Having amassed over 500 games of Senior Football for Ards and Bangor, Irish league fans will be familiar with the name of John Bailie. He Captained, both sides, as the man from Portavogie garnered himself a reputation as one of local football’s most intelligent and tenacious fullbacks. For those who knew John it came as no surprise when he swapped running up and down the football pitch, for the dugout. Since he made that decision Bailie has not looked back, as the successes he enjoyed as a player have been replicated by the trophies he has won as a manager. It all began in 2008, when he was appointed as Bangor reserve team Manger. Following that, he spent 17 months at Comber, during which he saved the club from relegation. Then, in 2010 Linfield came calling and he was appointed as under 19 Manager. 5 trophies later and having guided numerous players through to top flight football it is clear John Bailie is doing something right.
However his fondest memories come from his relationship with County Down Dale Farm Milk Cup, which began during his reign as Bangor reserve team Manager in 2008, “ Paul Ritchie’s (Chairman) son Timmy played for me at Bangor. At the end of the season, there was a vacancy for the junior position. Paul asked if I would be interested and of course I said yes. So I had an interview and was informed shortly after that I’d got the job. I was in the junior role for 3 years before moving up and becoming Premier Team Manger. I am very fortunate to have the role. I absolutely love it, and it is arguably the highlight of your year. You are working together with kids who all want to be there and achieve something and that is really exciting. You have great training facilities, plus there are no time constraints for training so you can do it right. Essentially it gives you a sample of what life is like as a professional footballer, which especially for those who wish to try and pursue that, it is a great experience for them.”
Bailie has witnessed a number of moments in recent Dale Farm Milk Cups, which will go down in County Down folklore. “The great thing about the Milk Cup is that each year provides a number of standout moments. For example in my third year with the juniors we beat Cruz Azul, which was special, because they were very strong. Only Aspire beat us that year 2-0 and to put that into context they put five past Manchester United in the final. Out of 10 halves of football, that year we only conceded in one of them. Then in my first year we got to the Quarterfinals but were beat by Club Pachuca. That team was as good as a team as I have had with County Down. You had players like Cockcroft, David Morgan and Luke Conlon, and if we had a bit of luck we could of won it that year. I have had other good teams and if I am honest over the 7 years I have been involved we have maybe only let ourselves down on only 3 or 4 occasions, which for me is very satisfying.”
Bailie dreams of being the first manager to win the Dale Farm Milk Cup as a manger of one of the County sides but admits the difficulties of doing so, especially since he has become Premier Manger. “The reality is that the junior squad will always have a better chance than the Premier. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, your better players at junior level will have often gone to England by time it comes to representing the Premier side so you are missing your best players. The second thing is that the academy sides that are sent over here from across the water are of a far higher quality at Premier level than what they are at junior level. For whatever reason at junior level the academy sides tend to send players over who are perhaps a year or two younger than the other sides. This gives the Junior County sides a chance of causing an upset.”
Bailie has learnt an awful lot during his experience with County Down and has cultivated himself a reputation as a Manager who is capable of getting the most of what he has available. “It is not easy as a coach. It is just not as simple as picking your best 18 players and playing 4-4-2. If you do that in the Milk Cup against Manchester United, they will hammer you. You need hard-working players, lads who are willing to listen, who are going to get them fit, prepared to spend a lot of time without the ball. You accept that the academy sides are going to be better on average than the players you have, so you hope your fitness can balance that out. And then you need one of two match-winners who are capable of producing a moment of magic to win a game.”
John Bailie understands that his best chance of winning the Dale Farm Milk Cup will not be in charge of the Premier side. However Bailie who spent a career not backing down and maximising not just his own potential but those around him, it would certainly be foolish to rule out County Down’s Premier side of eventually getting their hands on the coveted Dale Farm Milk Cup in the not too distant future.