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In any walk of life, a year can be as short or as long a period as you want it to be. Of course, the number of days, hours and minutes are the same but how long they take to pass depends on the how the individual sees the world. As we approach the twelve-month anniversary of Dermot Ushers purchase of Cork City FC on next Saturday the third of February, I can’t help but wonder if those twelve months have flown by or passed at a snail’s pace for the club’s incumbent owner?
Owning a football club is one of the most difficult jobs in the world and that difficulty is always magnified by the fact that your whole ownership is played out in the public domain. Where once you may have had one or two trusted advisors who you always wanted to hear from, now you have thousands of non-trusted “advisors” whom you never want to hear from.
As I strive to put together this blog, I guess I must address the elephant in the room first. Dermot Usher does not like TOTAP, that much is pretty evident. Despite that we always try to be as fair as we can and that will be the same in this blog. Anything written here is simply because it is the way I see things and is not in any way influenced by the poor relationship between the podcast and the club or the poor relationships between some of the personalities involved.
No matter what way you dress it up, Dermot Ushers first year has been an absolute disaster. That diagnosis is simply because of the result in Tallaght against Waterford. If we win that game and stay up, then the diagnosis is very different, but such are the small margins involved in football, that the whole twelve months has ultimately been defined by one result. Its unfortunate for Dermot and he most probably feels that it is unfair, but his first season will always only be remembered for the relegation that it brought.
The short-term problems resulting from relegation are obvious but it’s the longer-term issues that will cause most concern for any owner. It sets any project back by twelve to twenty-four months, when projects get set back for any length of time, they inevitably become more expensive and when things become more expensive, they become harder to justify. I’m not suggesting for a second that Dermot Usher intends to or will walk away from CCFC. If anything, I believe the set back of relegation will make him more determined to succeed here, but only he knows what his definition of success is, and it may differ greatly from what fans would define as success. But supporters need to realise that, while once we were masters of our own destiny, that destiny now lies in the hands of someone else, all we can do is hope and pray that we are never called upon to step in again.
Like most leagues in Europe, The League of Ireland landscape is changing, financial powerhouses are emerging whom it is most likely will dominate the league for many years to come. Shamrock Rovers led the charge and the fact that they can just brush off a two-million-euro loss last season, shows the position that the club is in. It only becomes a real problem if they once again underperform in Europe this coming season and lose another two million. Derry City have an extraordinarily wealthy owner who has clearly poured vast resources in, and Garrett Kelleher at St. Pats has shown over the years that he won’t be found wanting when it comes to funding, and this is what currently sets these three clubs apart. Having all qualified for Europe in 2024, before the season even kicks off, it is 95% certain that all three will again qualify for European competition in 2025, and as they do, it becomes tougher and tougher for other clubs to break the cycle. The chances of Cork City coming from the pack to become a realistic challenger for Europe, never mind for league titles becomes more remote every year that those three clubs qualify and amass the financial benefits from doing so.
This is why relegation impacts more now than it may have done previously. I know people will say, its always boom and bust cycles in the LOI and as City once again rise another will inevitably fall. But that isn’t the way at the very top of the modern LOI, Shams have shown a model of sustained success over a five-year period that shows no sign of relenting. Their finances gave them a head start, investment from Dermot Desmond, Pepper money flowing freely but they didn’t just piss those resources up against the wall like previous clubs had done. They invested in their facilities, resulting in Roadstone being the premier training facility in the country, they invested in their academy and it’s now the best in the country but most importantly, they invested in their structures, to make those structures the best in the country. Pats and Derry can match them for finance, but they cannot match them for facilities or structures and that will be the difference in the coming years.
If all the PD clubs have resources to sign players and if the traditional one-year deals are now being replaced by two, three and even in Pats and Joe Redmond’s case five-year deals, where are the areas that you can improve your club and give yourself an advantage over these other clubs? Facilities and Structures would seem the obvious answer.
This is where it becomes very difficult for Dermot Usher, he must invest in facilities if he is to have any chance of taking the club back to the top. We cannot continue to have academy and women’s teams operating out of random club grounds on random nights of the week. The economics alone of the situation and the money spent on hiring facilities monthly dictate that it is almost a necessity now that the club comes up with a way to find and fund its own training base which can be used by all our teams. Of course, if he was to do so, it would almost certainly bestow upon him a legacy on leeside, for someone who wasn’t born within the confines of our county, that would be a most unusual bequeathment.
