Stephen O’Donnell is looking forward to finally getting a proper run at the St Patrick’s Athletic job next season after a year disrupted by the Covid-19 shutdown.
A final-day defeat to Bohemians didn’t affect his side’s chances of European football, as Sligo Rovers’ win over Dundalk earned the Bit o’ Red fourth place, but ambitions are high in Inchicore.
It’s 15 months since the former Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers midfielder was appointed to succeed Harry Kenny but he’s rarely had more than a few weeks without some interruption or other.
After taking charge of the final games of the 2019 season, he had just four games in 2020 before the league closed for four months and there has been a further Covid-enforced lay-off since resuming.
So it would be nice to have the freedom to plan his first full, 36-game season in 2021 but uncertainty over when the league will start and the financial outlook for the league complicates that picture.
Nevertheless, the Galway native feels he has the core of a competitive team that can challenge for honours and take the club back to the heights reached under Liam Buckley.
“I wouldn’t mind going for another 18 games – in a proper season, you’d be halfway through,” O’Donnell tells the Dublin Gazette.
“I like the way we were playing and I like the nucleus of the team and I would mind heading into another 18 games.
“It’s been a crazy year but I’m really excited by next year in the sense of going and working with this group of players. I think the nucleus is a very good team and a very good age profile as well.”
O’Donnell, who played in the group stages of the Europa League with both Rovers and Dundalk, gambled in the transfer market with players from the UK.
Some, like English winger Jordan Gibson, were an unqualified success, while the likes of Scottish striker Martin Rennie and English defender Dan Ward terminated their contracts early.
O’Donnell insists it’s merely part and parcel of management at this level and he’s enthused by what he sees from a young and mostly local Saints squad.
“Everyone we took in was a good person but, for one reason or another, it doesn’t go the way you’d hoped it would go from the player’s or the manager’s point of view.
“But you name a club or a manager where all their signings worked out. You’ve seen players go to a club and it doesn’t work out.
“They might go to another club and, all of a sudden, it goes very well. That’s just the way it is in football, it’s the business we’re in.
“But You can see patterns and relationships building on the pitch. We’ve had a fairly consistent starting XI in the last seven or eight games.
“Since the Waterford game the level of performance has been good.
“We probably could have come away from those eight games with more points with regard to our performance.”