The new All-County Football League starts this weekend – and it will be all change on the Donegal football sidelines.
A total of 29 new managers will be patrolling the pitches this year in Donegal across the 39 football clubs – meaning 74.3 per cent of the clubs are under new bosses in 2017.
Just ten clubs have retained their managers from 2016. Of those, only Sean McBrearty of Letterkenny Gaels – the longest serving now in his fifth year – and Martin Regan at Naomh Conaill – who is in his third year – are beyond the second year of their tenures.
Some of the ‘new’ managers aren’t exactly novices in the game, though.
Francie Martin has taken over at Bundoran having previously worked at Glenswilly, Glenfin and Naomh Colmcille, while Stephen Friel is the new man in Sean MacCumhaills and lists Naomh Colmcille and the Donegal minors on his CV.
Dessie McFeely is back for a third time as the Robert Emmets manager, Paddy J McGinley is in for another stint at Naomh Columba, Adrian Brennan has been in the Ardara hotseat previously, while John McNulty takes the experience from Kilcar and, most recently, the Donegal Masters, to his new post in St Naul’s.
Two clubs – Carndonagh and Pettigo – have yet to appoint a manager for 2017.
THE DEPARTED – TONY BOYLE (DUNGLOE)
Tony Boyle is looking forward to watching club games in 2017 ‘without the worry of wondering if I’ll have a bloody team or not!’
The 1992 All-Ireland winner stepped down as manager of his native Dungloe in the winter after his latest stint in the role spanned three years.
“It’s no surprise that the turnover is so high,” Boyle says.
“I was committed for two years at the start and was basically railroaded into a third. It’s enjoyable but it’s hard work.
“I’d say it’s a nightmare for clubs and teams who are struggling for numbers.
“The big problem is the lack of a defined season. That nettle has to be grasped by Croke Park – but it doesn’t look like they’re listening to anyone at all.
“The way it is now there is complete disconnect between the top level and the average club player. People don’t seem to realise that your whole season could fall apart with one defeat in the month of May, depending on what club you’re with.”
Boyle, who has been replaced at Rosses Park by Paddy McGowan, also believes that Donegal GAA should seriously consider a 14-team Division 1.
He says: “Division 1 at the minute is a two-tier League. Dungloe, for example, are trying to consolidate and to maybe close the gap on the teams above us.
“I think they should make Division 1 bigger. Last year, we won the first game and then lost seven on the bounce. Some teams have gone the whole year without a League win lately.
“The bigger League would mean that you’d win a certain amount no matter what standard you are. It can get very demoralising to be out getting beaten week-in, week-out.
“But it’s such a big job now and it’s borne out of what county teams have been doing.
“You’d have some clubs in some counties who’d have budgets to match some county teams. Take Dungloe for example, we don’t have the same quality or quantity of some of the bigger teams and survival in Division 1 is the aim. We’d have to do extra work to maintain the standards.
“Division 1 is so important. Lads get a better education in Division 1.”
THE VETERAN – SEAN MCBREARTY (LETTERKENNY GAELS)
When Sean McBrearty took over Letterkenny Gaels, it was midway through the 2013 campaign and they’d just been beaten by Na Rossa.
The future was one of uncertainty, but McBrearty vowed that he was in it for the long haul.
He’s a rare breed in Donegal club football these days.
He’s the only manager who has already completed more than two seasons in his current role.
“It’s a serious commitment for someone to make,” McBrearty, now Donegal football’s longest serving manager, says.
“You need to make sure you have a group of guys buying into what you’re doing. If they can see what the target is and what the benefit is, then it’s easier to get the buy-in.”
McBrearty estimates that he spends around 20 hours a week – ‘a conservative estimate’, he says – on Letterkenny Gaels business.
“The club manager now is what a county manager would have been like 20 years ago,” McBrearty says.
“You’d be an hour or two every night at things, even looking at different permutations.
“From year-to-year, you have to do something different. You have to have a new variety and a new approach.”
In McBrearty’s first full season, the Gaels won promotion to Division 2 and is aiming this year to keep up the progress.
