Leaving St Pat's for Dundalk - 'I wouldn't have done anything I didn't think was legally my entitlement'

The new Lilywhites head coach also refused to rule out moves for any of his former St Pat’s players.

Stephen O'Donnell.
Stephen O'Donnell.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

NEW DUNDALK HEAD coach Stephen O’Donnell feels he was legally entitled to walk away from St Patrick’s Athletic and insisted he has “absolutely zero regrets” about his decision to depart the club in the wake of their FAI Cup success last month.

The 35-year-old shocked those behind the scenes at Richmond Park when he tendered his resignation in the days following his side’s penalty shoot-out victory over Bohemians at the Aviva Stadium to take up a new role at Oriel Park where he enjoyed huge success as a player – winning four league titles under current Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny from 2013 to 2018.

Speaking to the media on Monday after his appointment had been confirmed at the weekend, O’Donnell said he could “sleep easy at night” about his contentious departure and denied claims that he had allowed contracts at his former club to expire.

While St Pat’s have yet to comment on his exit and are expected to push for compensation for his departure, O’Donnell said he was confident he was legally within his rights to move to Oriel Park.

“I wouldn’t have done anything I didn’t think was legally my entitlement,” he said of his decision to resign from St Pat’s five days after the Cup final success.

“I handed in my notice and with the agreement I signed originally with St Patrick’s Athletic that is my legal right. I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of contracts but that’s my legal right and I wouldn’t have done it otherwise.”

With a number of last season’s St Pat’s squad now being linked with moves to Oriel Park, O’Donnell also dismissed suggestions that he had failed to negotiate contracts in his final weeks at Richmond Park knowing that his departure was imminent.

“Well obviously 90% of the league are all on one-year deals,” he said.

“I think there are a couple of clubs who maybe give multi-year contracts. You won’t get a bigger supporter than me to get players tied down on multi-year contracts but the League of Ireland as we’ve known it for the past 15 or 20 years, most players sign one-year deals.

“The club I was at, St Patrick’s Athletic, in the previous couple of years all our business was done at the end of the season. So it’s not as if something abnormal has happened here in regards, usually the business is done mid-season in tying down most of a squad.

“The way it was in the last couple of seasons, it was the exact same thing so there’s absolutely nothing different. That’s the way the club has operated and that’s the way it has operated since I’ve been at the club that players were left until the end of the season and ultimately the league is no different. 95% of the league is the exact same way.”

stephen-odonnell-celebrates-winning Stephen O'Donnell celebrates winning the FAI Cup final with St Pat's. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

O’Donnell said he had no regrets over his decision and was hopeful of retaining a good relationship with many of the people he worked with at Richmond Park.

“On my side of it there’s absolutely zero regrets. Everything I’ve done has been with honesty,” he said.

“Probably after having such a successful day and such a successful season, obviously it’s a little bit tarnished in the aftermath of it with everything that has happened, but I’d still have a very good relationship with the people at the coal face – the players and the staff – and I’d like to think if we met down the road or if we met at a social occasion that we’d all get on very well.”

O’Donnell said the decision to leave was made after the Cup final and said he had a good relationship with Pat’s owner Garrett Kelleher.

“We got on fine,” he said.

“Are we particularly close now? I wouldn’t say so, no, but as I said on my side of it, I’d have no problem going meeting anybody and looking them in the eye. I’ve absolutely zero issue as regards that, no problem at all.”

Asked when he made the decision to leave, O’Donnell said: “I think it was a few days after the cup final. I went and spoke to the owner of St Pat’s on the Tuesday and said I think there’s interest, it’s something I would like to pursue and then it was in or around that Tuesday that I sort of wanted to pursue that interest with Dundalk.

“It was a really tough decision to make, not something I’ve made lightly but something I’m happy now with and really looking forward to the future.”

As he looks ahead, O’Donnell admits he has a challenging few weeks in front of him as he looks to build a squad at Dundalk where Andy Boyle is currently the only senior player under contract.

“From a football standpoint and purely with regard to numbers, we need to get bodies in in quite a short space of time.

“I know that there is a hell of a lot of work to do before you start thinking about going challenging for titles.

“There will be bumps along the way but I’m really excited by the journey and the potential that is there.

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“I can not get across any more how excited I am by the prospect of taking this job and the pride I have in taking this job. Having captained the club and lived in the town for years I’m really happy to be back and really looking forward to it.

“There is definitely a base here and structure here that you can really build upon. The foundations are definitely here to have a really, really big club again.”

Before adding new faces, O’Donnell remains hopeful of tying down many of last season’s squad who are currently out of contract.

“There’s potentially a very good core still here,” he said.

“We need to build a squad. There’s potential there to keep a very good core group of players and then obviously we have to add to it.

“We can’t afford to be idle or sit idly by. We’ve got to get cracking straight away but there will be no stone left unturned to get a competitive squad.”

The new Lilywhites head coach also refused to rule out moves for any of his former St Pat’s players.

“We’ll see,” he said.

“It’s the same with the whole league and outside the league, we’re casting the net far and wide. We have to build a squad here from scratch in the next three weeks or so, we’ll see what options we do have going forward but it’s going to be all hands on deck trying to assemble as strong a squad as we can,” said O’Donnell.

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