Phil McDonagh says farewell to Dromara Village
Boss resigns, but chairman John Owens backs club's future plans
Dromara Village kick off their Irish Cup campaign this Saturday with a trip into the unknown against FC Ballynure, setting the tone for a potentially uncertain future ahead.
For the last six seasons, Dromara Village have been one of the Amateur League Premier Division’s most consistent teams, with manager Phil McDonagh steering a steady ship.
Now, however, the waters ahead will be uncharted, and the vessel, seeking a largely new crew after McDonagh handed in his resignation at the club's Annual General Meeting last Tuesday, with several player departures expected to follow in his wake.
It has been a torrid and testing start to the season for the Villagers, who are rooted to the bottom of the table, with no points from their first three games.
McDonagh oversaw the club's Steel & Sons Cup victory against Sport & Leisure at the weekend, but officially went out on a high the weekend before that, having led them to a 2-0 victory over Crumlin United in the first round of the Border Cup.
The former Bangor and Lisburn Distillery man said his mind was made up after a 6-1 league defeat against Killyleagh on August 20.
He admitted: “That was the final nail in the coffin, but this was something that was happening for a while. We had a meeting around February/March time this year, and I could see that some people at the club didn’t want to go in the same direction as I wanted to.
“They felt the club’s facilities were enough to sell it to players, but I warned them that they would lose a lot of our Belfast players, who could go to facilities just as good in Belfast, and that is what happened.
“A number of committee members said they wanted to go down the line of getting young local players in, but I told them that isn’t sustainable.
“The catchment area is a tough one. Look at Drumaness Mills, Downpatrick and Kilmore Rec — they are all clubs in the area who have been relegated and have had to fight to get back to where they were.
“We have stayed in the Premier, and stayed here comfortably.”
The former Dromara boss can rightfully look back on his time in charge as a successful one, having turned the club from a side in the bottom two of Division 1B to a top flight outfit with back-to-back promotions in his first two seasons as manager. He also led them to their first major piece of silverware — the Border Cup — in 2010.
Another sign of his success was the calibre of the clubs signing Dromara players. In this summer alone, Liam Hogan went to Knockbreda, Gerard McVeigh to Donegal Celtic, Seamus McDonald to Newington YC, Gerard Rooney to Loughgall and both Aaron Thompson and Brendan Agnew went to Queen’s University.
However, the beginning to the current season suggests the writing was on the wall.
McDonagh added: “I felt it was time to step aside, and to see where they want to go.
“I’m just going to take a wee break from football for a while. It will be the first ever time I’ve been away from it, but I would like to get back into management one day, if the right club came along.
“I wish Dromara really well — it’s a good club, and one that my family and I have been involved with for a long time. Hopefully they can stay up.”
John Owens has taken on the role of Dromara chairman following the resignation of his long-serving predecessor Basil Irvine on Tuesday night.
And while the locally-based sales director appreciates he has a challenge on his hands in restoring the club to their former glory, he also has the fighting spirit to follow through with his words.
He said: “We are going to fight on. Dromara has been a feared team in the Amateur League, and believe you me, we will be feared again.
“I’m not so much a football man as a business man, but I have started businesses, grown them and developed them. I don’t back losers, and I don’t believe Dromara is a loser.
“We are actively looking for someone to be involved in the football side of things, a Director of Football, who will also most likely be the vice chairman, and already we have gone from a small committee of four or five to an active committee of 15, including two lady members, youth development officer and new secretary.
“This is a recognition from the old guard that things needed to change. They could have held on, but credit to them, they have recognised that need to bring in new blood, and although they have stepped down from their posts, they will still be involved with the club.”
Owens believes that this transitional period is a huge opportunity for the club to kick on into a positive new era, and is happy the groundwork is already well under way to safeguard the club’s future as a leading competitor.
He added: “We would be naive to think that it will be plain sailing, but in two or three months time, Philip may regret his decision.
“We are working on things behind the scenes on things that I can’t talk about at the minute, but will be exciting for the club going forward.
“It may look to some on the outside as if the club is heading into its death throes — but my response to that is this: over our dead bodies.”
Strong sentiments indeed, and if Dromara are to reverse the effects of their recent decline, they will need an equally strong manager to deliver the goods — and they already have had enquiries from potential candidates.
Any interested parties should contact Dromara secretary Martin Walker on 07837588160.
Belfast Telegraph Digital