The procurement of facilities then allows for the development of the academy. The academy currently performs much better than it probably should given the restrictions it operates under. Look at the number of players who have left and gone abroad over the last five years, look at the number who will be part of both the senior squads for this coming season. That “success” far outperforms what an academy, that has no permanent home, with no top-class facility and no full-time coaches, should be able to achieve. Yet it does and will hopefully continue to do so. Year after year, in terms of players produced it is right up there with Shams, yet in terms of facilities and structures, it isn’t in the same stratosphere. Naj Razi left Shams today for 450k up front, we got a rumoured 75k up front for Joe O Brien Whitmarsh, is Razi six times the player Joe is?
Finally, we come to structures, to be fair to Dermot he was clear from the outset that he wanted a DOF in place, he was in no way responsible for Pat Fenlon not being available to take the job when offered and no one thought at the time that the Liam Buckley appointment was going to go the way that it eventually did. Is one failed appointment enough to do away with the position altogether? Probably not, but we have, and the question then becomes, what is the long-term strategy here? Have we moved completely away form the DOF idea? Is it something that still lingers in the back of Dermot Ushers mind as he ponders the future? If for some reason Tim Clancy left in the morning, would it come back before a new manager was appointed? There are many questions, none of which can be answered but we can only hope that the owner knows and is decisive in how he wants to structure the club going forward.
As Damien Delaney sat in the Virgin Media studios and sought to make a name for himself by leading the charge against Stephen Kenny, I always struggled with something. Here we had a man who was "Football Advisor" to Cork City FC owner as they sat second bottom in the table, with a manager in place who had one win in ten games, castigating the national team manager for under performing, the irony was never lost on me. Either his football advice to the owner wasnt very good or it was ignored, whichever of the two it was, its worrying that he is still in place. The fact that both himself and Liam Buckley were left in place to bring us into the new season, is by far the most concerning thing for me about Dermot Ushers reign. I know Liam is now gone but that is more to do with circumstance than anything else and I struggle to understand how trust was initially placed in the same people who relegated us to then bring us back up.
A club isn’t full time just because it has a senior team that is made up of professionals, in fact many clubs are full time in name and part time in execution. Structures don’t just cover the senior teams, and go far beyond DOF and senior managers, they go right to heart of any club and how it operates on a day-to-day basis. Football staff, office staff, those who regularly cross over between both codes, medical (incorporating things like nutrition and recovery) , PR, Marketing, Analysts, Coaches, Player Liaison, Data Science, Kit Men, Logistics and everything else that a full time club might need to run on a daily basis, if all those roles are squashed into a few and are performed by a small number of people, are you really a full time club? Obviously, I’m not saying that City need to fill all those roles but what I am saying is if you get your structures right, you create a club that starts to perform to levels that you maybe didn’t one time think possible.
Again though, it comes back to facilities as you can’t create the structures when you have nowhere to house them. In the greater scheme of things, Bishopstown is a kip. It is nobodies’ fault, it’s just one of those, situations. But you can’t house a properly structured academy in Bishopstown let alone a properly structured club. It all comes back to facilities in the end, they are the first rung on any ladder to future success. A home to call our own allows us to develop the academy, employ some full-time academy staff, develop a Transition Year (TY) programme like Shams and Pats have done, have kids in the building during the day. Coaches always talk about “Contact Hours” that is that amount of time they spend with the kids, ours are at the very lower end of the scale, while Shams have kids basically in full time from the age of fourteen.
We may not win any trophies under Dermot Ushers reign and then again, we might. That for many fans is what his reign will be judged by, just as last season was decided by one game, many will determine the success of his time here by the number of trophies collected.
What if his legacy went deeper than that? What if he was to develop a truly full-time sustainable club with facilities to match? Of course, we would all hope that both would go hand in hand but I’m fairly certain this club won’t see a PD trophy or FAI cup again until it first sees the development of facilities and then the structures to match those facilities. It’s a long arduous road ahead for this club and its not Dermot Ushers fault but here we are, decisions must be made, and I’d guess money will have to be spent, but that’s ok as there is a legacy at stake here.
As I said, twelve months is a long time and its going to be very interesting to see what the next twelve months, if anything, will bring.