Dundalk owners lick wounds as Stephen Kenny departs
Club disappointed with the way FAI dealt with poaching of 47-year-old manager
Dundalk Manager Stephen Kenny celebrates with the Premier Division trophy. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Stephen Kenny would have liked to have handled his departure from Dundalk a little differently, although even the most carefully choreographed of farewells would have been unlikely to have done significantly softened the blow to his employers.
There had been talk of a €20,000 buy-out clause in the manager’s contract, but FAI chief executive John Delaney said on Sunday that the League of Ireland champions had been great to deal with while making it clear that they would not even be getting that from the association.
Although the exact terms of his exit are not known, it is possible that Kenny is actually still due money from the club, as he had a separate clause in his deal that entitled him to 10 per cent of the prize money he helped to bring in, and it is not clear what has been or will be paid in relation to the €800,000 the club is already guaranteed to gross from European games next summer.
That clause goes some way to explaining how Kenny’s base salary could have remained so modest – less than €100,000 per annum – despite the remarkable success he enjoyed. Dundalk won four titles, a couple of them part of doubles, in the past five years, with some €8 million in European prize money brought in during the past four.
The 47-year-old was central to what had attracted the current owners to take the club over at the start of the year. At the meeting in early February, at which a number of them addressed supporters to reassure them about the future, one of the owners, Fred Spencer, observed that: “Our priority is to build a first-class football side. We will look in the longer term at infrastructure. But if we don’t have a good first 11 out on the pitch, coached by Stephen, there’s nothing after that.”
Despite the importance they clearly attached to him, they had yet to successfully tie him down to a new deal that would might have better rewarded him and ensured they would be properly compensated in the event that he left. To be fair, the prospect of him landing the Ireland job might always have been treated as a special case, one that was exempt from financial barriers. But the fact remains that his departure now to do that job leaves the board, led by Chicago-based chairman Mike Treacy, facing a remarkable challenge to replace him.
Kenny declined to reveal what transpired as he broke the news to the various parties on Saturday, but local website dundalksport.ie reported that he told club chief executive Mal Brannigan on Saturday before getting on to his management team. His assistant, Vinny Perth, is said to have driven from Galway – where team captain Stephen O’Donnell had got married the previous day – to meet him face to face.
The club then organised a meeting for all of the players in a hotel in Dundalk on Sunday at which they updated them on the situation. The sense was that the club was disappointed with the way it had been dealt with by the association, and the statement eventually issued on Monday confirming Kenny’s departure made no reference to either the FAI or the under-21s job, only the senior international one that the Dubliner is due to take up in August 2020.
“I would have liked to have communicated better with the players,” said Kenny yesterday, “but logistically it could not work. I was only signed and it was out there. That’s the modern era.”
It had been, he said, “a huge wrench” to leave. “But I’m very confident that the club is in a strong place. The players from last season are virtually all signed up for next season and there is a great leadership group there. Vinny Perth, the assistant manager, is tremendous, Ruaidhrí Higgins, the captain Stephen O’Donnell and Brian Gartland … They will have great success.”
New contracts are understood to have been agreed with Robbie Benson and Dane Massey, two of the very few players whose futures are not still resolved, but it was confirmed by Sligo Rovers yesterday that Ronan Murray had signed for them.
Right now, then, the squad is not a problem. It has proven what it is capable of and it is sticking around. The man who assembled it, though, is going to take some replacing.