Although the crises besetting the county football academy and the senior intercounty team are ostensibly separate, they are both symptomatic of the depth of the malaise in Donegal.
It is, in the words of one All-Ireland winner, “an all-time low for the county”. Another former player, and selector, Damien Diver called for a motion of no confidence in the county administration.
Thursday night’s county board meeting, called to provide an update on the academy situation in the wake of Karl Lacey’s resignation and, ironically for an in camera meeting, deal with issues raised by media, was bound to be used by clubs also to look for answers about the struggling county team.
Club delegates are angry about the failed interactions between the county executive and Donegal’s football infrastructure, which has seen the academy fail to open its doors on schedule this year.
Brian McEniff, manager of the county’s first All-Ireland winners in 1992, is hopeful things can get back on track but concedes that the blow to development is a major concern.
“There is an advantage that some of the counties on the western seaboard have. We have a population of nearly 170,000, which gives us a distinct advantage over, say, the Monaghans. It should mean that we can achieve some consistency instead of fluctuating up and down.
“If we’re going to capitalise on that, the underage structure is so important to get right.”
Earlier in the week he had called for the appointment of Jim McGuinness as acting senior manager after the resignation of Paddy Carr but it is believed in the county that McGuinness, who had been on board with Rory Kavanagh’s proposed management ticket, which included Lacey, is unlikely to commit to taking over given his continuing pursuit of a soccer coaching career.
McEniff believes Donegal simply “have to move on” and get a new management in position as quickly as possible.
The blunt message from players to Paddy Carr this week that he had effectively lost the dressingroom after 149 days and eight fixtures was a terrible slight on someone widely seen as a decent man, who ended up with the job as Donegal manager essentially because he was willing to do it.
These interventions are brutal but they are also final and Carr would have known that the game was up once the players made their opinion clear. He stepped down, saying: “I want nothing more than the best for Donegal and that will never change”.
He had no luck either. Michael Murphy, arguably the county’s greatest ever player and All-Ireland-winning captain, retired and then the remaining survivor of the 2012 All-Ireland win, Patrick McBrearty, sustained a serious hamstring injury, requiring surgery.
How did Donegal end up taking so long to appoint Declan Bonner’s successor and running out of plausible options?
The executive will argue the late withdrawal of Rory Kavanagh and his management ticket left them in an impossible position but the eventual appointment didn’t happen until October 24th and Donegal had exited the championship on June 12th.
Carr’s selectors Paddy Bradley and Aidan O’Rourke were confirmed earlier on Thursday as the acting management for the county’s final league fixture on Sunday against Roscommon – also likely to be the last one in Division One for at least two years.
There is no indication of whether they are likely – or even want – to stay on for the championship, which begins in a month’s time with a trip to Newry to face Down.
Ironically, the best two results of the campaign came against last year’s All-Ireland finalists, Kerry and Galway with a win and a draw, respectively. But four defeats have left Donegal propping up the table with only a theoretical chance of staying up should they win this weekend.
The loss of Lacey in February caused shockwaves in the county. Player of the Year in 2012, he had been seen to do an impressive job as head of the Donegal academy before walking away, citing a lack of support from the county board.
This was followed by the mass resignation of the academy coaching and support team who in a statement said that they had “lost all confidence in governance of Donegal GAA”.
The county GAA “reluctantly” accepted the resignations after mediation attempts had failed.
Speaking in March, Anthony Molloy, captain of Donegal’s first All-Ireland-winning team in 1992, said the crisis was more worrying than the likely relegation from Division One.
“We were in the top five academies in the country from what I hear and now we are sitting without any academy and it should never have happened.
“No-one seems to know the answers as to why it did happen but definitely [there was] a breakdown in communication between our county board and Karl Lacey and the academy. There is no doubt about that. Karl Lacey is going to be a huge, huge loss to Donegal.”