Mick Cooke Interview

November 7, 2018

Just nine short years ago, Mick Cooke’s fledgling League of Ireland managerial career endured a baptism of fire.

Left to survey the remnants of what had been a truly disastrous season for the club, the Dubliner had his work cut out to reinvigorate a Monaghan United team left languishing second-last in the First Division.

And, slowly but surely, that’s what he did.

Coming from the humblest of beginnings, Cooke’s Magic Mons gradually flourished into viable promotion contenders before, ever the man for a challenge, the former Shamrock Rovers assistant-manager embarked on the unenviable task of rebuilding a Drogheda United side ravaged by financial turmoil and pre-season uncertainty.

With only a week to go before the start of the 2011 season and with no credible squad to speak of, the former Drogs player was left facing another seemingly insurmountable challenge to retain the club’s coveted Premier Division status.

“When I first came in I sat down with the board and was given the job of avoiding relegation, which we did. Certainly the goal for last season was to consolidate, and I said it the day I came to the club that Drogheda United is a sleeping giant,” remarks Cooke.

Regardless of Galway United’s plight that year, which saw the westerners claim just six points from 36 games, Cooke had once again proven his ability to work the oracle in the face of adversity.

Predictably, the assorted ranks of the press immediately set about lampooning the south Louth side’s prospects of attaining anything above mediocrity the following season.

But, little were they to know that this unheralded yet wiley manager was in the midst of assembling a squad of players that would quite simply take the league by storm.

“I certainly never thought we’d be relegation material. As we were coming into the season no-one really expected anything from us, but then at the end of the first phase of games we were in the top four, after the second phase we were lying in second place where we remained for a long time,” says Cooke.

“From then on everyone was probably waiting for us to do what Bray did the previous year and collapse, but the more everyone kept saying we would the more determined the players became not to.”

And they didn’t. Indeed, with what was widely credited to be one of the tightest budgets in the Division, Cooke would go on to lead his side to some momentous achievements.

By season’s end the Boynesiders had not only annexed a League Cup trophy which had eluded the club for 28 years, but a string of inspirational performances late on in the year saw Cooke’s team ascend to second place in the final standings, thereby ensuring that a first European odyssey in four years would await the Drogs in 2013.

When asked to reflect on which achievement he took most pride in, Cooke is unequivocal in his response.

“The league is what’s it’s all about really. It’s played over 30 games and therefore to finish second means you’re the second-best team in the country. To win the same amount of games as Sligo was a great achievement.”

After a season that saw United increase their win percentage by an astounding 38% compared with 2011, many people remarked that the sense of cohesion among Cooke’s former Monaghan contingent contributed to the team’s success, a theory that the man himself subscribes to.

“Over the course of two seasons with Monaghan these lads had the guts of 40 victories under their belts, which is a good habit. My only concern was whether or not they’d be able to produce it in the Premier Division, and they did that.”

His remarkable achievements with the claret and blue mean that the Drogs boss‘ name is now deservedly on everyone‘s lips. Voted MNS Manager of the Year on the programme’s end of season review, the avalanche of accolades being hoisted upon the RTÉ Manager of the Year candidate has had no effect on his innate sense of humility.

“It’s always nice to gain adulation, but what people forget is that every club has its own goals, and down through the years my biggest gratification came from just being involved,” says Cooke.

“It’s lovely to get the plaudits and get manager of the year and all that but it’s a big team effort including the likes of Robbie Horgan, Danny Miller, Gerry Kelly, Mark Clohessy and so many others, and I’m just lucky to be driving the bus.”

An unwillingness to rest on his laurels is the hallmark of any great manager, and Cooke is no exception as he sets his sights firmly on bigger and better things for the year ahead.

“At the minute we’ve 19 players signed including the four new signings [Gary O‘Neill, Graham Rusk, Paul O‘Connor, David Cassidy]. As I said all along the ball was firmly in the players’ court; the better they can do, the less players I have to bring in.

“But I have to feel that no matter how well you do you have to bring in fresh faces to keep everyone on their toes. The four players I’ve brought in are quality players who are in their prime and it’s adding real talent to our squad.”

With all eyes fixed on the resumption of the league next March, Drogheda’s recent success has by no means diminished their desire to stay ahead of the curve.

“We go back training on the 5th January which is quite early but the lads are mad to get going, they’re all doing personal programmes themselves. Having signed so many players so early I felt it needed to be done because the likes of Shamrock Rovers and Pat’s were out there very quickly signing players, so I felt we needed to get ahead of everybody,” says Cooke.

And with an experienced manager and a hungry squad in the ascendancy, it’s clear that that’s where they intend to stay.