Trim man Tim Clancy will be looking to build on a solid first season as manager of Drogheda Utd when the 2019 League of Ireland First Division season kicks-off tonight.
Clancy stepped into the hot seat at Drogheda in December 2017 and was immediately tasked with the job of assembling a squad for the 2018 season that, at that stage, was only about 12 weeks away.
The Meath man had a lengthy career as a professional footballer in England and Scotland before a return to the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers and Bray Wanderers where he finished the 2017 season.
That exposure to the League of Ireland would have been beneficial as he took his first tentative managerial steps with the Louth club.
It was, nevertheless, a challenge as Drogheda had been relegated from the Premier Division at the end of 2017 and would be operating on a tight budget in 2018 as far as player recruitment was concerned.
After an opening night postponement against Finn Harps at United Park due to deficient floodlights, Clancy took Drogheda to the promotion play-offs last season.
Ironically, Drogheda lost out to the Donegal men who went on to secure that much sought-after promotion place.
During last season Clancy also masterminded the shock of the opening round of the FAI Cup when Drogheda sent Shamrock Rovers tumbling out of the competition at United Park.
That was as good as it got in the FAI Cup and Drogheda exited at the next hurdle when they lost narrowly to Waterford.
The season had scarcely finished when Clancy was linked with the vacancy at Dublin club Shelbourne where another Trim man, David O'Connor, is the CEO.
However, Clancy opted to stay with the Louth club and has been busy assembling a panel for the new season as he finalises his plans for the opening night visit to United Park of Cobh Ramblers this Friday night, 7.45pm.
“I'm not playing in the League of Ireland now, but I was persuaded to line out with Kiltale's second team last year and while I hadn't played hurling since under-age in Trim I decided to give it a go,” he said.
“I don't think I'll be in the reckoning when the championship team is picked, but it would be great to see Kiltale win six-in-a-row, that would be some achievement.
“The GAA clubs are embedded in their local communities and there's a lesson in that for the League of Ireland clubs, community involvement is the way forward,”he added.
Leaving aside the GAA discussions, Clancy outlined his introduction to management at the Louth club and how he was delighted to take the opportunity.
“The appointment came about fairly quickly at the end of 2017, I was offered the job and it was something that I wanted to do, managing and coaching, there are only 20 managerial positions available in this country at League of Ireland level and I couldn't turn down a chance like that,” he stated.
“Geographically, Drogheda was ideal for me also and it turned out well for everyone, for me as a first-time manager and for Drogheda who were prepared to take a chance.
“I can't say enough good things about the people at the club, very helpful, very accommodating, I was delighted that we had a good season, but it was disappointing that we just came up a bit short and didn't get promotion.
“Hopefully, we can go a step further this time around and get the promotion, but the First Division will be hugely competitive this season, there won't be any easy games.
"This is a transition period at Drogheda at the moment and it might be better that we make steady progress and are well-equipped for the challenges of the Premier when we get there.
“Losing the second leg play-off in Ballybofey last October was hard to take at the time, but it's not an easy place to go and a lot of the Premier teams won't be relishing that long journey this year, that's for sure.
“We had a hectic schedule of games in the play-offs with two against Shelbourne followed by two more against Harps, all in about 10 days, and we picked up injuries as well, so it was difficult in that sense, but we have to look forward now and be ready for action on Friday night,” he suggested.
Lessons learned from last season will be helpful as far as Clancy is concerned, now that he has a year as a manager on his CV.
“I probably could have had a more balanced squad last season, player recruitment is important, trying to get the player that you want is the next challenge,” he suggested.
“I would be targeting players that some of the other clubs in the First Division would be chasing and that's where the budget is important.
“The good times followed by the bad times can come around very quickly, the Drogheda supporters would be well aware of that with the way the club's fortunes have dipped since the highs of 2007 and 2008.
“The top Premier clubs last season all spent time in the First Division in the not too distant past, you just have to look at Shelbourne as a prime example of that,” he remarked.
And what are the comparisons between the League of Ireland and the Premier League in England?
“A lot of people try to compare the League of Ireland to football in the UK and you can't make that comparison,” he stated emphatically.
“Football in England and Scotland is an industry, when I played in Scotland for eight years I never picked up a newspaper that had anything about English football in it.
“The back seven or eight pages would be about Scottish football, there might be a bit on English football if there was a big story.
“Here in Ireland it's different, Six Nations rugby, Munster and Leinster, the GAA and of course the Premier League, all ahead of the League of Ireland in terms of what people are interested in.
“More exposure in the media would be a big help, I know that RTE has got a lot of flak over cutting back Soccer Republic on a Monday night to 30 minutes.
“RTE explained this decision at the launch of the new season last week, the viewing figures weren't great, but were better for the live games so they came up with an enhanced package for the Friday night games and we saw that last weekend.
“We have to create a better atmosphere at games, similar to what the rugby does, a family environment for an enjoyable night out.
“Better facilities are required to make it more attractive and comfortable and that will entice more supporters.
“League of Ireland clubs tend to look for someone to blame for their situation, but they are starting to move in the right direction and take responsibility for the things they have control over.
“The structures are in place for developing players through the under-age leagues with the u-13 starting this year so we can build on that.
“Grants are important to help the clubs with all the under-age teams, but a club like Drogheda can also use this to build contacts with the local community.
“The best 12 and 13-year-old players around the Drogheda area, and that includes Meath, should be playing with Drogheda, not having to go to Dublin.
“It's not a real long-term project either, five or six years down the road a u-13 player from this season could be in the Drogheda first team, that has to be the objective.
“Going back to the GAA, I only have to look at how the Kiltale hurling club has the support of the local community, they even got me to play on the second team since I moved to the area, soccer can learn for that, it's a uniquely Irish thing and League of Ireland clubs need to do the same thing.
“Shelbourne have David O'Connor as CEO and that was a brave move for him, he didn't want to pass up the opportunity either and they are working hard at community level off the field. On the pitch they will be serious contenders this year.
“My dad used to bring me to Tolka Park to watch Shelbourne on a Friday night in the 1990s and it was always a great atmosphere, it was the best stadium around at the time.
“I know there are the 'bar-stoolers' as they are called watching Premier League on the TV, they don't realise that there is a good standard of football in the League of Ireland if they would only give it a chance.
“We had a young player last season, William Hondermarck, and he signed for English Championship side Norwich City last month, that's all due to the fact that he was playing senior football.
“But, looking to the weekend, we need to start with a win, it's a long journey for Cobh on Friday and we need to get the three points, that's the focus at the moment,” he concluded.