Donegal GAA in crisis: Quick fixes, long-term issues, and the Jim McGuinness question

A SPECIAL MEETING of Donegal GAA had been scheduled to take place tonight with one item on the agenda: focusing on the void left by Karl Lacey’s departure as head of the county academy.

One thinks another item may come up for discussion.

With their underage players without coaches after they walked out en masse in support of Lacey, the county’s senior footballers are now, separately, also without a permanent coaching structure.

The county board that took almost 100 days to appoint a manager last year now must find one with only a month until their Ulster Championship opener against Down.

The backroom members Carr brought into the county, Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley, will lead the team against Roscommon on Sunday with relegation to Division 2 essentially certain.

Carr was never going to walk away lightly from this role. Upon his appointment, he said:

“Not everyone gets the chance to do the job that they love. My heart is full of gratitude. I will put my body, soul, heart, and mind into Donegal football.”

In stepping away, his parting words were: “I want nothing more than the best for Donegal and that will never change.”

What did change, clearly, was the harmony between manager and players. Carr outlined his decision arrived “following a discussion with some senior members of the Donegal football team”.

CLG Dhún na nGall thank Paddy Carr for his commitment as Senior Team manager and wish him well in the future. Aidan O’Rourke and Paddy Bradley will take charge of the squad for Sunday’s Allianz League fixture with Roscommon in Hyde Park. — CLG Dhún na nGall (@officialdonegal) March 23, 2023


It was a bitter twist for all parties that Carr’s 149-day reign was just 50% longer than the time it took to make that appointment.


It leaves Donegal desperately in need of stability on and off the field.

Last year, Donegal had four All-Stars remaining from their golden days of the past decade.

They lost two of those, Michael Murphy and Neil McGee, both totems in the dressing room, to retirement last autumn.

Of the remaining two, Paddy McBrearty was appointed captain in expectation of stepping into the scoring and leadership breaches but he cruelly suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. Ryan McHugh has spent the league on the treatment table.

In their absence, any hope of a positive spring faded.

They did beat a weakened Kerry side in their League opener but despite a scrappy draw against Galway, they have failed to hit the mark across the campaign, culminating in last Sunday’s 11-point loss to Mayo.

Their 1-64 total is the lowest across all four divisions with the sole exception of Waterford, averaging a shade under 11 scores a game.

Their sole goal of the campaign came from a penalty after Galway’s defenders appeared to have comedically carried the ball over their own line.

The departure of that golden generation robbed Donegal of some of its greatest talents but expectations remain high among those who remain.

The team that has contested 10 of the last 12 Ulster finals and 10 of the last 12 Division 1 campaigns won’t settle for less than a fighting chance of reaching their own standards while other counties overtake them.

donegal gaa in crisis: quick fixes, long-term issues, and the jim mcguinness question

Former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness.

Jim McGuinness was the man who guided Donegal through its greatest successes and his shadow looms over every appointment process. The question will once again be asked (and Brian McEniff has already been the first to utter it publicly), would McGuinness consider a return?

While he remains committed to his soccer career change, he was willing to come on board alongside Lacey as part of Rory Kavanagh’s backroom team which appeared the frontrunner for the post last autumn.

But when Kavanagh withdrew from the process amid much conjecture, McGuinness says the county board didn’t make any further contact with him.

Carr and O’Rourke, who had been nominated separately for the top job, were combined into the winning ticket.

McGuinness also said he and Michael Murphy had been ready to get involved with the county U14s until Lacey stepped away citing “a lack of support”.

“I was willing to help and trying to help. The door was closed in many respects on me and the word was filtered out at the county board meeting that all these people had been spoken to. I didn’t feel that was a true reflection of what happened behind the scenes,” McGuinness told the Irish Examiner podcast.

It’s a confluence of events that threatens to spill into wider governance questions for Donegal GAA.

To have their legends of the past decade out in the cold, their senior squad somewhere between dissatisfied and mutinous, their manager gone a month before championship, their academy coaches walking off the job, their development squads inactive… one would be careless, all combined is a total mess.

Perhaps it needs outside eyes, O’Rourke and Bradley, to steer the senior ship for now, if they are willing and if the squad are accepting.

Sooner than later, though, Donegal GAA need to heal these wounds and get its footballing legends back in the fold.

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