Belfast Telegraph

Stephen McDonnell 'open' to coaching offers as boss gives reaction to Warrenpoint sacking

Stephen McDonnell
Stephen McDonnell
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

Retired. Hired. Admired. Fired.

Stephen McDonnell is only 27 but already the former Warrenpoint Town manager has an interesting football CV.

With the club bottom of the Premiership having lost 11 of their 12 league games, club and boss 'parted ways' on Wednesday. By McDonnell's own humble admission it's a 'nice way of saying the manager's been sacked'.

After only 20 months in the job, it would be easy to assume the Dundalk man's first stint in a footballing hotseat wasn't very comfortable.

That would seem a simplification harsh on the man that was forced to call time on his own playing career at 22.

McDonnell managed to guide the club to their first ever Irish Cup semi-final last season and also to top tier survival by an 11 point margin, with some big results along the way.

It's safe in that knowledge that potentially the Irish League's youngest ever boss is seeking a swift return to the dugout, not necessarily as a number one but ideally this side of the border.

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"If there was an opportunity to return to football tomorrow, I would take it," he told the Belfast Telegraph in his first interview since his departure from Warrenpoint. "That's probably not going to happen so I'll have a period to reflect and form new ideas.

"I'd love another crack at the Irish League. My priority is to manage again but I'm open to what the game has to offer in terms of a coaching role or an assistant manager position.

"The manager and I would have to share similar beliefs and it would have to be with somebody who sees what I can bring. It wouldn't work with somebody who sees the game in a completely different way. I'm certainly willing to meet with people and have discussions though."

McDonnell's reign at Milltown began with a 3-1 win over arguably the greatest Irish League boss ever; David Jeffrey and his Ballymena United.

'Please God. I want the job permanently, that's being honest about it," he said that day. At just 26, he showed a confidence in his own ability and a passion for the game, neither of which have evaporated.

"I feel I have the qualities to manage again and even to manage a club with bigger expectations," he said hours after his Warrenpoint departure had been announced.

"(The spell at Warrenpoint) has given me the confidence of that.

"Our Irish Cup run last season was a great experience and the big away wins at Ballymena and Glenavon as well as the point at Linfield that could have been three. We beat Coleraine and Cliftonville at home too. Those are all big victories for a club like Warrenpoint and those are the memories that I'll take with me.

"It was a successful period - the most successful in the club's history and to be the man to lead that, it's something that I cherish."

So what was the problem at Point? How can an Irish Cup semi-final turn into the chop in less than seven months?

"We only had 14 to 15 players available to us," he said of the new season's struggled.

"We signed a squad of 22 players, which most teams work with, but we've had two or three long-term injuries and have had three players leaving the club due to personal circumstances. That left us with 16 players before factoring in injuries and suspensions which you're always going to get.

"We've tried to make the most of what we had left but that's why results have been how they've been. I had one available centre-midfielder for a number of weeks so there's been a lot of patching up. It's not an excuse, it's just the reality.

"That's the situation the new manager is coming into, these issues aren't going to disappear. The club agreed with that but ultimately the decision was made to make a change.

"I'm disappointed with the decision because when you get involved in the game and get a love for it, you don't want to find yourself out of it."

Barry Gray's first game back in the Warrenpoint dugout comes at Carrick on Saturday, when he will have an opportunity to lead his side off bottom spot and to within three points of the 10th placed hosts.

McDonnell continued: "I know results decide everything in football but you've got to look at bigger picture. I'm disappointed because we have an important game on Saturday that could be very significant. We didn't get that opportunity to get closer to one team and potentially go ahead of another.

"Hopefully when football people look at it they understand I did a pretty good job and recent results don't mean that Stephen McDonnell is a bad manager."

If he gets his way, he will have another chance to prove his credentials in the near future. And at 27, time is most definitely on his side.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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