McGowan calls it a day with Donegal

 

WITH most of the focus on the hurling championships this and next weekend, there have been some movements on the inter-county management front. While Dublin were confirming Mickey Whelan as manager for the third year of his appointment, two of his counterparts elsewhere in the country were relinquishing office.

Fellow Dubliner Dave Foran had his appointment terminated in Wicklow, whereas PJ McGowan announced in Donegal that he was stepping down after three years in charge of the 1992 All-Ireland champions. His statement was equivocal - saying that he would not oppose anyone who wanted to take over the position - but he admits it amounts to a resignation.

"In effect. I'm sure there are several people in the county who will be interested in taking over."

The announcement isn't a surprise. Donegal have been in visible decline for a couple of years and despite reaching two National League finals, have endured three disappointing championships culminating in a heavy defeat by Cavan, managed in a vicious irony by former Donegal star Martin McHugh. What finally decided the issue for McGowan?

"Well, I studied where the situation had reached and what was required because there's a lot of difficult work ahead and I'd have taken it on if no-one else was willing. There's a great deal of team-building required which will take more than one or two years before the task is complete.

"I don't have a divine right to this job and if there's someone else who feels they might like a crack at it, I'm happy that they should get it."

He acknowledges that his timing wasn't ideal. The heart of the All- Ireland-winning side was removed within a couple of years. Captain and centrefielder Anthony Molloy and centre forward Martin McHugh retired, centre back Martin Gavigan suffered a dispiriting amalgam of injury and suspension. The team in general had been around for a while.

"There's a feeling in Donegal that in '92, the team was just getting to be an old side," says McGowan. "That year was the pinnacle. In '93, they reached an Ulster final, a year later an Ulster semi-final: the graph was heading the wrong way and a few stalwarts had given up by then.

"In 1995, we got a good bit done, reached the League final and lost to Derry - we weren't good enough to beat them - and then beat Down who were All-Ireland champions. Losing to Monaghan after that was probably the biggest hiccup of my time in charge. In '96, we topped Division One but again lost to Derry in the final before gallantly losing to a Down team who went on to reach the Ulster final.

"I feel the side is gone back a considerable distance. Appetite dissipates with age and it's not there at present."

This year has been particularly disappointing. Aside from the Cavan defeat, there was a poor League campaign which saw Donegal fail to reach the play-offs for after seven successive years of qualifying and, worse, lose their place in Division One for the first time this decade.

Replacing the departing players has proved very difficult and resulted in a large number of the 1992 team holding onto places after they might have been expected to come under pressure, but the under-age supply lines haven't been gushing.

"Last year's minor side was as good as anything we've had in recent years. They lost to Laois, who won the All-Ireland, but only played for half an hour. There hasn't been one of that side to have emerged as quickly as we would have liked. None featured even on the under-21 side this year which is a bit surprising.

"I introduced a number of players - Sean McEwan, Damien Diver, Peter McGinley, James Ruane, Dessie McNamara and Brian Roper - and that's nearly all there is."

Admitting that he might have acted differently in relation to a couple of matters that "I've no intention of publicising", McGowan maintains that the championship defeat by Monaghan two years ago was the most galling event of his tenure.

"What happened in '95 against Monaghan was caused by complacency and attitude and that's with due respect to Monaghan. I could see the attitude unfolding at the time, but there wasn't much I could do."

For the future, his sporting horizons will vary slightly, but he intends to remain involved.

"I'm going to see if I can win a prize on the golf course, but I've too much football in me since the age of 10 not to continue my involvement. I've been involved as an administrator on the Ulster Council and the GAC as well as at a coaching level. The playing side has always been more interesting to me than the administrative and I got most enjoyment in the last couple of years from being involved with the under-12s at my club. You can take it I won't be lost to the association."

Speculation as to his successor has already begun. Predictably, the 1992 team has produced a number of likely candidates, although former manager Brian McEniff has reiterated his unavailability. Donal Reid, right wing back on that team, is currently manager of the under-21s. Anthony Molloy, the All-Ireland captain, has managed the county minors and is mentioned as a possible dual appointment with Tom Conaghan, former senior and All- Ireland-winning under-21 manager.

Selectors from '92, Seamus Bonner and Micahel Lafferty have also been mentioned, as has Padraig McShea, a close associate and former playing colleague of McEniff's, who impressed when coaching Killybegs to a county title last year.

Dave Foran's managerial stint with Wicklow came to an end after a county board meeting decided not to keep the former Dublin footballer on for the final year of his term. Although Foran enjoyed some success in the League during his three years in charge, the county never enjoyed much championship success. Foran yesterday expressed his disappointment about the way the matter was handled - he learned of the board's decision through the media after the board failed to contact him.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Dublin's confirmed football management of Mickey Whelan, Lorcan Redmond and Chris Kane is likely to be supplemented by the appointment of a fourth selector. As all the current selectors are around 60 years of age, it has been suggested that a younger addition to the line-up may be made.