseppe Rossi, took training on Monday morning following the departure of Filippo Giovagnoli and Shane Keegan over the weekend”.

After Keegan’s weekend exit, Magilton was listed as the man in charge for Saturday’s game with Derry, and now it seems Magilton will be assisted by coaches McDonnell and Rossi tonight.

“A lot has happened over the past few days but now it’s a matter of refocusing the players and in fairness to them, they already have an understanding of what we are looking for,” said McDonnell, a former Dundalk midfielder who began coaching when his playing career was cut short by injury.

“The session today [Monday] was good, it was loud and there was plenty of energy which was a good thing to see. We’ve planted seeds about how we want them to go about things and that’s important.”

Of more importance is the hiring of a new permanent manager, with the final decision falling at the door of Hulsizer.

Having rushed into the appointment of an unqualified Italian coach who was unused to coaching adult players, a wrong call now could push Dundalk further into crisis.

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