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O'Donnell insists he 'can sleep easy at night' over decision to leave St Pat's for Dundalk

The new Lilywhites head coach says his departure — which happened just days after winning the FAI Cup — was done with ‘absolute integrity’.

Stephen O'Donnell at Oriel Park today.
Stephen O'Donnell at Oriel Park today.
Image: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

NEW DUNDALK HEAD coach Stephen O’Donnell insists he “can sleep easy at night” over his decision to ditch St Patrick’s Athletic for an emotional return to Oriel Park.

The 35-year-old shocked Saints supporters when he quit his role at Richmond Park within days of guiding them to the FAI Cup last month.

Speaking to the media today after being officially appointed at the Louth side on Saturday, O’Donnell said he understood fan anger at his departure but insisted he had to trust his own instinct to return to the club where he won four league titles as a player under Stephen Kenny from 2013-2018.

“It was a massively tough decision,” he said of his decision to leave.

“I can sleep easy at night in regards to everything I have done. It has been with absolute integrity and I couldn’t have done any more, or Patrick (Cregg), effort wise in regards to what we gave to St Patrick’s Athletic.

“I understand emotions, I understand the way it was maybe depicted but I have absolutely no qualms. I couldn’t have done any more when I was in the position as coach of St Patrick’s Athletic to try and make them successful.

“Obviously we went on a journey just over a couple of years ago. The remit was to make St Pat’s competitive again.

“At the start it was a bit turbulent with results and then Covid and then the culmination of last season of coming second and winning the Cup, arguably the proudest day of my career, winning the Cup on the coaching side of the fence.

It was a hugely tough decision and one I didn’t make lightly but it was one I felt I had to make and one I’m very happy to have made.”

O’Donnell said he would be “forever grateful” to St Pat’s for giving him his first managerial role when he departed Dundalk – where he was opposition analyst at the time – to take up the post in August 2019.

“I was young and just finished playing and getting an opportunity but ultimately I feel I have repaid that in regards to St Patrick’s Athletic,” he said.

“They are in Europe and have come second and won the cup for the fourth time in their history. The effort and my work ethic when I was at the football club can’t be argued against. I gave everything I possibly could to the football club while I was there.

“I think loyalty is what you put in when you are somewhere. What we put in when we were with St Patrick’s Athletic was 120% effort 24/7 since we went in there.”

stephen-odonnell-celebrates-winning Celebrating St Pats' FAI Cup win at the Aviva Stadium. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We couldn’t have given any more and I think we repaid that. I’m very thankful to the owner and the club for giving me my first opportunity in coaching but I think we have definitely repaid that in our league position and our achievements of winning the cup.

“That is where I would be on that. It was just I had a choice to make and I have chosen this path and I’m delighted with my decision and it’s a really exciting time for Dundalk.

“I understand there will be disappointment, but just as long as everyone does know that we couldn’t have given any more to the job with everyone involved on the coaching staff and players to getting St Patrick’s Athletic back competitive. Football is football and it happens. There will be people disappointed but so long as they have no doubt about the effort given while we were there.”

O’Donnell said he hadn’t had a chance to speak to the Pat’s players individually to explain his departure but hoped to eventually.

“There was no possible way to tell them all. Obviously they have seen it in the media. Over the course of the time I’ll be speaking to each and every one just in terms of wishing them all the best etc.

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“Obviously it (cup final) was such a special day, it was a hugely emotional day for a lot of people and it was a special day for myself, the staff and the group of players and for the club. It was just after that.

“I am very much a person that goes with my instinct, goes with my gut, and in the days after that I had to have a real sit-down and a real think and I just felt obviously with my connection with the club, to Dundalk, having experienced such great times there, I just had to go with what my instinct was telling me. That’s the decision I made and it was a really, really difficult decision.”

dave-mackey Dave Mackey has come on board. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

O’Donnell said he was now looking forward to the project at Dundalk where he will be assisted by new first-team manager Dave Mackey – a league winner at Oriel Park in 1991 – and his former St Pat’s number two, Patrick Cregg, who will be assistant manager.

“The aim will be similar to when I went to St Patrick’s, getting a team that the supporters know for sure that when they turn up to Oriel every week and travel away to support us that they’re getting a group of people that are working tirelessly to make Dundalk be successful,” he said. 

It’s the start of a journey. There are going to be bumps along the way, but I think it’s a very exciting one.

“The minimum I want fans to expect is that they are turning up to see a team that is giving their all for the club and the town and we’ll take it from there. That is the core value we want and we want everyone rowing in the same direction and with the sole focus of giving everything for Dundalk to get back up around the top echelons again.”

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