Jim McLaughlin

Born in Derry in December 1940, Jim McLaughlin began his playing career with Derry City, before signing for Birmingham City in 1958. Although confined to the reserves during his time with the midlands club, he gained a reputation as a tricky and tenacious winger, and after enjoying more productive spells with Shrewsbury Town, Peterborough United and Swansea City, he eventually scored 126 goals in 456 English League appearances. He gained 12 caps for Northern Ireland, scoring an impressive tally of six goals, including two in a 4-3 defeat by England at Windsor Park in 1964 (having sustained a dislocated finger earlier in the match), and both in a 2-0 win over Greece in a World Cup qualifier in Belfast in 1961.

Having gained some coaching experience with Swansea, McLaughlin joined Dundalk as player-manager upon his return to Ireland in 1974. Many would have seen the job as a poisoned chalice, as the club had gone through six managers in as many seasons, and had been experiencing considerable financial difficulties for much of the early 1970s. A shock 1-0 defeat in the F.A.I. Cup against lowly Home Farm suggested that McLaughlin would have his work cut out at the Co. Louth club, but despite this setback, he managed (with essentially the same squad) to bring the club to fifth in the league table, eight places higher than the previous season.

Operating within a very tight budget, McLaughlin added a number of players during the summer (Irish international Tommy McConville was the only particularly costly acquisition), and after bringing in former league top scorer Terry Flanagan from Bohemians a few months later, a 21-match unbeaten run saw the Lilywhites stride to their fourth League of Ireland championship four points ahead of Finn Harps. McLaughlin (who himself played a key role as full-back) was hailed as a hero by the fans, and with success generating extra capital, former Irish international Mick Lawlor was added to the squad during the close season.

Having achieved a 1-1 European Cup draw with P.S.V. Eindhoven (featuring Dutch international superstars Rene and Willie van der Kerkhof) at Oriel Park, McLaughlin’s men surprisingly lost six of their first eight matches to all but surrender any chance of retaining the title, but a great run of form in the second half of the league (the club eventually finished fifth) was allied to a place in the final of the F.A.I. Cup, where a 2-0 win over Limerick gave McLaughlin another piece of highly-prized silverware. The Leinster Senior Cup was also garnered, and with Hajduk Split being beaten (McLaughlin himself was one of the best players on the night) in the first leg of a European Cup Winners’ Cup tie the following year (another former international, Paddy Dunning, had been added during the summer), the Derryman’s achievements were augmented by a League Cup final penalty shootout win over Cork Alberts, and a retention of the Leinster Senior trophy. Although the club slipped to eleventh in the league table (not helped by the sudden and unexpected death of squad member Brian McConville), the sale of three promising young players to Liverpool (including a new Irish international cap, Synan Braddish), gave McLaughlin the monies to launch a fresh assault on the transfer market.

With the uncompromising Home Farm defender Dermot Keely being drafted in, Cathal Muckian joined from local rivals Drogheda United (having scored a club record 21 league goals the previous season), and Finn Harps star Hilary Carlyle also joined the Oriel Park payroll. Despite strong challenges from Bohemians, Drogheda and Waterford, the title was wrapped up on the second last day of the season, and with Waterford (who had done a league double over Dundalk) being dispatched in the F.A.I. Cup decider, McLaughlin (in his last season as a player, and with three other players from the 1976 squad) had overseen the Co. Louth club’s first ever league and cup double. He was, therefore, an obvious choice for the Irish Soccer Writers’ “Personality of the Year” award for 1979.

It could scarcely have gotten any better for McLaughlin, but new heights were reached in the European Cup campaign of the following season, when victories over Linfield and Hibernians (of Malta) set up a second round tie with Glasgow Celtic, with a place in the quarter-finals of the world’s premier club competition being the reward for the winners. After achieving a remarkable 3-2 defeat at Parkhead in the first leg, 21,000 people were in Oriel Park to watch McLaughlin’s side almost achieve the 1-0 victory (despite endless pressure, they could not break the Celtic rearguard) that would have seen them progress on the away goals rule. Instead the club would have to be content with the league runners-up position (Eoin Hand’s Limerick United finished just one point ahead), and a new League of Ireland defensive record of just 13 goals conceded in 30 league games.

