Interview With The Owners
As the club prepares for its next European challenge, Dundalk FC co-owners Andy Connolly and Paul Brown talk about the progress the club has made over the last four years, the lessons learned and their plans for the future.
How would you sum up the last five years since you took control of the club?
AC: It’s been a rollercoaster – we’ve had some tremendous highs and there have been plenty of lows as well. Overall we are very proud of what we have achieved. But there’s still plenty of work to do.
You talk about the highs and lows – can you give examples?
PB: Each of the three League titles we have won have been tremendous and the performance in Europe last year was beyond all of our dreams.
AC: Every defeat is a low. You have to remember that Paul and I are Dundalk fans first of all. We want to be on the terraces supporting the boys and so when results don’t go our way it hurts us like it does every fan.
What have you learned from your time in charge?
PB: It’s a lot easier to be an expert on how things should be done when you are not in charge than when you are!!
AC: That’s very true. Football clubs are incredibly complicated compared to normal businesses. Emotions run high and everything that happens is very public. You have to learn very quickly to ignore the emotional side and focus on the facts. That can be easier said than done.
What has been the impact of last year’s Europa League run?
PB: Financially it’s been well publicized that the prize money from that run was way more than anything the club has ever earned before. That needs to be balanced against the costs of competing in the competition with travel, hotels etc. But it has allowed us to sort out a lot of issues that we inherited around the lease for Oriel Park, buying the Youth Development Centre building on the far side of the stadium. Owning that building is essential for the long-term future of the club. We were able to install a new pitch which was desperately needed.
AC: There’s no doubt that in my mind that we have paid the price on the field this year for the success we had last year. Our season was extended right through until December, the knock-on effect was coming back for pre-season this year weeks after the other clubs in the league. It also left us with very little time to get our plans in place after losing some key players to English football at the end of last season. But we’ve learned from this and will know what we are facing next time.
Was last year’s European run a one-off?
PB: There’s no reason why it should be a one off. The standard of football in Ireland is getting better every year and if the club’s improve off the field in the same way then I believe Irish football can make a real mark in Europe – and I expect Dundalk will lead the way.
AC: Improvement off the field is arguably more important. We have been putting a lot of time and energy into making sure we have the right infrastructure at the club. We believe Dundalk can be Ireland’s leading club for the next ten years but to do that we have to get things right on and off the field.
Have you a message for the fans?
PB: Our fans have been fantastic, our crowds are up year-on-year and we are taking huge numbers with us to away games – 1100 fans travelled with us to Drogheda. We appreciate that, by the high standards we have set over the last previous three seasons, the early part of this season did not see us at our best. But we want the fans to know that we are working hard to get it right on and off the field and will give them a club they can continue to be proud of for years to come.
Stephen Kenny has been phenomenal throughout his time at the club delivering a level of success we could only have dreamed of. We have no doubt that he will take this club to even more success going forward.
AC: Dundalk FC is a community club and Paul and I are both from that community and have the best interests of the community at heart. And that’s not just the football community. The whole town benefits when the club is successful.
Our community is getting bigger all the time – we are drawing fans in from well beyond the town itself who not only come to games but spend money in the shops, bars and cafes. That’s good for the local economy as well as for the club.
Are there plans to do any development work at Oriel Park?
PB: We have been working with outside consultants reviewing the options for Oriel Park. Ultimately our plan is to have a stadium that meets UEFA standards so we can play our Champions League and Europa League games at home. It’s not straightforward but we are making good progress.
AC: In the meantime we are about to start work on the refurbishment of the bar area in the YDC. We are hoping to have it re-opened before the end of the season. It will be open to supporters on match days and will provide a great venue for people to meet in the week. We are also planning to establish a Dundalk FC ‘museum’ in the bar where we can display much of the memorabilia from the club’s rich history.
How would you describe the current status of the club?
AC: It’s in a stronger position than it’s ever been. Financially we are secure for the short-term and we have started working on plans that will help us be secure for many more years to come.
PB: All these things take time and we have to be patient. But we are in a good place and moving in the right direction.
Picture credit: Ciaran Culligan Photography