RELENTLESS PRESSURE, PERPETUAL stress and continual demands. Football management is an unforgiving business.
But the game has a way of luring you.
You want to be involved in whatever way you can.
And that is something that Damian Locke knows all about after being named the new manager of Wexford Youths at the tender age of 29.
Despite his relative youth, Locke doesn’t feel he is short of experience as he steps into the hotseat at the newly-relegated League of Ireland club.
“I knew I wasn’t going to make it as a player, so I thought it would be best to make an early start,” Locke tells The42.
“Some people may be blinded by my age, but I’ve been coaching for the past 10 years, and perhaps people don’t realise that.”
It was Locke’s foresight that enabled him to get an edge on his rivals.
He knew he wasn’t going to make it as a top-level player after spells with local sides Tralee Celtic and Tralee Dynamos, but Locke is now aiming to reach those heights from the dugout.
While studying for a degree in Sports Management and Coaching in IT Carlow, he was assistant manager to the team that won the CFAI Cup.
At the same time, Locke managed Crettyard United to three Carlow Premier Division titles.
Time was also spent with the FAI where the Kerryman assisted the international underage teams with performance analysis, as well as the senior side in their successful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.
But the Tralee native is no stranger to the Ferrycarrig Park side, having been with the club for the past four years where he started as an analyst before moving to first-team coach and assisted the recently departed Shane Keegan last season.
“I had two interviews with [club chairman] Mick Wallace.
“I knew I had a good chance of getting the position when I got the second interview and we started to talk about the resources more in-depth.
“But I know how he works with the club. He likes to keep himself in the background. You would have phone calls throughout the year, but he has no input in the team’s affairs.”
And last year, he turned down the opportunity to work with Manchester City. But it was a case of the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Premier League giants offered Locke a position in the City Academy in China, but with just a 10-month contract on the table, he felt it would be wise to reject the offer to aid his long-term aims, which included finishing his college degree.
“I travelled to the Etihad for a group assessment interview that September and if the contract was longer or if the position was a management role rather than coaching, I probably would have had a bigger decision to make.
“Wexford as well were about to be promoted from the First Division for the first time, so I didn’t want to miss that either.
“I suppose looking back, I played the loyalty card too with Mick, which is big thing for him.”
Although Locke, who will be assisted by former women’s team manager Will Doyle, is ambitious with his future plans, he remains focused and realistic about the task ahead.
“I can’t sit here and say that I will be the next Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, but somebody like Eddie Howe is somebody I admire,” Locke continues.
“I think his attention to detail, the strong work ethic he installs into in his team and the his man-management are all skills that I feel I could bring.”
“It is all well and good to talk about philosophies and beliefs, but I feel the most important aspects are game management and team organisation.
“You are obviously going to play different if you are 1-0 up than you are if you are losing, when you are going to take more chances. I’m not saying we are going to play like Barcelona, but we’ll play when we can.”
Locke though, is not the youngest manager to take charge of a League of Ireland club with the title held by the current Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny, who was appointed manager of Longford Town in 1998 when he was just 27.
Coincidentally, former manager Keegan was also 29 when he was appointed manager of Youths five years ago, with the manager’s departure at the end of the season shrouded in controversy.
Ahead of the second-leg promotion/relegation play-off against Drogheda United, a tie that Wexford ultimately lost despite going into the away leg 2-0 up, news leaked that Keegan was to leave the club for Premier Division side Galway United, regardless of the result.
Wallace labelled the pursuit of Keegan as “grossly unprofessional” and a “blatant breach of League of Ireland rules”, with the manager still having one year remaining on his contract with the south east club.
The TD has lodged a formal complaint ”seeking adequate compensation” with the FAI.
“I suppose he [Keegan] could have managed it better, but it was great opportunity for him to join Galway.
“Nobody knows how they would personally deal with the situation, but if it was to happen again I’m sure he would deal with it differently.”
Despite only being in the managerial hot seat for a matter of days, Locke already has plans in motion as the club aim to regain their Premier Division status at the first attempt.
“This time of the year is probably the busiest and most difficult for clubs and managers as you’re really putting in the foundations for the year ahead.
“I held initial talks with the players. I felt touching base with them was the right thing to do, before we begin preparations for next season.
Although the club, which puts strong emphasis on local players, operates with limited resources, promotion is still the aim and Youths pride themselves on competing at amateur status.
“I back myself,” Locke says. “More than anything I am persistent. I know I’ve held good positions. I have got the confidence and belief that I can do the job.”
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