“Aye, I am enjoying it,” he says.
“In fairness a few things work out for me. I have a very understanding wife to give me the time for a start!
“I get on very well with the bunch of players and I have a very good backroom team – this year I have John McDermott and we have added Neil Gordon to the team.
“We have made good progress and have a lot of young players so we’re hoping to keep moving forward.”
THE NEWBIE – AIDY GLACKIN (GLENSWILLY)
It is perhaps a tad unfair to call Aidy Glackin a ‘newbie’ in management terms. – after all, he’s been seven years on the Glenswilly management team.
This year, though, it is Glackin wearing the Bainisteoir bib at Pairc Naomh Columba at the helm of the county champions.
“It was now or never for me,” Glackin says.
“We wanted to keep continuity and I had got a bit of experience with the minors and the reserves. I also have a little bit more time now as I’ve just started back in college.”
A student now at LyIT, Glackin is well aware of what lies ahead: “It’s a full-time job. Managing a team at any level now is like that.
“You have to be willing to put in the work – and there is an awful lot of work involved.
“You have the workload, the criticism and the pressure – you need to be thick skinned!”
Glackin served under Michael Canning last year as Glenswilly won Dr Maguire for a third time. He was the club chairman in 2012, the year Donegal won the All-Ireland and having been in charge of underage and the senior reserve teams at the club, is now dipping his toes into senior management for the first time.
He says?: “The timespan of a manager is short these days. The whole thing is so highly competitive now and people want success overnight. Sometimes it takes a wee bit longer.
“People think that we sprung up overnight in Glenswilly. People don’t see the years of work that went into the club and the hours that were put into the underage teams.”
Glackin says that 2017 will be a ‘rebuilding year’ and a ‘very important year’ for the Glenmen.
Senior clubs like Glenswilly were left frustrated this week after the county committee voted against their wishes on Monday night in decreeing that a round of the championship will be played in early May.
The club calendar is certainly a source of ‘frustration’ for new bosses like Glackin.
“I kind of knew what to expect,” he notes.
“It’s so geared towards the Championship and teams and clubs have just come to accept that this is just the way it is nowadays.
“People are banging their heads off the wall after the decision the last night at county committee. It would be better if we had a fixed plan – but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.”
Donegal football managers, 2017
Ardara Adrian Brennan (1st season)
Aodh Ruadh James O’Donnell (1st)
Buncrana Robert Farren (2nd)
Bundoran Francie Martin (1st)
Burt Ronan McLaughlin (2nd)
Cloughaneely Michael Lynch (1st)
Convoy Laurence McMullan (1st)
Downings Finghin McClafferty/Brendan McGee (1st)
Dungloe Paddy McGowan (1st)
Four Masters Kevin Gallagher (2nd)
Gaeil Fhánada Aidan McAteer (1st)
Gaoth Dobhair Mervyn O’Donnell (1st)
Glenfin Liam Breen (1st)
Glenswilly Aidy Glackin (1st)
Kilcar Barry Doherty (1st)
Killybegs Gary Connaghan (2nd)
Letterkenny Gaels Sean McBrearty (5th, 4th full)
Lifford Donal Grant (1st)
MacCumhaills Stephen Friel (1st)
Malin Terence Colhoun (2nd)
Milford Danny O’Donnell (2nd)
Moville Seamus Hegarty (1st)
Muff Aidan McAleer (2nd)
Na Rossa Pat Caulfield (1st)
Naomh Bríd Sean Timoney (2nd)
Naomh Colmcille Ryan McKinley (1st)
Naomh Columba Paddy J McGinley (1st)
Naomh Conaill Martin Regan (3rd)
Naomh Muire John Pidgeon/Owenie McGarvey (1st)
Naomh Ultan Kevin Lyons (1st)
Red Hughs Joseph Carlin (1st)
Robert Emmets Dessie McFeely (1st)
St Eunan’s Eddie Brennan/Barry Meehan (1st)
St Michael’s Michael Kelly (1st)
St Naul’s John McNulty (1st)
Termon Hugh Harkin (1st)
Urris Gerard Friel (1st)Tags: