24th August 2016
Over the summer Graham Campbell was elected as the new Drogheda Boys Chairman. Our previous Chairman Richard Bruton had stepped down after leading the club superbly well over the past number of years. We had the chance to catch up with Graham and have a chat about his ambitions for the club, and how he ended up in the hotseat.
How has your first few months of chairmanship gone so far? Easy sailing or thrown in at the deep end?
Firstly it feels like a lot longer than it has been. I'm actually really enjoying it. I don't feel old enough to call myself Chairman, but that's just me in denial! Parents and Coaches have been brilliant to work with since taking over from Richard. I think the parents forum helped a lot to help people understand the challenges that we face every day at the club.
Obviously the new payment model that we have just introduced has been a real challenge, especially trying to land on a figure that everyone feels comfortable with, also spending the week in Portugal with the U11s set me back loads, when we got to Faro for our flight home, I had 230 unanswered emails! But it was worth every minute.
Take us back, when and how did you first get involved with Drogheda Boys?
When I was a small kid growing up in Ballsgrove, the only thing to do was play football, there were no other options. So I played every minute of every day. When I was about 7 or 8 I joined my first team Grove Celtic, managed by the late great Slim Culligan. Drogheda Boys' legends Petes Brennan, Darius Kierans and Tommy McCann were on the same team. We were beaten in the cup final in Park-View, I remember during the game, my big brother shouting at me from the hill to tie my laces, I immediately bent down to do so, as the opposition striker ran past me with the ball and stuck it past the keeper!
The next year I couldn't play because my boots were stolen off the window-sill in the back garden, times were different then, we had a large young family and there was no money to buy another pair. I was far too proud to ask anyone else for help so I went back to playing on the street. The next year, new boots on feet, I played 2 years out of my age (I was about half a foot taller than I am now!) with Congress Celtic, with managers Pat Gorman and Mossy Smith and proceeded to do the same the year after at Moneymore. One season I played for both, Congress on Saturday in the drogheda league and Moneymore on Sundays in the Brenfer (ndsl), registration procedures were obviously more relaxed back then.
So anyway when I was U12 my brother John who was working in Coca Cola (where every manager of Drogheda Boys seemed to work at the time) told me Drogheda Boys wanted me to play with them. This was a huge deal for any kid back then and I was a ball of nervousness and excitement. My first training session was up in Rathmullen in what seemed like total darkness. I had two managers, Brendan Gregory, who would leave to form Grove Rangers and John Maguire. (yes the same one) I remember John being this huge man who always spoke in soft but firm tones and constantly offered assurance on my ability. The team were already halfway into their season when I joined and had just lost Ian Gardner to injury. (Ian was a fantastic player and was a key member of the back 3.) So on my second day with the team, I remember being in the Drogheda Boys dressing room and putting on the red & black jersey. John gave a speech to the team about how they would "never replace Gads' but had found the perfect cover in Graham" No pressure there so! I also hadn't played centre back since I was 7. I had a terrible game. I remember the other two defenders, Cormac Nelson and Ken Rooney arguing about who would talk to me about the defensive line during the game. It didn't matter, as I hadn't a clue what was going on.
The week later I played in a more familiar position on the wing, and I remember my dad came to watch me for the first time. The week after was my first away game, but I overslept and missed the bus. The following week we were away again on the Lawns in Cherry Orchard. I didn't get on that day and decided to leave. Total prima dona, I don't think they missed me! I finished out the season back in Moneymore playing for Gussy Reay.
