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19 May 2022

Derry City: Jim McLaughlin - the man who would be King!

Derry City: Jim McLaughlin - the man who would be King!

HISTORY MAKERS… The treble winning Derry City team.

Derry City and Dundalk will meet on the opening weekend of the 2022 League of Ireland season hoping that this year brings them plenty of goals, good memories and even more silverware.

Both teams have been blessed to be managed by the greatest LOI manager there has ever been – Jim McLaughlin, who turned Dundalk into serial winners in the 1970s before turning the Candystripes into treble winners in 1989. Here is his story…

After a brief spell at his home town club of Derry City in 1957, Jim McLaughlin went on to have a successful playing career in England with both Shrewsbury and Swansea.

His return to Ireland did not transpire until November 1974 when he was asked by Dundalk to become their player manager, an approach which would be one of the finest decisions in the club’s history.

In nine years at Oriel Park, he led Dundalk to three league titles and three FAI Cups, including a double in 1979/80.

His time at Shamrock Rovers, who he joined in 1983, proved just as successful as he led the Hoops to three league crowns and two FAI Cups, including back-to-back doubles.

Over 25 years after leaving the Brandywell Jim McLaughlin finally returned to his first ever club as they returned from the wilderness to become the first ever club from the six counties of the North of Ireland to play in the southern league, a day which was fraught with emotion, and not just for McLaughlin.

THE GREATEST… Jim McLaughlin was tremendously successful as a manager at Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City. Photo: Ray McManus (Sportsfile)

“I was away for an awfully long time but no matter where I went I enjoyed myself and I was overjoyed when Derry got back into the league. I took Shamrock Rovers there to play a Derry select at the Brandywell. It was only natural for any Derry man to want football to return and when it did it was a great experience.

"There was no place like it on earth at that time. There were women and children queuing for tickets. It was as if the whole City wanted to show what they were all about. No one could have expected it and at that time it was almost like a message to the rest of the world that Derry City was back.”

It seemed only natural that after City’s return, they would seek out the very best for their club, and who better than a Derry man himself, and a multi league title winner into the bargain.

The club approached McLaughlin to manage following the departure of Jimbo Crossan just months after their return to football, an offer which was at first declined. However, it would not be long before the draw of the Brandywell would begin to tempt McLaughlin and on the invitation of manager Noel King, McLaughlin arrived in an official capacity at the Brandywell on May 13 1986, and this time he would be staying for more than the one year.

“Derry wanted me to be their manager but I wasn’t ready for it at that time so I recommended Noel King for the job. Then when Noel became manager he asked me to become the general manager and I agreed. I was delighted to be coming back to Derry.

“It was strange coming back but I had always retained contacts in Derry and I had always kept an eye on the football team so I knew what I was coming back to. It wasn’t like I had gone to live in Australia and was coming back a stranger. It was however, strange for the rest of my family because they didn’t know too much about Derry.

"The locals would probably have remembered me but not many would have known that I had played for Derry because it was such a brief spell over thirty years earlier.”

THE BEST EVER?... The Derry City team line up ahead of the FAI Cup final.

Through time and consequence, the possibility of becoming team manager at the club soon became a reality and Derry City would not only have a local man at the helm but a man who knew how to play, how to fight and more importantly, how to win.

A disagreement with King saw McLaughlin take the reins at the club, who unbeknownst to them, were on the verge of entering their most successful era of their entire history.

“The biggest challenge for me was to keep the ball rolling and to keep the people interested. I had to deliver because the expectations were so high. It had nothing to do with what I had achieved elsewhere, rather that the expectation was that Derry City should be a club winning trophies.”

The taste of silverware that City had experienced in 1986 with victory in the Shield final had whetted the appetite for ravenous City fans, who were keen for their team to get back to the top of the pile after so long in exile.

While many clubs aim for stability following promotion to a higher and more difficult league, Derry fans cried out for progress, for success and ultimately more trophies, a cry of hope that turned to expectation following the appointment of the man with the golden touch in the League of Ireland.

The challenge in turning a team from First Division winners to Premier Division winners was a huge one for McLaughlin, but his years in Ireland had been far from wasted and over the space of the nest two years, he would build a team capable of matching the huge expectations placed on his shoulders.

