Paul Lumsden has spoken out about his departure from the Ardee Celtic coaching ticket – at the end of a campaign which saw the Deesiders exceed all expectations and just narrowly miss out on promotion to the North East Football League Premier Division. The departed coach says he felt most disappointed about not getting an opportunity to say goodbye to the players.
Earlier in the month, Lumsden was told the club were not looking to continue their relationship going into the 2017/18 North East Football League campaign. The relieving of duties came almost a year to the day after his unveiling as Ardee Celtic’s new first team coach – part of a management team that included Conor Lynch and Niall Taaffe.
To many, including himself, Lumsden’s departure from the club came as a surprise – after all, he helped them enjoy a very fruitful season which culminated in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Boyne Harps in the Premier Division promotion/relegation play-off. After a couple of years where high expectations were tempered by at best inconsistency and at worst gross underachievement, 2016/17 was a success.
Celtic suffered just two league defeats all season, going unbeaten at home as they took 29 points from 33 available. For much of the year, they were the division’s meanest defence and never looked like falling away from a thrilling title battle – one untimely won by OMP United.
“I didn’t see this coming,” Lumsden told ThisIsArdee.ie when we sat down with him in Ardee this week. “I was driving home from Dublin with my wife and I took a phone call in the car. It was the club secretary. I knew from the opening sentence. He said ‘Look, it seems like I never have good news when I ring you.”
That phone call came after a meeting held two weeks ago when the club’s committee decided against renewing their relationship with the UEFA A License holder beyond this solitary season. Lumsden said he found the nature of his termination with the club “a little bit shabby in that I wasn’t hired by phone call. I would have felt that I deserve to be spoken to face to face.
“Unfortunately it didn’t afford me the opportunity to say goodbye to the players,” he continued. “As a coach, part of your remit is working with the players, getting close to them, getting into their heads. I felt I had developed an excellent relationship with a lot of them. I missed that opportunity to say thanks for what they’d done and to wish them the best of luck.”
The former Shelbourne and Glebe youth coach was brought in last summer to replace Trevor Molloy after a season in which an experienced and well-travelled squad failed to reach the heights expected of them. A squad that included Molloy, William Woods and Jonathan Deegan amongst others was broken up as the season wore on and Ardee Celtic were left to save themselves from a relegation scare.
This year, the emphasis changed and the squad bore a more local look to it. Second team players like Paul Carrie, Lorcan Myles and Robert McNeice were back in contention and players like Robert Taaffe returned to the fold after years away. Players like Gareth Kane were already key and fellow teenagers Tristan Knowles and Shawni Dowdall helped to pad out the squad to good effect.
Lumsden learnt of his fate a full four weeks after the heartbreak of playoff defeat. It was a lull of communication with the club that he admits he found “strange.”
“It was said to me that the opinion of the committee that met the day before I was contacted was that the team was no better off than last season. That rankled with me. It’s clearly incorrect if you want analyse it. I was disappointed that was said, or perceived to the case.
“We took 29 points out of 33 at home,” he argues. “You’d have to question what the expectations are if that’s not a good season. The committee make a decision for the club on a whole. If the committee is driven by a desire to place an emphasis on youth, I can see merit in that.”
When ThisIsArdee.ie spoke to Lumsden on his appointment at Ardee last summer, he spoke fervently about his desire to make players better – keen to distinguish himself as a coach, not a manager. His aim, he says, is to make players better. Succeed in that and the team benefits.
“That was a blueprint I established. I felt I delivered on that. In fact, I’m sure I delivered on that. Subsequently, I received a number of personal phone calls from the players and to a man they were very appreciative of the work that I had put into them individually and that they were better players for that. That was on a personal level and I was very thankful that had been said to me by the players I have an awful lot of respect for.
The coach – who recently became a grandfather for the first time – speaks highly of his working relationship with co-managers Niall Taaffe and Conor Lynch. He says he found them “refreshingly honest”.
“All three of us share a similar personality in that we say what’s on our minds,” Lumsden says. “And early on we defined our roles. They were managers, I was coach. There was no conflict in that. That worked very, very well.
“I think the players were happy with the dynamic that we put in place. My single focus is training and performance. Conor and Niall knew some of these lads from childhood so they had an insight on their characters that I was trying to get up to speed on. It worked very well.”
