It was the most significant news story in Irish football last week. I for one was very surprised to be reading an announcement of managerial upheaval and to be saying ‘arrivederci’ to the silver-haired maestro. Post-match interviews on RTE will not be the same without him.
The man worked wonders with a modest group of players last time around, clinching the runner-up spot and Euro qualification but a scoreless draw and one defeat to superior Swedes was deemed not good enough by his employers. That’s right, Mick Cooke and Drogheda United will part ways at the end of the season.
As a player, Cooke was with St. Patrick’s Athletic when Mick Meagan persuaded him to sign for Drogheda FC. He played for the Ireland youth international team in a 4-1 defeat to England at Tolka Park in January 1970.
The 18-year-old starred at inside left on his competitive debut for Drogheda. He scored with a snap shot from 30 yards in a 2-1 win over Bohemians in a President’s Cup tie at Dalymount Park in August 1970.
Cooke played in Drogheda’s 1971 FAI Cup Final defeat to Limerick that season. He was later moved to centre-midfield as he scored 8 league goals in four seasons for the Boynesiders and was their top scorer in 1972/73.
After briefly returning to St. Pat’s, Cooke linked up with Meagan again at Shamrock Rovers in 1974. He spent three years at Milltown, scoring four league goals but he wasn’t in the team that won, as of this morning anyway, the only League Cup trophy in Rovers’ illustrious history.
His playing career ended after spells with Bluebell United and Galway Rovers and Cooke was manager of the Ireland Women’s National Team from 1992 to 2000.
The team had no stature on the footballing stage when he was first appointed but they made great progress during his time in charge, reaching the third round of the European Championships.
Cooke led the under-17 girls to triumph in the Gothia Cup in 1995, beating Taiwan in the final; and, the following year, winning the Dana Cup with the U-18’s when defeating the State of Texas in the final in America.
One of his last games came against world champions USA in front of 35,000 spectators at the Foxboro Stadium, Massachusetts in September 1999. Several Irish players went on to become full-time professionals abroad at clubs such as Arsenal.
Cooke left in July 2000 to concentrate on his role as assistant manager of Shamrock Rovers. He was alongside Damien Richardson from 1999-2002 and the Dubliner was appointed manager of Monaghan United in September 2003.
Cooke gradually improved the First Division club’s fortunes in his eight seasons at Gortakeegan, losing a dramatic promotion play-off penalty shootout to Bray Wanderers in 2010. Mons also reached the final of the League Cup that season where they were beaten by Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds.
He took over at Drogheda United shortly before the 2011 season kicked off and it was the second time that he replaced Bobby Browne, who had resigned from the Monaghan post a month prior in 2003.
In the space of two seasons, Cooke would guide a team in 9th place, on a run of 29 league games without a win, to a second place finish in the top flight and to their first League Cup final appearance in over 28 years.
Drogs were the surprise package in 2012 as they qualified for the Europa League and beat Shamrock Rovers 3-1 in the final at Tallaght Stadium with goals from Declan O’Brien, Kerrea Gilbert (og) and Eric Foley.
That is Cooke’s only win in 15 games against Rovers in his managerial career and Drogheda take on the Hoops in Tallaght again today in a repeat of last year’s showdown. Rovers trashed Drogheda 7-1 in the Setanta Cup final in the Dublin 24 venue back in May.