WHAT makes a Tyrone man want to go to Fermanagh to coach a team that he knows little about?
For Aghaloo’s Stephen Donnelly, the decision to take on the Brookeborough team came from an ambition to coach teams, but not to threaten the performance of his own club.
Donnelly said: “I saw the Brookeborough opportunity as a good challenge. It is not that far away, and it is in a different county. I won’t have to come up against Aghaloo. I won’t have to come up against clubs that I have had battles with. So it suited me.”
Donnelly has met his new Brookeborough squad once, back in December, when they were allowed to meet in small groups. He said that he and his assistant Ciaran Rooney have provided the squad with training programmes that they are working through.
The challenge for Donnelly is to get to know the group in difficult circumstances.
“It is hard because it is year one for me and I don’t know what I am dealing with. If you have been with a team for a year then you have got to know them. You would know the leaders in the group and the senior players. You would have got to know the commitments that players have and that sort of thing.
“If I come in in year one, then it is harder.”
Yet that challenge did not put him off because Donnelly is very keen to pursue a goal of being a manager.
“I played for Aghaloo seniors for 25 years, and the body was shouting at me. I was getting carried off after a senior championship match and then I had to put two and two together. There was a young goalkeeper coming in behind me as well. So I realised that I had done all that I could.
“I also realised that I had been involved for 25 years, playing Tuesday, Friday and Sunday and loved being part of the team environment. When Brookeborough rang me a few weeks after I retired the timing was perfect because it got me back into a team setting almost immediately. I could have that experience again.”
Donnelly (right) has coached his club Aghaloo before, so he had experience of senior team management.
He says that being an outside manager is a benefit to the club.
“I am going in there with no baggage. I am going in with a clean pair of eyes. I will judge the players equally. I won’t be accused of having favouritism.”
Donnelly believes that the Brookeborough team he is taking on has the potential to do well.
“They have been in the intermediate league and while they haven’t been shooting the lights out, the results have been close. They are not getting hammered every week. They are there or thereabouts in most games. Hopefully I can bring something different to get them back to winning games. That excites me.”
Donnelly said that he believes he is well equipped to manage Brookeborough because he’s experienced similar situations with his own club Aghaloo.
The numbers in the two clubs are similar. They do not have huge turnouts at training, of 50 or 60 players. They are working with numbers of 20 to 30.
“I am used to dealing with squads of that size, and the expectations that come with that.”
He now just has to wait for news of when he can get onto the training field and start preparing for the new season.
“Everyone is in the same boat, we just have to wait, and while we are waiting, prepare as best we can. For me that is about building up a relationship with players. For me that is about picking up the phone and talking to people and bringing them with you.
“That’s especially true in clubs that are smaller. You have got to bring everyone with you.
“I don’t think that you can send watery text messages to players and expect them to buy in with a man who they know nothing about.”