It’s the first day on the job at Kilkenny City AFC.
There are no corporate facilities. No fancy boxes. Not even a suite of offices. It’s a big change from Pisa.
The closest thing I’ll get to catering is the deli counter at the EuroSpar about two miles back the road on the way to town. The portacabin in the carpark does nicely as I agree an initial two-year deal with the Black Cats back in the big leagues.
Listening to KCLR on the way in (the radio station for Kilkenny and neighbouring Carlow), I could hear my name come up in the sports news. Something along the lines of “and finally for this hour, Kilkenny City have named Ken McGuire as their new manager for their return to the League of Ireland’s First Division.”
That was it. The story will be buried by lunchtime. But no matter. It’s time to get to work.
Kilkenny’s club vision and expectations
If you’re unfamiliar with the Irish league setup, there’s a few things at play.
First off, it’s a summer league. You get the autumn and winter off, hit pre-season in January and get ready to go for February.
Second, there’s a string of competitions that Premier Division and First Division clubs will enter, along with regional clubs and those progressing from the junior ranks. For us, that means the SSE Airtricity League First Division, the Extra.ie FAI Cup, the EA Sports Cup and the Leinster Senior Cup.
There hasn’t been a bit of silverware in these grounds since 1997. To be fair, there’s barely been a car in the car park since the club departed the league in 2008 but that’s another story.
When I told Scott Rooney, the chairman, that I was planning on getting European football to Buckley Park, he thought I was just the kind of person for the job. Or maybe that was just the kind of thing he wanted to hear. I still hadn’t figured out (and haven’t) how that might yet happen bar getting promotion and pulling a Dundalk on it, winning everything in sight, but they’ve paved the way.
So when we meet again at the old secondary school table in the portacabin, I’m somewhat surprised by his vision when compared to mine.
Here I was thinking, “you’ll have to win the league at the first time of asking”. Instead, his core objectives are fairly straight-forward
- Sign players under 23 for the first team – that’s the culture
- Sign players to sell for a profit – that’s the five year plan
- Finish bottom of the league this season – that’s the goal
- Forget about the aforementioned FAI Cup, League of Ireland Cup and Leinster Senior Cup.
Next season, go ahead, just try not to finish bottom. Who am I to argue? I accept the proposals and move on.
To which end, I’m handed my club diary (they got a short batch of them done locally as there’s no sense in getting an Office 365 setup done while we’re still working out what’s happening at the grounds), and sent on my way to review the preseason schedule.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail, or something along those lines. The preseason calendar has thrown up two tasty encounters and string of local games.
Up first is the traditional starting XI v second XI, a game sometimes overlooked but still gives you a sense of what’s at your disposal. There’s two weeks allocated to the wheeling, dealing and whirlwind nature of the transfer window before we welcome the Bit O’ Red to Buckley Park. If they’ve got a good memory, they’ll be out to avenge their 2-1 loss on the last day of the season in 2005.
Come to think of it, we’d beaten them twice that season but lost 2-0 at The Showgrounds midway through proceedings. Mervue United are up followed by a brace of local games against K&DL opposition in Castlewarren Celtic and Freebooters while it’s Longford at home before the season kicks off on 6 February.
That gives us the bones of five weeks to get ready, with a few decent games to look forward to.
With the diary checked off and my club pen pocketed (again, another short print run to go along with the diaries), I ask Damien McGuirk (who’ll be my assistant manager for the season ahead) if it’s possible to meet any of the players or get a word with the captain.
“About that”, he says, while pulling out his seven-year-old iPad Air.
“I hope you’ve got a good contacts book”, he says with a wry smile before the battery in the iPad dries up. “The U19s are the same, boss, we’ve got a clean slate there too.”
Without a player to be found between both sides, it’s time to start burning up the phones.