Belfast Telegraph

McDonagh leads the charge of the new bosses as he takes over at Comber Rec

By Martin Mawhinney

The sudden sacking of former Sunderland gaffer Paolo Di Canio may have raised a few eyebrows, but the managerial roundabout on the local Amateur League scene has been spinning even faster… even at this early stage.

In recent weeks, three teams from the top two divisions have seen a change in their top man, with one even making the transition from one Premier Division club to another.

Philip McDonagh suggested, when he left Dromara Village after six years in charge at the start of September, that he might find it difficult to live without football in his life for the first ever time. In the end, he didn’t have long to suffer a football-free existence, taking up the managerial post vacated by Eric Halliday just days previously.

Dromara were no slouches when it came to filling their managerial hot-seat either, moving quickly and shrewdly to appoint former Chimney Corner and Lisburn Distillery Reserves coach and Newry City Youth Director Kyle Rendall.

Meanwhile, Division 1A side East Belfast may be about to turn a corner after a disastrous opening couple of months to the season, which has seen them take just three points from seven games, shipping 18 goals in the process. The recruitment of new manager John Spence should signal an overhaul in personnel, as they focus on clawing their way out of the relegation places.

I caught up with the three men responsible in taking three of the Amateur League’s best-known clubs onto the next stage of their development, as they share their hopes and aspirations for the future.



How did you get the job? The club contacted me the day before they played Dromara, ironically, to come down and have a chat. I came down and spoke to them after the match, and they offered me the job. After taking a couple of days to think about it, I knew it was too good an opportunity to turn down. They have great facilities, a great location and catchment area, and are a very professionally-run club.

What are your aims in the role, both short term and long term? Obviously with Eric Halliday leaving, they lost a lot of players, influential players, and the committee are aware they’ll need to be replaced ASAP. Short term, my plan is to improve by bringing in players and ensuring they stay in the Premier Division. Jim McCloskey, who I played with at Lisburn Distillery, has told me they have a lot of players progressing through the youth system, so in the long term I am hoping to bring them through and bring the club success.

How much needs changed at your new club? Outside of the first team, I am not sure that much needs to change. It will take me a while to settle in, to get to know everyone and how things operate. I need to get players in and strengthen the first team.

How easy will it be to attract new players? I have been busy since joining Comber, and have signed four players from Dromara. Anyone I have spoken to hold Comber in high regard, but unfortunately most are tied up with other clubs. A lot of them are saying it’s a shame this hadn’t happened at the start of the season.

What do you see as your biggest challenge? Staying in the league. I don’t think I have a lot to do on the footballing side of things. We have a lot of good potential in our side, but sometimes you can have too much youth, especially in defence, when it comes to physical games.

What would your message be to the supporters? Be patient. The supporters were a big factor in me taking this job — Comber is probably the best-supported team in the whole of the Amateur League. I would say as an old rival manager, I won’t be their favourite person, but now that I am here, I can tell them I’ll be giving them 110% and so will the players. What I will bring is a good brand of football.



How did you get the job? I had two interviews with the club and they were keen and happy to hear what I was saying about restructuring and making it a real club atmosphere. I want to move it forward, with players that are young and hungry to prove themselves, and I have a proven track record in working with youth. The fact that I have worked at a higher level gives them a new way of thinking, and I can tell there is a real buzz about the place now.

What are your aims in the role, both short term and long term? My aim is very simple: to keep Dromara up and create an ethos at the club where we play beautiful, attacking football, in an encouraging learning atmosphere. If we do that, the results will look after themselves.

How much needs changed at your new club? I have been lucky, in that I don’t know what went before. All the committee I am working with are all new. They really want to change things, but there is no downside — it just needs rejuvenated. The previous chairman Basil has been brilliant, and he is still involved. Everything I’ve asked for, I have got.

How easy will it be to attract new players? Like with every club in the Amateur League, it takes time. I have signed three players in the past week, but in the longer term, it takes you to build an ethos at a club. It is different to the Championship, where you offer players money. In the Amateur League, it is about building a good philosophy… if you play attractive football, then more players will come.

What do you see as your biggest challenge? Probably just getting to know the players’ names. I don’t really see anything at Dromara as a big challenge. I am bubbly, outgoing and enthusiastic and so are my players. You could argue that staying up is my biggest challenge, but that’s no different to any other manager.

What would your message be to the supporters? We’re trying to get local lads back playing football, and we want people to come and watch it too. We want to be a local club for the local people.



How did you get the job? I was approached by the committee. The East couldn’t field a team one week and they were concerned it couldn’t go on any longer without them getting thrown out of the league. They wanted to field a younger team, one for the future.

What are your aims in the role, both short term and long term? Trying to stay in Division 1A in the short term, and pushing up to the Premier again over the next four or five years, after we’ve built the team up. We’d love to get it back to how it was under Jim ‘Bimbo’ Wilson, but in order to do that, we’ll need to get people back playing football.

How much needs changed at your new club? First and foremost, we only have reserves competing in friendlies at the moment. We need strength in depth so that the first team players don’t get complacent. The three or four guys in the committee now are brilliant, but it needs built on. We have brought in Andy McMorran in as Director of Football, my dad Billy is doing chief scout, Brian Strain is our new physio, and Billy McCullough will be an adviser to us. That is an awful lot of top experience which will only benefit the club.

How easy will it be to attract new players? At this time of the season, it’s difficult. I have had people contact me from the Amateur League and Championship, saying they will join us next season. They can’t leave their clubs now, but we will be a good draw for players after this season.

What do you see as your biggest challenge? Staying up. It’s so competitive, but from what I’ve seen so far, we have been playing well. Division 1B is a hard league to get out of, so we have to make sure we avoid the drop.

What would your message be to the supporters? To be patient and encourage more supporters to come. We are trying to draw kids to the games by having a kick-about for them at half time, and will look at other things we can do. We want to create a positive attitude at the club and to generate a good atmosphere.

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