The big interview: Cork City chairman discusses Caulfield's departure, prudent budgeting and fan expectation

The big interview: Cork City chairman discusses Caulfield's departure, prudent budgeting and fan expectation
Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

FIVE days a week, Declan Carey works for Amazon in the Airport Business Park. That’s his part-time job, but it pays better than the one that takes up the rest of his time.

The northsider holds the role of Cork City chairman and it’s one which is quite demanding, especially in the current season, which has proven difficult for the Rebel Army. Before even serving half a year, Carey has been involved in big decisions, including the parting of the ways with manager John Caulfield, while the club are in straitened financial times.

“It’s not what I prepared for,” Carey says, “because I didn’t realise that this season would need so many critical decisions in the first five months.

“Obviously, we had to sit down with John Caulfield and come to an arrangement and things haven’t been going so well on the pitch – crowds are down, which is clear to see, and we’re trying to do as much as we can in other areas off the field to compensate for that.

“Basically, I’ve two full-time jobs, really. I would say that most hours of every evening, into the early hours of the morning, are spent dealing with some kind of issues over email or the phone.

“It’s been a learning curve in terms of managing my own personal time as well with my family and partner.”

Carey did at least have the consolation of a year on the board before being elected to the top job, and was able to try to prepare his partner Antoinette. “I had a conversation with her before it,” he says, “but even before I took a place on the board, I didn’t anticipate what a big workload it was.

“It was good to spend a year with the previous board to learn the tos and fros of what went on. I studied every member and the stuff they were working on and I learned from them as much as I could.

“In one sense, you’re the figurehead of the club in public but ultimately, I have the same vote as the other six members. Does the treasurer have more control over the money than the rest of us? He probably has more visibility, but control he doesn’t.

“It’s the same thing with me as the chairman – people think I call the shots, a guy came up to me in the street and asked me why I made particular decisions but I explained to him the structure and the whole shareholder arrangement.”

The Caulfield departure has been the headline incident this season, one in which City have dropped from perennial title contenders to midtable. Was it a tough discussion for Carey to have? 

“I guess it was and it wasn’t,” he says. “Obviously, he’s a club legend, all-time record goalscorer and appearance-holder and most successful manager.

Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Picture: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

“He’s one of the most well-known sportsmen in Cork and a celebrity in himself aside from just being the manager of Cork City or an employee. It was a conversation we had to have with John but things ended very amicably, he’s welcome back to Turner’s Cross, we had a good chat about things.

“We wished him the best of luck and there were no hard feelings at all, I heard a radio interview with him recently and he said the same thing.”

Now, John Cotter – who Caulfield would have championed as a successor – is the interim manager. There is a snag in that the FAI rules seemingly prevent him from taking the role permanently as he is enrolled on the Uefa Pro Licence course and the perception is that a Premier Division manager must hold the qualification.

However, Carey remains optimistic and, if City can find joy, he would like to see the ‘interim’ part dropped from the job title.

“We’re in heavy discussions with the FAI about the Pro Licence situation,” he says. “We believe there’s certain ambiguity in their rules that leave a lot of this open to interpretation.

“That would be our ideal scenario, that they would allow John to continue. In fairness to the guy, he has studied under John Caulfield for many years, he’s sitting the Pro Licence, he’d be able to go over and manage in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, but he can’t manage in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division outside of the 60-day rule, according to the FAI.

“Our hope is that he carries on and he’s the manager for the foreseeable future. Obviously, then, we’re in discussions with John about a potential Plan B and Plan C and Plan D.

“We have a number of options but we’re confident that we’re right in what we’re saying about the rules and we’d hope that the FAI would see our side of it on that.

“We’ll take it as far as we need to go, whether that’s to the licensing committee or if we have to appeal decisions, we’re willing to do that.

“As regards recruitment, John is in the job at the moment and he’s doing the most valuable job interview possible. He has the keys to the city, as they say.”

But, how valuable are those keys, given that Foras shareholders were presented with a bleak picture regarding finances at a recent general meeting?

“Things are definitely tighter than people expected them to be,” Carey says. “We had a budgeted average attendance for this season and if we’re off that by a thousand people times the average cost of a ticket, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that we’re down a certain amount of funds in terms of cash flow, up to the summer point anyway.

“We gave an update to members on how our attendance figures are performing compared to targets, we also gave an update on merchandise and sponsorship, which are booming sectors of the club at the moment.

“We just gave a realistic update to members and tried to be as open and transparent as we possibly could. There were plenty of questions but members left the meeting satisfied that we had a path forward and we could start budgeting prudently now, putting structures in place that would prevent temporary cashflow issues from coming into play.

“We’re in a period like that now, having had no home game for six weeks, that’s a no-brainer as well. We’ve wages to pay every week and every month, full-time staff and full-time players on 52-week contracts.”

Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Of course, one way for fans to stay updated – and to help the club – is to join Foras.

“Foras had its greatest number of shareholders back in 2009, when the club was applying for a first-division licence,” Carey says. “I think it was up around the thousand-mark then and now it’s dropped to around 600. We’re always trying to look to see how we can increase membership but one of this board’s priorities was to improve communications with members.

“It’s important to engage with the current membership and get them more involved, whether they want to become a volunteer or just show up to the general meetings and ask questions, it’s a case of walking before you can run in that sense.

“We’re working on a new membership system too, where you can sign up easily online and manage things there rather than all of the admin work that goes into maintaining the membership now in its current form. We want to make it as easy as possible for people, so that’ll definitely help as well.”

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