A star of the League of Ireland for over a decade, Dessie Baker now spends his time as player/manager of Edenderry Town, who today host Derry City in one of the Irish Daily Mail FAI Cup’s David v. Goliath ties.
In the opposing dugout, the 37 year-old will see a familiar face, as current Candystripes boss Peter Hutton is a former teammate from Bakers’ days as a Shelbourne player. ‘I haven’t spoken to Peter, but I’ll be ringing him before the game and having a bit of craic with him because he’s a great lad and he’s a great manager now as well, said Baker, who has recently being turning to other managers in the Premier Division as he looks to improve his own coaching career.
’I’ve been up speaking to Pat Fenlon, and I was speaking to Trever Croly over the last couple of days too. I’ve gone up to Shamrock Rovers a couple of times, and I’ve asked St. Patrick’s Athletic if I can go up and get a feel for things, to keep me involved in the coaching part of it and learn from them like I’ve been learing from Trevor the past year. It’s good to keep in contact with all these ex-players and managers that are still involved.’
Baker hung up his League of Ireland boots in 2010, after a career that saw him line-out for Shelbourne, Longford Town, Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk. The transition from player to manager isn’t one the Dubliner had anticipated, but he’s found himself enjoying his new role. ‘I wanted to take a step out of football when I finished, and I didn’t really think I was going to get into the coaching part of it because a lot of lads would have known me as the joker in the dressing room. I needed to step away for two or three years to learn the coaching part. Edenderry to be fair have been great that way. I’ve been involved with them since I finished and the improvement of the players is great to see. Some of the under-15s are going away to England, I’ve got internationals here and I’ve got lads promoted to the first team. The younger players are starting to see that difference now, and I’m starting to really enjoy it too, which I never thought I would. I didn’t realise how much was involved in the whole picture of coaching but it’s starting to click now. Football was always natural for me, I was natural on the pitch and it was all talent that I had, but now it’s just learning.’
The Cup itself holds plenty of fond memories for Baker, having won the competition twice with Shelbourne (1997, 2000), and once with Longford Town (2004), experiences which he can draw from to try help his players cause an upset at Paddy Maloney Park on Sunday. ‘The cup is of huge importance. It’s been really good to me actually, I’ve won it three times and lost it three times. I said to the lads during the week, when you play the bigger teams you never know what to expect,’ Baker continued.
‘Realistically, we’re not going to set our sights on winning this cup. The club itself was looking for a big team, so to get Derry or anybody in the Premier Division would have been a fantastic draw. Especially being at home, the pitch is looking well and there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to get it up to the standard that it needs to be. When we realised we got Derry there was such a buzz around the town.’
While Baker knows that a win would be a huge achievement for the Offaly club, he is also keen to point out to his players that they are now playing in front of a new audience. ‘It’s a really close club here. The lads that are playing are local lads, they’ve grown up together, they’ve gone to school together and played from under 10’s together all the way up. These lads have been together for a long time and they never have anybody different come in, it’s just the same players all the time. They’re not up to the standard of anywhere near the League of Ireland, but they have got a good work rate, and we’ll try our best to put a good performance on. There are a lot of young lads who have an opportunity to show how good they are against these teams. I always said when we were playing the likes of these teams when I was playing with Shels and Rovers, a manager might catch the eye of a player that’s playing for the other team and you never know where it might take you. It’s a great stage for them to have a good game, there might be a manager from a different team there or the press might build a player up. For the likes of Edenderry, they’re so far away from the Dublin leagues, so they never really get that chance, but these sort of matches are a great opportunity for them. Also Thomas Glynn, sthe chairman, has been working very hard. I’ve only been involved here since I finished, but they’ve been working hard for a very long time. For the town, the club and the members it’s a huge step up for them.’
Of course, those young players aren’t the only ones looking to make a name for themselves with Edenderry, and Sunday offers Baker an opportunity to add another impressive achievement to his expanding CV, ‘To be honest I’ve really enjoyed it over the last two years because I’m learning more about the game, more about individuals and more about tactics. It’s a new step but I’m looking forward to the rest of it.’