Decisions leave air of uncertainty in Donegal and Munster
Departure of Jim McGuinness’s management team came as a shock at the end of a difficult year
Dissonant noises have been heard just as the end of a captivating football championship comes into sight. Yesterday came the news that there had been a management break-up in Donegal and last Thursday the Munster Council decided to abandon the open draw in the provincial football championship.
Whatever the reasons behind it, the departure of Jim McGuinness’s management team came as a shock at the end of what has been a difficult and turbulent year for the former All-Ireland champions, which was brought to a grim end by Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
In a way, the county’s fate underlined what an achievement the All-Ireland victory had been 12 months ago. As a two-year project, the success was based on a physically and mentally very demanding system, which was going to be hard to replicate.
The late Eamonn Coleman said to Joe Kernan in 2003 that All-Ireland defences are most commonly derailed by the unexpected and most frequently that came in the shape of injuries. Donegal suffered a great deal from the struggles of key players to regain full fitness and mentally re-engage at the level of last year.
Defending champions have been successful just once in the past 23 years of All-Ireland football championships and Donegal were always going to be under pressure given the relative shallowness of their playing panel if injury or form became an issue.
McGuinness himself has also been under increased pressure with the developing responsibilities of his job with Glasgow Celtic, which are due to increase this season, as well as a growing family to which twins were just recently added.
It has been speculated in the county that he might have been more inclined to walk away but for the harrowing circumstances of Donegal’s defeat – a 16-point demolition by the team they beat in last year’s All-Ireland final – and the responsibility he feels to restore the county’s fortunes.
That appeared on track at the weekend when his re-appointment was announced in the wake of the clubs’ agreement to defer both the 2014 senior and intermediate county championships until Donegal’s interest in the All-Ireland has ended.
There was an irony in this in that the county championship last year was shoe-horned into the weeks after the All-Ireland success and the relentless sequence of fixtures was blamed for the long-term injury to the 2012 Footballer of the Year Karl Lacey.
McGuinness’s task of reconstruction has nearly re-assumed the proportions of when he took over three seasons ago and the priority will be to restore some stability to the situation. Strangely for a team that so dominated the championship last year and built that domination on careful calculation and methodical planning, Donegal find themselves 12 months later in as difficult a situation as any outgoing champions in recent memory.