Whilst the now ex-first team coach was surprised that he doesn’t get a second season on the Ardee Celtic coaching ticket, he does admit there were dissonant voices as the season progressed despite a lofty league position, a 10-match unbeaten streak and a feelgood factor pervading around the club.
“As the season progressed, we were winning, drawing and consolidating our position in the league. I was happy with that. There were rumblings – and it was not Niall and it was not Conor – about how we could play a better style of football,” he recalls.
“My opinion on that was ‘who said anything about style?’. There was an argument that my two predecessors brought in people who were accomplished players and then fought relegation for two years. We had local talent playing well, producing results.
“People started to say ‘can we have results and can we have style too please?’. My opinion as a coach is you rarely have both – and certainly not if you have a limited talent pool,” he continued. “You do the best you can and if the best you can results in winning, you’ve made the right choice. I’d win all day everyday rather than play stylish football and get a spanking.”
The fact that noises were being made – whether in corners of the dressing room, board room or on the touchline – suggests all was not well. But players and coaches surely felt justified in their approach given the position Ardee Celtic found themselves – on the cusp of a Premier Division promotion.
That would have brought it’s own challenges. Over the course of the interview, Lumsden makes clear that whilst he felt Celtic could compete in the top tier of the NEFL, it would have presented much greater obstacles on a weekly basis than those encountered in 2016/17.
Division 1 has it’s attractions. For a newcomer to the town, the Ardee Derby caught his imagination. It’s a bigger deal than he expected. There’ll be another season of those to look forward to in the upcoming campaign. As a coach, Lumsden will hope his successor on the training field will have more players to work with on twice weekly basis.
“Sometimes I was only working with six players in a session,” he says. “That disappointed me. You can only do so much. I can only do so much. Maybe another coach can do more. Numbers will always determine a training session – from Under 8s to Premier League.
“I’m big and old enough to see things happening around me. I would never change my standards. I needed to change my expectations. That is not a criticism of Ardee Celtic, it is a criticism of soccer in Louth as opposed to soccer in Dublin.
“A soccer club up here is a soccer club and a Gaelic club. Players who would be playing soccer also have Gaelic responsibilities. They pull away, they don’t show up. They do show up, they’re injured because they played a Gaelic match. That’s something I have never experienced before. It’s something I had to learn very quickly.
“I found that immensely frustrating,” he admits. “I don’t blame the players. This is a legacy issue. This is the history of soccer. Their Dads did it and it was acceptable and accepted. And it will continue to be after I stop coaching football. There’s no harm in it.
“They enjoy their Gaelic and their soccer – but in my experience – and I would make this point – you can’t win things on your terms. You win things by committing to winning things. You deliver on that commitment. You can’t water down the requirements.”
The ex-Drogheda United manager was wary his thoughts were sounding like “a bitch-fest, it’s not” but admitted injuries were a hindrance to how he wanted to do things, despite the fine season. He bemoaned injuries to Gareth Kane (“He’s a lovely player”), Darren McMullan (“A real soccer player”) and Robert Taaffe (“our pivotal centre forward”).
“I had immense respect for him,” he says of Taaffe. “He was playing when he shouldn’t have because he wanted to play and delivered. For a large part of the season he was the go-to-centre forward. He was playing injured.” The forward position was a problem one but goals came from other areas. Lorcan Myles, Robbie Reynolds, Gareth Kane and Fintan Clarke helped make up the shortfall.
Can Ardee Celtic go one better next season and get promotion? Lumsden believes the key to success is focusing on the youth set-up. There’s an abundance of talent there and he spoke highly to us about Frank Dowdall’s teenage third team.
“Is it beyond them? Time will tell next season. I genuinely wish them the best – particularly the players. And Niall and Conor, best of luck to them. I would rejoice in any success they have,” Lumsden says.
“This was a stepping back in for me. I enjoyed it, make no mistake. This is why I committed so much time to getting my badges and money as a young family at the time, money we didn’t have. To enjoy this and I did enjoy it.
“I don’t think I’m finished. In fact I know I’m not finished. Will I be taking time out from soccer? Not by choice.”