BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
PAUL HARTLEY has declared that anything less than a return to the Premiership will represent failure after ending his six-month exile from football by becoming Falkirk head coach.
The 40-year-old was last night confirmed as Peter Houston’s successor after penning a three-year deal with the underperforming Championship outfit, landing the role ahead recently dismissed Ross County boss Jim McIntyre.
Hartley previously masterminded Alloa’s rise from the old Third Division to the Championship in successive campaigns before guiding Dundee back to the top flight in 2014.
He was dismissed by the Dens Park outfit in April following seven successive defeats, nevertheless, with laudable lower league pedigree laudable, he fully intends to add to a catalogue of promotions during his tenure at the Bairns.
“Falkirk is a club that is geared up to be in the Premiership,” Hartley said. “We have everything in place – a fantastic stadium and fanbase. It’s just about trying to get over that final hurdle and win promotion. Hopefully I am the person to do that.
“That is the goal – to get to the Premiership, I’m not coming here for anything less. We have had a slow start to the season but the aim is to be in the top four this year. I was clear on my ambitions to take the club forward when I spoke to the board, and that matched what they expected.
“It’s a club that has everything going for it and we believe we have a squad capable of challenging at the top of the league. My ambition is to get Falkirk to the Premiership. That’s where we need to be and we want to instil a winning mentality.
“The last few years they’ve run teams close, lost out in the play-offs so they just need to make that last step.”
During Hartley’s stint without a club, he was invited to attend Celtic training by Hoops boss Brendan Rodgers, while he was recently interviewed for the vacancy at Hearts before the role ultimately went to Craig Levein.
And, following a period of reflection and respite, he is hungry for a dugout return.
“It was good being out of the game for a period as it gave me time to reflect on my time at Dundee,” he continued. “But there comes a moment when you want to get back in and work with the players on a daily basis and this is a fantastic challenge for me.”
Hartley will watch Saturday’s mouth-watering Irn-Bru Cup derby against Dunfermline from the stand – leaving technical director Smith in charge with the assistance of Mark Kerr and Lee Miller – before taking the reins formally next Monday.
“It will be interesting for me to look from the stand,” he added. “It’s a great match for the supporters, a derby match against a team going well. Hopefully we can build on a good result last week.”
Falkirk chair Margaret Lang, who revealed that the Bairns received more than 40 applications for the role from as far and wide as Australia and Canada, is in no doubt the club have captured the perfect candidate.
“We have gone through a good, thorough process and have got someone who is buying into the ambitions of the club,” Lang said. “He has a good, proven track record at Alloa and Dundee. We wanted someone who understands the Championship, understands the budgets and knows what it takes to get to the Premiership and sustain us there.
“The fact he shares that desire to get there is a big part of the reason we knew he was the right person to bring to the club.”