One of the reasons Eamonn Dolan was so popular during his brief stint as manager of Exeter City was his unquestionable passion and insistence that the Grecians should be more professional in the aftermath of the Russell and Lewis era.
Eamo was a proper heart on his sleeve guy and his love for Exeter City could not be questioned. He demanded the best at what was undoubtedly the most difficult time in the club’s history with his hands tied due to the club’s perilous financial situation.
He didn’t win trophies, but he won many admirers. And – along with the likes of Steve Perryman and Julian Tagg – laid the foundations and ethos for what the club has become today.
Exeter have a lot to thank Eamo for and it was always a pleasure to spend time in his company. He had a genuine care for the club and his players and would back them to the hilt, which gained him the respect of those he coached and managed.
He was rarely critical, but there was one incident in February 2004 where he really let rip. And to those that were there at the time, it was a moment we were never to forget.
The City boss was furious that some unnamed players had been caught drinking in the build up to a 1-0 Conference defeat at the Park to Gravesend & Northfleet (now Ebbsfleet United) and he questioned their professionalism.
“We got relegated last year because it was an alcohol club. That’s why, no other reason. It was a party club and no one cared,” he said at the time.
“People were made heroes that got the club relegated, people that encouraged that culture were made heroes and that is quite bizarre.”
It was strong stuff from a man usually so mild-mannered, but it had the desired effect. Could you call Exeter City a club with a drinking culture ten years on? I certainly don’t think so.
However, it wasn’t just the boozers getting under the skin of Dolan. The club had some high earners on the books at the time and the City chief made a comment then that has forever stuck in my mind. Why? Because it is something I think holds a lot of substance.
“If you go on to that pitch and earn ten times more than another player on the pitch, I want you to be ten times better. If you don’t, I am looking and I will get you,” he said.
The records would suggest Dolan’s public outburst had the desired effect with only one defeat in the next ten games. That being a hugely controversial 2-1 FA Trophy tie at Aldershot, where a Sean Devone goal in stoppage time was ruled out for an offside that never was.
Nearly ten years to the day since Dolan’s comments and current manager Paul Tisdale was asked at Bristol Rovers if the experienced players were letting him and the team down right now.
A City side in transition has won only two of their last 14 games and the players that can hold their heads high at present are the youngsters coming into the team.
Others can be considered an exception, but Tisdale certainly makes a valid point when he says: “It is certainly the case where the senior players need to add the most value. Maybe they are not at the moment.”
Like Dolan before him, Tisdale doesn’t have the financial clout to make changes and has to make do with what he has. But as a word of warning to those under-performers, a career in football is short and if you get released by Exeter City, history will tell you that you don’t come back into League football.