Another penalty shootout win in the final of the League Cup (this time against Galway Rovers) was the prelude to McLaughlin’s third F.A.I. Cup victory in 1981, with Sligo Rovers being beaten 2-0 at Dalymount Park. By the time McLaughlin oversaw a third league championship success with Dundalk the following season, the club had also remained unbeaten at Oriel Park over the course of eight European club ties. Although Liverpool would put a blemish on this record the following season, McLaughlin’s belief that his side should “forget reputations, go at them, but give nothing away at the back” had clearly produced results.

Seeking a new challenge, McLaughlin was appointed manager of Shamrock Rovers in the summer of 1983, and his impact at Glenmalure Park was immediate, with signings like Dermot Keely, Noel King (both of whom he had previously brought to Dundalk) and Pat Byrne ensuring the club won their first League of Ireland title since 1964. Over the course of the next two seasons, players like Noel Larkin, Mick Byrne, Liam O’Brien and Paul Doolin contributed to two successive league and F.A.I. Cup doubles, as McLaughlin’s position as the league’s most successful ever manager continued to be re-inforced.

Leaving to take the reigns of his hometown club Derry City in May 1986 (for the first season, he acted in a co-managerial capacity with Noel King), he secured promotion for the Candystripes at his first attempt, as the club won all nine of their away games on their way to the First Division championship. Derry were beaten in the following year’s F.A.I. Cup final by Dundalk, but in 1989, they swept all before them on their way to a remarkable domestic treble, incorporating league, F.A.I. Cup and League Cup honours. Denied the league title by St. Patrick’s Athletic the following season, and the League Cup by Dundalk on penalties, a victory over Limerick City in the 1991 League Cup final was McLaughlin’s last trophy as manager at the Brandywell.

Joining up with Pat Byrne at Shelbourne for the 1991-92 season, their partnership immediately delivered the club’s first League ofIreland title for 30 years, finishing five points ahead of McLaughlin’s most recent employers. The club’s first F.A.I. Cup for 30 years arrived the following season, before Byrne and McLaughlin were controversially relieved of their positions in late 1993. The Derryman took over as manager of Drogheda United soon afterwards, but was unable to prevent the Louth club from losing their Premier Division status. Although the club bounced straight back up the following year, McLaughlin’s good work could not be built on, as United experienced their seemingly inevitable relegation again in 1996. Persuaded to come out of managerial retirement by Dundalk in 1997, McLaughlin struggled to reverse the downward spiral the Lilywhites had been sucked into, and their relegation to the First Division for the first time in their history in 1999 was an unfortunate way for McLaughlin to end his managerial career.

Manager of the League of Ireland representative side on a number of occasions, McLaughlin also took charge of the Irish Olympic side (essentially another League of Ireland XI) for the 1988 qualifying tournament. In 2002, he was presented with the F.A.I.’s Special Merit Award, for his achievements within the domestic game. Incorporated into the Shamrock Rovers Hall of Fame later in the year, he became a Shamrock Rovers “Legend” in 2005. With wins in 1979, 1984 and 1989, McLaughlin is also the only person to win the S.W.A.I. “Personality of the Year” award on more than two occasions.

Although McLaughlin was often criticised during his time at Shamrock Rovers for being something of a “chequebook manager” (Rovers became infamous for offering large signing-on fees), it is hard to argue with his record of eight league titles, seven F.A.I. Cups and four League Cups. His time with Dundalk was probably the best illustration of his capabilities, with his man-management skills and tremendous understanding of the part-time football mindset being very much in evidence. Extremely modest in the midst of his success, McLaughlin was always quick to play down the role of a manager in a winning football team, at all times laying the credit for his achievements at the doors of his players.

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