PÁDRAIG COYLE’S office could hardly be situated in a better place.
At the side of the new Coláiste Ailigh at Knocknamona in Letterkenny, Coyle’s desk gives him a perfect view of the lush green carpet of the school’s football pitch.
This Saturday, it will be the stage for the senior footballers of Donegal and Derry to do their thing.
Rory Gallagher and Damien Barton will unveil their squads for 2016 to an anxious public for the first time; on the sod cared for by Coyle and his team. The game marks the official opening of the pitch.
Ranafast native Coyle (pictured above) is the Facilities Manager at Coláiste Ailigh, a role he has fulfilled for two years now, since the opening of the school in 2013.
It is a demanding job
“I basically look after the whole facility, internally and externally,” he says.
“Myself and the team look after everything here from health and safety, to maintenance, to the cleaning. We maintain everything from the road in around the school, the landscaping…everything really.”
His team includes former Donegal footballer Frank Ward from Glenfin, who is the caretaker, and the cleaner, Sandra Higgins, who lives in St Johnston.
“I’ll put it this way,” says Coyle, sitting beneath a plaque awarded by the Letterkenny Tidy Towns Committee for the ‘Best Kept Built Environment’. “They are a first class team.”
The neatly stacked rows of ring binders on the bookshelves are the mark of an organised man who takes pride in the appearance of the place.
The pitch is like the prized possession. He knows what a good pitch should be like.
Not that you’d assume it from his modest demeanour, but Coyle spent three years on the books of Blackpool FC.
He played for Gweedore Celtic and was a left-winger of some renown. Capped by the Republic of Ireland at Under-15, Under-18 and Under-21 level, he was spotted by a scout while playing for the Donegal Youth League’s representative team.
“I went to Blackpool in the summer of ’77. I went for a month first and was asked to sign for them,” he says.
He was three years at Bloomfield Road, the first as an apprentice and the next two as a professional. The club went through a raft of managers in that time with Allan Brown, Bobby Smith, Jimmy Meadows, Bob Stokoe, Stan Ternent, Freddie Scott and Alan Ball all trying their hand.
Coyle graced theatres like Old Trafford, Anfield, Maine Road and Villa Park in his time and made his debut for the Blackpool reserves against Derby County. He turned out for the first team in a couple of friendlies, but a knee injury prevented progress to competitive action and, ultimately, resulted in him returning home.
“I had to have surgery on the knee and the thing was so weakened that I had to come back home,” he says.
“I had an excellent time at Blackpool and I still keep an eye on their progress. It was a great experience over there.”
Opponents of his era talk about a player with a ‘magical’ left foot, who could spellbind defenders and on his return he lined out for a star-studded Gweedore Celtic side.
With Coyle, his brother Gerry, Doalty Sweeney, Donnacha Mac Niallais, Donal McGee, Eamonn McGee and Charlie Doherty in tow, there were one of the most feared and formidable outfit of theirs, or any era in the Donegal League.
Coláiste Ailigh boasts facilities that team would’ve adored and a pitch on which they’d surely have starred.
Surfaces like this don’t come by chance. The pitch was prepared and assembled by William Coyle of Pitch Dimensions and among the many tools used in its upkeep is a robotic lawnmower.
“During the cutting season, from April to maybe November, it has the capacity to cut the grass 24-7,” Coyle explains.
“It automatically can make its way back to the docking station again to charge and get back out to the pitch again. It’s an incredible piece of technology.
“We have a full maintenance programme in place each year. We have the divots on the pitch checked regularly and we make sure it’s top-class all the time.”Tags: