'I’m driven by fear. I worked in the private sector for many, many years'

Vinny Perth says neither he nor his Dundalk team can afford to rest on their laurels despite a successful year last season.

Dundalk boss Vinny Perth says he is
Dundalk boss Vinny Perth says he is "driven by fear".
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

SOME PEOPLE MIGHT have been forgiven for expecting standards to slip somewhat, after the much-heralded Stephen Kenny left Dundalk to take over Ireland U21s before the start of last season.

But domestically at least, the Lilywhites maintained and built on the club’s previous dominance in recent years.

They were a penalty shootout away from completing a domestic treble, but missed out amid a tight and tense FAI Cup final with Shamrock Rovers.

They still claimed the league title fairly comfortably, however, finishing 11 points ahead of nearest rivals the Hoops, confirming their status as champions by beating Stephen Bradley’s side 3-2, as they prevailed with five games to spare.

Yet after one terrific season, Perth — who was Kenny’s assistant before becoming the main man — feels neither he nor his team can afford to rest on their laurels.

“We have to challenge the group and raise the bar,” he says. “We have to be better at what we do around Europe time and around how we play in the league. Don’t misunderstand, we zoned in on that, winning all of the domestic trophies that we could. This year, we are not taking that for granted, but we are discussing other things, and some of those are playing better in terms of our league performances, and being ready around Europe.”

Europe in particular was perceived as the one black mark against Perth and his side last year.

In Champions League qualifying, they defeated Riga on penalties, before being well beaten by Azerbaijani outfit Qarabag 4-1 on aggregate thereafter. They then fell to Slovan Bratislava by the same aggregate scoreline in the Europa League’s third qualifying round. Inevitably, everything tends to be compared to their 2016 campaign, when the Lilywhites regularly exceeded expectations and became just the second Irish side to reach the Europa League group stages and first to win a game.

While Perth acknowledges those performances last year were below-par, the 43-year-old coach insists a degree of realism is needed too.

We do [need to play better] but somebody also needs to wake up and smell the coffee. I was talking to a European player and it looks like he is going to go to Riga for three or four times the money I could afford to pay him.

“Everyone in Europe is chasing Europe. The three teams we played last year, one got a play-off and the other two played in the group stages. And at times we got criticised for certain performances in Europe, rightly so, but that’s the standard now, the standard is getting higher and there is huge investment in clubs to go after Europe, so it is difficult. But I do think that Irish football needs somebody else to crack the group stages, because the environment is there to help our league kick on, so we have to chase it.”

pat-hoban-dejected-after-the-game Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Even domestically, Perth feels Dundalk can at times be eclipsed by others who are better able to attract players.

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“Our underage set-up is probably not given the same floodlights as others. It’s a lot smaller, with smaller numbers. It’s difficult to get top players up to Dundalk and we can’t compete with the hotbeds of Irish soccer in terms of Dublin, but we still have a lot of young players coming through and we have put a lot of young players on professional contracts and we are building towards the future in that context.

Our 13s, 15s, 17s, 19s would have some Malahide players. We would also have players from different parts of Dublin who would come up and lads from all up that M1 commuter belt. The problem for us is that if a guy lives in Blanchardstown, he’s 10 minutes from Rovers… But he is an hour at four o’clock away from six o’clock training… That’s the difficulty and then we have exam times, so we have to be careful through the next six months with these young players.

“It’s why we have to push in Irish football for an U23 league.”

With Rovers in particular benefiting from a flourishing underage set-up and showing signs of significant improvement at first-team level, as evidenced by a first FAI Cup triumph since 1987 last November, Perth knows his men will need to be as strong as ever if they are to secure a sixth league title in seven years. 

The Dublin-born manager, who once worked in the catering industry, has been at the club eight years now. However, given that it’s just his second season as manager, does he feel more prepared now having spent a little over 12 months in this unfamiliar role?

“Yeah, I suppose,” he says. “I’m driven by fear. I worked in the private sector for many, many years. I still drive past that job and I’m driven by fear so I don’t take what I do for granted. I got some personal honours at the end of the season and they were massive. But in one sense, they still annoy you, because you have to remind yourself not to rest on your laurels. It is a big cliché, but I do believe in striving to be better tomorrow, that’s what drives me. I’ve done a huge amount of work on my own personal development over the last six months and hope that stands me in good stead going into the new season.

“I would have done a certain amount of leadership courses. I’m not a reader, but [I've done] a huge amount of reading on leadership and understanding that I manage 35 people, I’ve spoken to people in other sports about that. People like Jim Gavin would have given me some insight. I’ve been in that rugby world to see what they do with Leinster and the IRFU. But now it’s sort of time to forget all of that, take what I learned and see if I can put it into practice. Only time will tell, but I do believe I’ve got to get better this season.

I suppose last year I probably coached the team more than a manager should, because I’d been the coach for seven years. Now it’s time to manage the team. I believe there are three elements to this role: there’s being a coach, there’s being a manager and there’s being a leader. And I wasn’t a leader last year, I was a coach-stroke-manager. Now I’m trying to evolve into being a manager-stroke-leader, because I think it would be another edge for the group, so that’s where I’m trying to get to.

“That’s why I say I’m driven by fear. I’m six, 10 weeks away from losing my job at any stage. It’s not something I fear, but I’m driven by it — making sure that you are working hard enough to ensure it doesn’t happen and yet it could happen no matter how hard you try. It’s a difficult industry.”

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