The next season I played for Duleek, Cycling out and back for training and games. At U14, a man called Ray Rooney called to my front door and said he'd like me to play for Drogheda Boys, I accepted and returned to the club with my new managers Ray, and Maurice McEvoy or "Mo" as I called him. I played in a middle 3 with Eamon Griffin and Paul Donovan, Ken Brown was up front, Paul Fitzpatrick and Gaz Martin made up the midfield 5, The bravest player i ever saw Jonny Breen was the keeper, Ken Rooney, Micky Martin, Cormac Nelson, Mark Millar, Shane Walsh, Dean Smith, Shane Touhy, JJ Briody, big Butch from Dundalk (cant remember his real name, but he was a monster) it was a great team. Mo and Ray were fantastic to me, which couldn't have been easy, as I was incredibly lazy. I constantly missed training yet started every week, which infuriated my team mates, and I can even remember my Ma waking me up the odd Sunday morning to tell me the team bus was parked outside and I had slept it again. If I was my manager, I would have lasted about 2 days!
Mo, along with Tony O'Callaghan from St Oliver's school were probably the two most positive influences on me in my teens. The St Oliver's team was fantastic. I played up front alongside Ian Harte and there was a few other lads in and around the Irish squad such as Drogheda boys' Mark Grogan, and Podger Reynolds who visited us with his Beijing academy last year, and between that team and my team at Drogheda Boys I grew a lot as a player over the next 2-3 years. After a few great years with Drogheda Boys and with my team-mates rightly now revolting about my lack of training attendance! I decided it was time to move on. About 18 months later obviously Drogheda won the National cup! That period at Drogheda Boys was by far my favorite as a player.
Thinking back was there any specific moment that made you want to get involved in coaching? Or was it a gradual process?
I had completely dropped away from football by the time I hit 20. Around 23 or 24 I started to organize 5-a side adult teams to go play in various tournaments, after a few tournaments I started to get the bug again, and wanted to return to football but I knew it couldn't be as a player.
So you decided to become a coach , what was your pathway back to Drogheda Boys?
After a brief stint working with senior teams in Navan, Ged Burns from Holy Family football club persuaded me to get involved with kids teams and I was given an U12 team, a fantastic bunch of lads and some great players such as Pauly O'Sullivan and Colm Hoey, both would later play for Drogheda Boys. We lost every game except a 3-3 with Albion Rovers that season. Ged gave me fantastic advice about working with kids and thought me how to speak to them on their own level, which is still probably my strongest skill as a coach.
After a couple of years at Holy Family I also got involved with the Drogheda League's Emerging Talent Program which had just been launched by the FAI across the country, there I met the two men who along with Ged Burns I owe everything to in turning me into the coach I am today. Liam Callan of Albion Rovers who was chairman of the Drogheda league at the time and Tom Mohan who was the FAI RDO for Louth before Mick Neville and now the Ireland U19 Manager. I also worked with another former Drogheda Boys team-mate Don Thornton. Liam Callan offered me a chance to manage a fantastic U15 team at Albion Rovers which included Eoghan Osbourne who would go on to play for Dundalk, Drogheda and Derry City in the LOI and Ireland at U16-U19. I also did two Kennedy Cups with the Drogheda League, the first was as Liam's assistant and the second as Manager.
Between that Albion team and the DCSL ETP, I worked with probably the 3 most talented players I have ever worked with. Eoghan Osbourne, Paddy Mboyo (who I later signed for Drogheda Boys) and Shauna Newman, who I brought to the Kennedy cup as the first female player to ever represent Drogheda. Shauna is still playing at International level. I'm not sure if Paddy is still playing but I hope he is, he was wonderful. After my second Kennedy Cup I took on a different team at Albion at U16 level, while still working with younger teams at Holy Family.
At Albion we lost our first 10 games but only conceded 2 goals in our last 10 and lost on pens in the cup semi final. I guess you could say that's were I learned to coach defending! Around the same period I also did a season as manager of the Albion Rovers Ladies team, which was challenging but a great experience. During that year I met Ray Mills while helping former Holy Family player Roy Kierans get a deserved shot at the FAI regional squad, Ray was working at Drogheda Boys with the same age I had worked with at the Kennedy Cup. Holy Family was winding up as a club and although it was hard to leave Albion, I agreed to join Drogheda Boys as U15 coach.
Had much changed at the club in your time away?
