Brian McEniff believes Donegal will challenge again in post-McGuinness era

Former All-Ireland winning manager says qualifiers may be the best route to success

Former All-Ireland winning Donegal manager Brian McEniff believes that the county can challenge again next year for the All-Ireland despite the departure of manager Jim McGuinness and the disappointment of losing last month's final to Kerry.

“I would say that there’s a great squad of players in Donegal and I think that they’re nearly all – the only one I couldn’t be sure of is Colm McFadden – available for next year. Look at ‘Star’ and the some of the Kilkenny players. It’s there to be done if you really want to do it.

"On top of that we'd an under-21 side beaten in the last minute by Cavan who almost beat Dublin, who went on the win it and a very good minor side which is quite big and strong. There's an opportunity to strengthen the squad. Donegal's a big county as well."

McEniff feels however that the county's best opportunity may come in the qualifiers. Having won the Ulster title three times in four years and added the All-Ireland in 2012, Donegal have the experience necessary to navigate the outside track successfully as Tyrone did twice in the past 10 years but there is also the consideration that the road through the province is so arduous.


Donegal were drawn in the preliminary round and on the significantly harder side of the draw. "Look at the programme Donegal have next year," says McEniff. "Tyrone, Armagh, Down and Derry on one side with them and Monaghan coming through on the other – it's a big ask. They might be better coming through the back door.

Plenty of talent

“For an Ulster team it’s not a bad way to go in. This year we played four Ulster teams before we reached the All-Ireland semi-final. Next year we’re going to have to play four Ulster teams to get to a quarter-final.”

The former manager also believes that the panel will need to be strengthened but says that there is plenty of talent around the county.

“I remember in my last year I wanted to freshen up the squad and ran trials within the divisions and went into the McKenna Cup for the four matches and played a brand new team.

"The first time they played together was in Navan against the Underdogs and Pearse O'Neill and 'Star' were both playing that day and the two Donegal midfielders played the living bejaysus out of them. One was Neil Gallagher.

"I also had the young Neil McGee on the team and a very good 'keeper called Michael Boyle and I had Ryan Bradley at wing forward. From raking around I got four players and three of them went on to win an All-Ireland. There is that level of player out there."

For the past four successful years McGuinness maintained a fairly tight panel of players with a restricted rota of first-team footballers. McEniff says that whoever takes over is likely to try to broaden his options.

"A new person coming in can freshen up things. Say Rory Gallagher comes in he can look at things afresh. He's been involved with Kilcar for a couple of years so he sees all of the senior clubs.

“Our Division Two in Donegal – because of the fact there’s only nine teams in the top division – it’s not as good as Division One but it’s not that far behind and there’s always some quality players at those clubs, players who can step up to the mark.”

The name of the new manager is expected to be known within the next week. Along with Gallagher, Paddy Carr, Anthony Harkin and Cathal Corey are in contention.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times