“I ended up bringing in four players from Rovers – Mick Neville, Paul Doolin, Kevin Brady and John Coady and on top of that Noel Larkin and Liam Coyle were just breaking through so we had the basis of a good team. No matter who you are a new team needs time to gel but this team knew each other pretty well so it didn’t take long. There was a lot of class in the team.

“I remember travelling to Waterford to watch them play Cork and Tim Dalton had agreed to sign for us afterwards and that was the start. Pascal Vaudequin had flair and he was young enough to educate. You had Paul Curran, Stuart Gauld, and Paul Carlyle and in Paul Doolin and Felix Healy you had no better partnership in Ireland.

“Any team is only as good as the players around them so it was about getting the balance right. In Paul Hegarty you probably had the least skilful but he was the player most appreciated by his fellow players. Then up front you had any two from three – Speak, Coyle and Noel Larkin. It was a great balance to the team and they all got on really well.”

PARTY TIME… Derry City’s John Coady celebrates with the 1989 FAI Cup. Pics by Ray McManus/ Sportsfile

As City set on for the 1988/89 season, there was a genuine hope that City would challenge for the league title. The potential of the squad that had been put together was almost tangible and the general consensus was that Derry City were indeed heading in the right direction.

Heading in the right direction would prove to be an understatement as the crowds that year at the Brandywell were treated to the type of football that any club would be envious of, with a record amount of goals being scored by players all over the park in a team that did not seem to know their limits.

“I didn’t set out saying we’re going for the treble. My only thought was for the team. But the thing is and I suppose it’s one of the reasons why Derry City have been so successful in the League Cup – there’s a mindset in Derry that every game has to be won. If Derry put out a team to play a five-a-side, the expectation would be that they win. You would never be allowed to field a reserve team because every match matters whether it’s a friendly or a final.

At Shamrock Rovers we wouldn’t pay much attention to the League Cup, rather we would see it as an opportunity to play some youngsters. No other club seemed to have the hunger and determination to win matches. Others would say it wasn’t important, but never Derry City.

To them there is no such thing as unimportant matches and that’s the mindset that came to the fore in that treble season.

“We won the league and that was grand but the cup final was party time. There wasn’t a better support in Ireland at that time. The good thing also was that the team had qualified for Europe and that was a bonus for everyone and a just reward for all their hard work.”

City came heart wrenchingly close to repeating the success the following year but fell just short, finishing second in the league, runners up in the League Cup final and losing at the semi final stage of the FAI Cup.

The silver lining of that year however, was the memory of Benfica and the return of European football to the Brandywell for the first time since FK Lynn in 1965. From the moment the draw pitched City and Portuguese giants Benfica together, the whole City came alive with anticipation and excitement at the prospect of the visit of such a famous club.

Few, if any, expected City to progress, but nonetheless, McLaughlin tried everything he could to instil in his players the belief that the impossible was possible.

“Benfica was a great draw and fantastic trip. But looking back I don’t know if the mentality was right in Irish clubs at that time. No Irish club was used to winning in Europe and the attitude seemed to be as long as we don't get humiliated it will be grand. But again, that wasn’t the case with Derry City. That attitude was never there and we tried to win it.”

The prospect of City hitting the heights they had reached in ’89 was diminishing further and further by the time the club entered the next season and it would prove to be McLaughlin’s last, as his second tenure with the club would come to an end, at a time when football was dropping down the great man’s list of priorities.

McLaughlin’s managerial career finished eight years after leaving Derry, during which he had spells with Shelbourne, Drogheda and Dundalk, but having done his time, he was more than glad to pass the baton onto someone else.

“I had done my time and I had just had a hip replacement. My mother and sister had also just passed on and I just felt that I was ready to get out of football. I spent some time at a few other teams after that but never seriously, more in a caretaker capacity. It wasn’t like it was in the early years when I would have fought with shadows and wanted to win every trophy. I just didn’t have the drive anymore and when you don’t have the drive then it’s time to go.”

In February 2002 McLaughlin, now retired, was awarded with the FAI Special Merit award in Recognition of Achievements and Dedication within the domestic game, an award that has rarely been more deserved.

The people of Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City will forever be indebted to McLaughlin for guiding them to eras of success that none have matched ever since, and none that any manager will likely achieve either.

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