The standard of football wasn't as high. The club seemed to expand its team base beyond it's training capacities and a lot of teams were only training once per week, especially the youngest teams. We had dropped down the divisions while the Drogheda League had grown significantly in both size and standard. Basically the best players in Drogheda, were no longer at Drogheda Boys. Drogheda Town and Grove Rangers were now our neighbors, neither existed when I was a player. Facilities hadn't changed so much. I can still sit in the same spot of the same dressing room where I first heard a John Maguire speech. And no-one liked Drogheda Boys, so nothing new there!
It wasn't long before you took on a committee role. What was the driving force behind that?
Honestly? Completely by accident. After my season was over with Ray, I had decided to move on, I was hoping to get involved with the FAI's regional center in Dundalk, with the ultimate ambition of working with youth teams at international level (I have a very high opinion of myself!) During the summer I had a call from Ray telling me that there was a new committee at the club, with Martin McKenna as chairman. Ray had passed on my thoughts of what the club had become and he informed me that the club would like to set up a technical panel of coaches and asked would I like to write a development plan. This appealed to me so I agreed to come back for a further year.
The technical panel started up with high hopes, but a couple of people on it left early and it became fragmented and didn't serve its purpose. At the end of that season the managers got together and had their own meeting and suggested that the newly elected committee appoint a Director of Football to replace the Technical panel. With amazement I was awarded the role. Drogheda Boys 1st Director of Football, what an honor!
The first year was so challenging, I was trying to change peoples mindsets on the game, and honestly with most I failed. I'm far too direct with people when it comes to my thoughts on football. I was trying to challenge the coaches, but I ended up pushing them further away. At least I had the awareness to realize it.
So around this time I got the opportunity to work closely with Rory Kerr who was head of youth football at Drogheda United, Rory and I had grown up in the same part of Ballsgrove. He's a fair bit older but he was good mates with my older brother when they were teenagers, so we knew each other well but hadn't spoken since we were kids. Anyways, Rory is very good at dealing with people on a personal level and was much more suited to the role I was in. He also shared most of my views on where the game was and where it was going. So we started discussing the possibility of him taking over from me at Drogheda Boys and me taking on a co-ordinator role at the youngest age group, as this was now an age I was interested in working at, having already started to work with a fantastic bunch of U8s!
At the next AGM where Rory was installed as Director of Coaching, I offered to become the clubs new P.R.O as the role was vacant. The Secretary role on the night was also not filled and after much persuasion, and considering the fact I had obtained good committee experience during my time at the Drogheda League, I took on that role also. A few years later here I am!
Now that you are Chairman what direction do you want to take the club?
The next five years will see lots of changes in schoolboy football. The calendar change, regional and National leagues at younger ages, and academy status for certain clubs. There's no reason why Drogheda Boys can't be at the forefront of those changes. The current structure of our club is geared towards the high end of the game, so for those teams I want to be able to provide more training time, on better facilities with highly qualified coaches.
Girls football at Drogheda Boys is now overdue, I'm eager to see the formation of "Drogheda Girls" I'm tired of being told the reasons why we cant do it. We can and we will.
Finally, I'm tired of having to turn players away because there is no space for them in our current set-up. So a community section where we will have teams playing at every age in local leagues, and where the focus will be more on just providing football to as many kids in the area as we can. I want to do all that while also improving the club environment for our members. A real club where we are all in this together, Players, Coaches and Parents.
What steps do you think are needed to help you achieve your goals?
Surrounding myself with good people at the club is vital, as is patience, there's no point steaming head first into something only to come out exhausted and disappointed because a pitfall wasn't noticed.
I think there's a lot to be learned from other clubs in the area. Walshestown's club house, the pitches in Donacarney, the club environment at Albion. Obviously supporting coaches with whatever they need to keep developing top players. It's also vital that we build on the success of the midnight league and continue to be a positive force in the local community, because without local support we can achieve nothing. But I think the biggest step is ensuring that the club's members are on board with were we want to go because we need everyone to help us get there.