2023 has not been a good year for Donegal GAA so far.
It started off well, with Paddy Carr getting his first win as manager via a last minute point by Paddy McBrearty over Kerry in the first round of league. However, that turned out to be his only win as Donegal manager as his team’s performance level fell off a Slieve League sized cliff.
They suffered back to back defeats against their Ulster rivals Tyrone and Monaghan before halting the losing streak with a draw against Galway. Armagh then beat them by three points, 0-13 to 0-10, in a game in which they were unlucky not to score more.
The performance in Armagh did not carry into the final two games. Mayo cut through the once renowned Donegal defence with ease, putting 1-17 up on the scoreboard in Ballybofey. After that, Paddy Carr resigned as manager of the county’s senior team, following a discussion with some of the senior footballers.
Donegal ended their dismal league campaign with an 11 point hammering by Roscommon, with Paddy Bradley and Aidan O’Rourke left to manage the team. The latter was named as interim head coach for the championship.
Unfortunately, off the field matters has been equally bad if not worse for the two time All Ireland champions. Last year, many people were left perplexed by the length of the search for the new manager of the county team. Declan Bonner resigned in July, following Donegal’s championship exit and it wasn’t until October when his successor was named.
The months leading up to Carr’s appointment were quiet, as the county board wanted to keep the candidates a secret. However, one candidate did not keep quiet his discontent with the county board’s selection process. Jim McGuinness, who managed Donegal for four years and led them to All Ireland glory in 2012, was part of a potential management team consisting of Rory Kavanagh and Karl Lacey.
Kavanagh later pulled out of contesting for the vacant manager role, with McGuinness telling the county board he would be willing to assist whoever took over.
However, in an interview with the Irish Examiner, the former manager revealed that the board never rang him back. Even worse, the Glenties man revealed that when Paddy Carr was appointed, they namechecked him and other candidates when that wasn’t the case at all.
The county’s production line of young talent came to a halt this Spring. Karl Lacey resigned as head coach of Donegal GAA’s academy, citing a lack of support from the county board. In a show of support, his coaching staff stepped away from their roles as well.
So how does Donegal GAA turn this dire situation around? Off the field, they must give the support that Karl Lacey needs to bring him back to the academy, or give better support to his successors. Their actions this year have meant that 350 young players’ season in county colours has been disrupted massively.
The county board also have to appoint a full time manager for the senior football team for the second successive season. They must get it right this time, appointing the best person for the job rather than merging three separate candidates into one managerial team, like they did last year.
Interim head coach Aidan O’Rourke would like his name to be in the hat for a full time role. He can improve his chances if he manages to turn Donegal’s fortunes around for the championship.
This summer, the introduction of a new championship structure may favour him and Donegal. Instead of the qualifiers and provincial championships deciding who will be in the All Ireland quarter finals, teams will instead be put into four groups of four with the top two progressing. As they participated in Division One, the county are automatically qualified for this new look format. O’Rourke will manage his first Ulster championship game against Down in Newry on April 23rd. Beat Down and they’ll likely face Armagh in the semi-final.
However, with the restructuring of the All Ireland championship, getting knocked out of Ulster might have an advantage for O’Rourke’s team. The new format does not begin until 20 May. He could use those weeks to implement his style of play and to properly drill the county in attack, as they have given the ball away on too many occasions in the league. Paddy McBrearty should be back in time which will be a boost to Donegal. Nevertheless, with the stark situation off the field and a rookie manager taking charge of the senior football team, the men from the hills have giving themselves a mountain to climb to get back to Gaelic football’s top table.