Jon Daly's promotion push in Finland inspired by Hearts and Robbie Neilson
The all-consuming nature of Jon Daly’s work in Finland means he hasn’t managed home to visit his wife and children in Scotland since January.
Covid travel restrictions haven’t helped but it is a necessary consequence of TPS Turku’s promotion quest, engineered by manager Jonatan Johansson and his assistant, Daly.
The Irishman is in charge of the reserves, scouts opponents and does individual player analysis on top of his first-team coaching role. The intensity doesn’t faze him because he learned proper dedication from Robbie Neilson at Hearts.
Daly spent five years at Riccarton under three managers before leaving in January 2020. After almost a year out of work, he arrived in Suomi hungry for a new challenge.
“It’s been great getting back on the training pitch. Being involved with the two teams means I’m delivering ten to 12 sessions each week, plus a couple of games,” he told the Evening News.
“It’s a lot of work and really time-consuming. I also have to scout opposition, watch our own games back and do individual analysis with our own players.
“What helped me with the workload was my time at Hearts. When I first went there I saw how Robbie worked, the hours he put in, and it’s given me a good grounding to use my time effectively.
“Outwith football, I’ve enjoyed Finland. It’s difficult without my family and I haven’t been back to Scotland since January due to all the restrictions. Linda and the kids managed to get out here in July for ten days and it was brilliant to see them.
“I speak to them every day on FaceTime. It’s not the same as seeing them in person but at least I get to see their faces. I’ll get back home once the season is over. It’s been great working outside Scotland and experiencing something different.”
TPS – Turun Palloseura to give the club its full title – want both Johansson and Daly to remain on the banks of the Aura River. Contracts are due for renewal and the first team went top of Finland’s second division, the Ykkönen, with a 4-1 win against Jaro on Saturday.
“My contract is up in November but I think the club are looking to keep us on. We are speaking to them in the next couple of days about it,” explained Daly, still very much a young coach at just 38.
“I’m not in a rush to jump into anything but I’m happy here. If I stay, it would help that travel is back open. It’s the same for JJ because his family are back in Scotland too.
“If something came up in Scotland it would be easier because you are with your family, but Finland has really opened my eyes to the bigger world of football outside the UK. I definitely feel I’ve learned a lot.
“I’ve learned a little bit of Finnish – just colours for giving out bibs and numbers and things. Then there’s the no-so-pleasant words you hear the players using regularly. You pick them up quite easily but Finnish is quite a tough language to learn.”
Before the recent prosperity, Johansson and Daly had to rebuild confidence within the TPS camp. Their endeavours are paying off thanks to some astute signings. “It’s coming up to a year here for me. It was tough at the start,” admitted Daly.
“New country, new environment, new culture, not knowing the levels, the teams and the players – it was exciting but also difficult.
“The team got relegated last year and when we came in we probably underestimated the hangover from that. They were in the habit of losing games so we needed fresh players. We struggled to get the right type of player in.
“We ended up using a winger up front because there weren’t better options available. We struggled with results at the start but we’ve turned it now. Players we wanted we got in the summer window and they have made a massive difference.
“The team has got to the top but there is only a point separating the top three. There is an automatic promotion place for the winners and a play-off for second place. The lads are playing well, scoring goals and they’ve bought into what the manager and I want to do. It’s refreshing to see that.
“For me, it’s also good to have a team to work with yourself. We try stuff with the reserves to see if it works before we use it with the first team. We won at the weekend to go top of the league and we have a few games left. We’ve given ourselves a chance to achieve the ultimate aim of promotion.”
Daly detailed the lengths gone to in order to bring the required talent to Finland’s south west. “We managed to sign Sonny Hilton on loan from Fulham Under-23s. He filled in a lot of different positions for us and it was his first proper loan, so it was good for his experience. We still lacked a striker, though.
“In all our games we created the most chances and dominated the ball, the stats confirmed that, but when you don’t stick the ball in the net you can lose a bit of confidence. In the summer we brought in real quality over quantity.
“A couple of guys came in from SJK, a forward called Serge Atakayi who was at Rangers and a left-back named Joonas Sundman. Kasper Hämäläinen came back to us after a spell in Czech Republic and we brought in Ilari Mettälä from Ilves.
“These guys knew the Finnish league. Myself and JJ looked at players in Scotland and a few were keen but we knew these guys could produce at this level. They have been the ones who turned this round. Now we hope to see it through and get that promotion.”