Ahead of the Airtricity League kick-off, Cork City General Manager Paul Wycherley chats to DENIS HURLEY about why he moved home from England for the ‘perfect’ role, plus he shares his hopes for the future of the club
A TRIP which began in Kinsale has come full circle as Cork City general manager Paul Wycherley is once again resident in the town, but there has been quite a journey in between.
Wycherley, whose family own the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery, was appointed by City in 2017, returning home after a long spell in London, where he built up quite a bank of experience – but only a small bit of experience in a bank.
While he studied finance in UCC and then took up employment with Nomura in the City of London, banking was only a brief stop on a path which took in a variety of football roles.
‘I remember going into my boss at the bank, I was probably only there a year,’ he says.
‘When you leave a job like that, the expectation is that you’re joining one of the rivals, so when I told him I was going to do a Masters in sports science, he said, “Oh, that’s great!”, I don’t think they’d ever had that conversation before.
‘I always wanted to work in professional sport. When I was in UCC with the soccer club, I played and I was involved in with the administration side too.
‘In England, I realised that there was a professional sporting industry there that wasn’t in Ireland. It kind of is now but still nowhere near the scale.
‘I realised I could work in sport, but I needed a qualification.’
Having undertaken a Masters’ degree at the prestigious Brunel College in West London, Wycherley became sports development officer with Elmbridge Borough Council and then took on a role with Millwall’s Community Scheme.
‘There was always a plan, method to the madness,’ he says.
‘I was taking a couple of years backwards because I knew, further down the line, I’d be going forward again.
‘Working at Millwall allowed me the chance to get into coaching at their academy.
‘I had a great time there, a great club, great people, I’m still in touch with some of them. From there, I went to QPR, my job was lead foundation coach, basically in charge of running the academy for five-to-12-year-olds.
‘That was fantastic, I loved that role, then the job changed over time to become more operations, administration and a bit of scouting. Again, it was really enjoyable and I was there five years, made a lot of contacts and, from that, I set up my own company, PW Football Recruitment, the recruitment of staff for football clubs as I really felt there was a gap there.’
That was three years ago but, before too long, an opportunity arose with City, one too good to pass.
‘There wasn’t really a plan to move back home,’ Wycherley says, ‘the plan was to be as successful as possible in my career, wherever that took me.
‘Working in professional football, it’s really ingrained in the UK, more than any other country. That’s the market, so why would you want to leave that market? It wasn’t the plan to leave it – and you have to remember too that the centre of Irish sport and life is Dublin – but I love Cork and home and my family, so it would have to be a “top job”.
‘I’d always have said to me friends, jokingly, that running Cork City would be the only job to bring me home.
‘I hate to use the word “perfect”, but it seemed the perfect role at the perfect time in the perfect place. My wife Sinéad is from Garryvoe in East Cork, she’s a teacher and had only come over to life with me a few years previously and we had got married in July of 2017.
‘The job came up and she said she’d support me, as she always does, and I got it so it was a case of packing up my life in London after 14 years.’
While it might sound daunting to come in as the head of an organisation, it didn’t inhibit Wycherley.
‘Coming into the job and the environment doesn’t faze me, I enjoy that,’ he says.
‘I’m the sort of person who’ll come in and I’ll assess things and I’ll want to make changes. Sometimes, people will get concerned with change but I’m the kind of person who’ll embrace change, I’ll look for change.
‘In life, you’re always looking for the next step, because you’ll never get to the top. What’s the top for Cork City? It’s winning the Champions League a few years in a row, so you’re always striving for more, striving for progress and that’s me, I won’t rest on that.
‘It’s being given the responsibility to action that plan and it has been a process of change since I’ve come in. I really feel that there was lot of good stuff happening off the pitch before I came in, I was just trying to bring that to another level.
‘The board, like any good boss, will question me on details but they’re very supportive of my strategies and proposals. As long as that’s there in an open and transparent manner, I’ll be able to do my job to the best of my abilities.’
However, with City being a member-owned club, everyone has an opinion on what should be done. With the buck stopping at his desk, Wycherley knows that there are instances where he’ll have to make the unpopular decisions.
‘That’s probably the biggest challenge,’ he says.
‘If you head up the men’s team or the operations or the merchandise, you’re going to have your own workplan and your goals and your way of thinking.
‘All you’re going to be concerned about is your job, what you’re paid to do, and not any other part of the club.
‘My job is to oversee all of that and manage all of that together. I may be seen sometimes as the big bad wolf, but that’s my job. I need to be able to do that, seeing the bigger picture for the club in terms of overall sustainability.If I say that something can’t be done, it’s because I know that it would impact on some other area of the club, which that person doesn’t necessarily know or need to know, and why would they?
‘When you’re 500-odd member fan-owned, it’s hard for individuals to see things that way too, they really have to trust myself as general manager and the board. I suppose the proof of it is, are we successful on the pitch, are we developing structures off the pitch, are we building our brand and our fanbase and I think the answer to all of those questions would be yes.’
And the plan for the coming year?
‘We’ve put forward some pretty ambitious targets for 2019,’ he says.
‘We’re looking at increasing our attendances from last year by 10 percent, increasing our merchandise by about 25 percent, increasing our sponsorship by 35 percent, increasing our fundraising by 100 percent.
‘We really feel that we’ll achieve those targets but it’ll take a lot of hard work, a lot of planning, a lot of strategy.
‘If we achieve that, I would hope in turn that the football on the pitch will produce its own results. You’d certainly be looking at a top-three finish, that’s our aim, which guarantees you a European spot.
‘At the same time, want to win the league and the cup, that’s the goal, but certainly the top three.
‘If we’re sitting here in 12 months having reached those targets, the structures put in place will have reaped those rewards.
‘It’s how the board and myself have become more strategic in our goals, in our partnerships and in our relationships. I would actually like to be able to secure more commercial and community partnerships and to bring more players through from our academy to the first team.
‘That doesn’t take one year, it several years but from West Cork, you have Ronan Hurley, who has come through. Darragh Crowley from Kinsale has been called up to the Ireland U19s, and you have Alex Minihane from Union Hall.
‘Seeing those players push on, I’d really love to see that happening.’
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