Wealth gap stiffens task for realistic McDonnell
Drogheda United manager Johnny McDonnell has urged his players to behave like they are full-time footballers on good money but knows there is a danger of asking too much of them.
The Dubliner is battling the financial reality of being in charge of a club in the bottom half of the table and brings his side to Tallaght tonight after a run of eight games without a win.
McDonnell would love to have the budget and resources of Shamrock Rovers which allows Pat Fenlon to spend a lot of time with his squad and allow them to prepare for games in a professional manner.
But in a league where there is a clear split between the haves and have-nots - a six-point gap has already opened up between fifth and sixth - McDonnell has to be mindful of demanding too much from part-time players that are earning a small amount of money from the game.
"Good luck to the teams that have the finances, they've worked hard to get there and qualifying for Europe brings in added revenue," said McDonnell. "We are where we are, with the Limericks and the Brays. We get the next grade of player down. That's just life.
"It's no disrespect to any of the players but we've got to make sure that we recruit the best players that fit in to what we're trying to do.
"For me, sometimes, I do say, 'Are we pushing lads too much?' They're not on big salaries. I'm saying to fellas, 'Can you take a half day before a match to rest?' and they look at me and say, 'Johnny, I have to work'. It's probably costing some of the fellas to come training.
"But I require the same commitment and responsibility that I would from lads on good money. They've got to think every morning about diet, nutrition and recovery like they're getting €1,000 a week even if they're not."
McDonnell says that players should be motivated by the chance to build their reputation even if it's a progression that brings them to another abode next season. He's pragmatic about it.
"There's a great satisfaction in saying we've brought a fella in at a particular level and we made him better," he said.
"For me, as a coach, as a manager, that's brilliant. I might lose him but I know I've done the work.
"The player has to improve himself. We can give them a gym programme but we can't control it. I think from the player's point of view, and I would say this to them regularly, you've got to think you're a professional."
Drogheda are in the middle of a tough run of fixtures although their last outing, a 3-0 home defeat to Longford, was a bitter disappointment.
It came after narrow defeats to Dundalk and Cork and a hard-fought draw away to St Patrick's Athletic. "The levels just dropped," he says. "It was a different type of game where we weren't chasing, we weren't playing on the counter-attack and we switched off."
The winter appointment, who left Shels to take the hot-seat, did stick with a commitment to give the group last weekend off following three games in seven days in the hope it would recharge the batteries and bring them in with fresh focus ahead of a daunting challenge tonight.
"We'd played Pat's on the Monday, a really tough game mentally and physically, and we got the draw," he explained. "We needed the break.
"Pat's were in the next day doing a total recovery session whereas I'm saying to our lads, 'Make sure you get to a pool tomorrow at lunchtime or during your break'. The principles are still the same, but it is difficult.
"We're in the bottom half of the league and that's the reality, we've got to finish as high up in that bottom five or six as possible. We've done our homework this week and the games we've played against the other title contenders should stand to us here."
Eight in Setanta hat
The draw for this year's renewal of the Setanta Cup is pencilled in for next Thursday in Abbotstown.
Speculation has surrounded the future of the cross-border competition which was damaged last year by the decision of leading northern sides Linfield and Cliftonville to pull out of the tournament.
That has led to a rethink with a change of scheduling that will facilitate clubs from either side of the border to prepare for European competition in July.
An eight-team tournament in a straight one-legged knockout format is planned with all four quarter-finals broadcast live on TV between June 20-June 24.
The draw for the second round of the FAI Cup will take place in the Aviva Stadium next Wednesday with 32 teams awaiting their fate.