Cabinteely FC are breaking the mold, and it is working

Conor Clancy

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“You can now join Cabinteely Football Club as a 4 year old and stay with the club right up to League of Ireland level.”

Cabinteely have a lot to celebrate just two years into their existence in the League of Ireland. Photo credit – Cabinteely FC

On March 6th, 2015, led by a bagpipe player through a fireworks display, Cabinteely Football Club took to the field at Stradbrook Rugby Club to play their first ever League of Ireland First Division fixture, against promotion favourites Wexford Youths.

The South Dublin side became just the latest in a long list of clubs to join Ireland’s national league structure since the turn of the century. In the last 16 years plenty have tried before most inevitably fall out of existence; take a breath, you will need it. Dublin City, Kildare County, Sporting Fingal, Mervue United, Salthill Devon and Shamrock Rovers B have not just joined the league since 2000, but ceased to exist as well. On top of these, Kilkenny City, Monaghan United, Galway United, Cork City, Limerick FC, and Cobh Ramblers have all, though some have since recovered and returned, stopped operating.

This considered, most supporters of the domestic game in Ireland were skeptical about Cabinteely’s introduction. More than just mere apprehension, many were resistant to see the South Dublin side occupy the vacant space left by Shamrock Rovers’ B team. The negativity surrounding their entry to the league stemmed from three areas – the fact they are from Dublin, their stadium, and their presumed lack of competitiveness.

In truth, Cabinteely have already proven a lot of their critics wrong. Two seasons on and they have shown signs of making progress. Though the steps have been small, they are definitely evident. It was far from a surprise that they finished rooted to the foot of the First Division table as their debut campaign drew to a close. However, they climbed one place to seventh by the end of their second.

“The aim the first season was to get established and eighth position was the expectation,” said club Vice-President Brian McGovern. “That is exactly what happened. In the second season our aim was to finish seventh; again, that’s exactly what happened.”

Satisfied, they may be, but the club are not resting on their current position. So far, they are meeting their expectations and looking to speed up their improvements in 2017.

“For 2017, the aim is to finish in the top five.” McGovern added. “We are confident that we can achieve it.”

Previously, clubs with a similar structure to Cabinteely have struggled to properly manage their finances. When times got tough, the aforementioned Mervue and Salthill found themselves redirecting schoolboy funds for the benefit of their senior team, which was not well-received by those within the club. Cabinteely, though, have a plan in place to prevent this happening.

“This venture is to be self-funding through its own sponsorship and various revenue streams.” Reads a statement on the club’s official website, cabinteelyfc.ie. “This ensures that the finances of the schoolboy and schoolgirl club are not compromised. The new company has established a board of directors who will be responsible for driving the success of the new team.”

The club’s ability to bring through players from their schoolboys sides is vital to their financial success, and prevents a need arising to spend money on attracting talent from elsewhere. As the club’s website will tell you, there are 1,000 players in their 60 teams across all levels, making for a talent pool that would be envied by any League of Ireland outfit. Within their schoolboy ranks, there has become an obvious incentive and opportunity for progression. They have foundations in place that cannot be matched by any other league club.

“Having almost 60 underage teams is the reason why we are in the League of Ireland,” McGovern claimed, “we have now fulfilled our vision: ‘Football for all, from small to tall.’ Our player pathway is finally complete.

“You can now join Cabinteely Football Club as a 4 year old and stay with the club right up to League of Ireland level. We offer football for schoolboys, schoolgirls, senior men, senior women and people with special needs.”

Unlike many Irish clubs, Cabinteely are not only willing to, but actively want to communicate with their supporters and people in their area. They are always happy to communicate and offer information, to the relief of any match reporter who has been sent to Stradbrook. This desire to engage with people is no more evident than on their social media platforms, particularly Twitter.

During the 2016 campaign, their work with The Link Marketing gained a lot of attention due to some cleverly devised initiatives.

To celebrate the launch of the Football Manager simulator game, Cabinteely shared a tweet saying that the first person to win the Premier Division with the club in the game would win a free season ticket. Within weeks, this offer came to the attention of Sports Interactive, the designers of the game, who took things a step further.

A new incentive was proposed, and on top of a free season ticket, the first person to complete the challenge would be added to its engine as one of their regenerated players, who come into the game as current players retire in the game and new youth graduates come through.

Not one to miss an opportunity, the club also took advantage of Dundalk’s recent European success, and offered half-price entry to anybody who presented a ticket for one of the LIlywhites’ home Champions League qualifiers.

“In the club,” McGovern explained, “we have what we call our five support pillars: Governance, Finance, Commercial, Operations and Communications.

“The communications part gets a lot of the limelight and it is important to convey the club’s message in an engaging way. We work closely with our digital marketing partners, The Link Marketing, who won the FAI award for best social media last year.

“We are currently finalising the club’s five-year ‘Vision and Strategy’ document, with the help of the FAI. The communication of this to all our members and the public is one of the key objectives for our communications team next year.”

Not everything has been smooth sailing so far, though. Facilities at Stradbrook are not ideal and attendance hasn’t been something the club can afford to brag about. Ever positive, however, the club are certain that they can build on their current fanbase with time and are hoping that future developments can attract more people to watch their games.

“We approached our entry to League of Ireland football like building a house,” McGovern said, “you have to build the foundations before you put on the roof. Our position in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is one of our strategic strengths. It is the only county in the country without a stadium facility and that is something we are in talks about currently. We envisage a top class facility, which can be used by all sports clubs and schools in the community.”

With the prospect of their own stadium to house them looming, and the continued development of players through their ranks, the future looks bright for the club. From the underdog victory in their opening league game to now, Cabinteely have fought against the odds and, by doing things their own way, they have progressed as a club.

Their opposition on March 6th, 2015 were, too, a recently inducted club to the league. Since then, Wexford have gone on to enjoy a season in the Premier Division. Rather than Sporting Fingal, Kilkenny City et al, the Youths have shown that it is possible to succeed in the early years; something which Cabinteely will no doubt be looking to replicate.

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Conor Clancy