Dungannon Swifts are riding the crest of a wave of success right now, following their historic win over Ballymena FC two weeks ago in the Bet McLean Cup. LAURA MCMULLAN talks to Head Coach Rodney about his love for the training pitch - and his own ambitions as a manager
“We’re not far away from a top six place and maybe with a little more backing we can get there.”
So says Rodney McAree, who is not a man who plans to rest on his laurels.
Following the success last month of Dungannon Swifts in the coveted Bet McLean cup, for him, it’s now a case of onwards and upwards.
The Tyrone man says that he simply would like his legacy - when the time comes for him to leave, that is - to be all about improvement, and getting the players to be the best they could possibly be.
And he admits that he has ambitions of a more personal kind of his own that he would like to fulfil.
“I am ambitious - maybe more so as a coach and a manager than I was as a player,” he says.
“I would love to work full time in a league which is full time - where that may be I don’t know. There are plenty of options.”
For now though, he’s loving every minute of being as hands on as he possibly can in terms of inspiring and encouraging his squad.
“I love the training pitch,” he says, when asked what exactly it is that he finds so fulfilling about coaching an Irish League side.
“I love being out on the field and playing along with the players.”
He adds: “I can be strict, I can raise my voice from time to time.”
But ultimately. it’s only because he wants to get the best out of the team, and I ask him how he inspires and leads those under his charge.
“I have confidence in my ability in terms of being able to read football and understand it. I think players put trust in me. I try to instil as much belief in them as I possibly can.
“I don’t focus on negatives, I always try to focus on positives, even if it was a poor first half and you’re coming in at half time and you want to read the riot act.”
He smiles before continuing: “It wasn’t too long ago that I probably was kicking water bottles and what have you in the dressing room, so I have that in me as well, but it’s probably the winning mentality - you always want to do better.”
Getting the views of the players is just as essential to creating an on-pitch formula that will see goals scored and matches won.
“It isn’t easy, as you don’t know what the players are thinking at times, and whether they’re enjoying the things that you’re doing, but I’ve always had good feedback, and always asked them what their view on things are, and given them their opportunity to put their points across if there are things they aren’t happy with.”
Rodney returned to the Swifts himself back in 2002, at a time when the club was “in a bad place.”
His comeback was at the behest of his father, and Swifts veteran, Joe.
“Dad had been asked to take over. The were at the bottom of the Championship, which was the First Division then. They had only a very small amount of points from 11 matches.
“He said he wanted to try and level things out and get us going in the right direction. I think we ended up third that season, and just missed out on promotion.
“We had such a good run. I signed for him around October time and he brought a lot of local boys in.
“We got promotion the following season and have been in the premier division ever since.”
It must be down to that magical McAree influence, I suggest, but Rodney is quick to attribute the success of the club to other, hardworking stalwarts who have been associated with it for years.
“It would be unjust if we were the ones trying to take the credit for everything,” he says.
“There have been a lot of good people who have been here before us, and a lot of good coaches over the years; a lot of good people who have delivered quite a bit. But obviously dad has been paramount in its success.”
He laughs as I ask him what he thinks he would be doing if he wasn’t involved in football; he had given me prior warning about this particular question, because just as you would expect, there isn’t much else that comes above the beautiful game for Rodney McAree.
“I left school completely in the middle of fourth year so I’ve never sat an exam in my life!” he grins.
“I enjoy driving; perhaps I could get a job sitting behind the wheel in a big lorry, driving halfway around the country eating Yorkies, and I could be 16 and a half stone.”
On that note, the svelte 43-year-old confesses that he really does need to make more room for fitness in his life these days.
“I owned a spin studio for a few years, and I would still go for the odd class, though nowhere nearly as much as I need to.
“I had a hip relacement in November 2016, although that’s not an excuse for me not doing much exercise. I need to motivate myself, and I think that’s important from the coaching side of things.”
“I’ve put a few pounds on, and you don’t want to be the coach that looks unfit, because I think it comes across to the players if you can demonstrate and actually do things on the pitch, and you don’t look like you’re trailing youself round it.”
From his own point of view, Rodney has a couple of legendary sports role models in mind when it comes to people he looks up to.
Golfer Tiger Woods is one, as is Diego Maradona, whom he believes was the “best football player in the world”, with a “shrewdness and will to win.”
And as a youngster, he idolised Scotsman Graeme Souness in relation to the football world - whom he later ended up playing under during his time at Liverpool.
And whilst the former Rangers legend was “hard man” at times to play under, he had a soft side too, as Rodney discovered for himself.
“I think he had an experience himself when he went to Middlesborough as a kid in that he felt homesick.
“So he would always look after the kids who were away from home.
“If he felt you hadn’t been home for a number of weeks, he would have come to you and said, ‘I want you to go home for the weekend,’ which I thought was nice.”
**Don’t miss the rest of our exlusive interview with Rodney McAree in tomorrow’s News Letter.