More questions for Donegal GAA after a nightmare end to Paddy Carr’s dream job

Paddy Carr has resigned as Donegal manager after just six games. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Five months and six league matches is all it took for Paddy Carr’s dream job to unravel into what must have felt like a nightmare over the last few days.

“Not everyone gets the chance to do the job that they love,” said Carr on the night he was ratified. “I will put my body, soul, heart and mind into Donegal football.”

Fast-forward to the last line of yesterday’s short resignation statement: “I want nothing more than the best for Donegal and that will never change.”

Clearly, this much-travelled manager hadn’t fallen out of love with the idea of guiding a county he holds dear to his heart … but the job had fallen out of love with him.

The reality of county management has been laid bare in the past fortnight. The pressure and unforgiving spotlight come from all angles – not just impatient supporters, mainstream and social media, but players, too.

Ray Dempsey, gone from Limerick after five league games. Now Carr too, gone after six.

The expectation levels may differ: Limerick began as relegation favourites in Division 2, whereas Donegal’s muscle memory of All-Ireland glory in 2012 has left a legacy of early season belief among the faithful that hasn’t been backed up by the recent years of flattering to deceive.

That veneer of Tir Chonaill confidence has been shattered by the past year, on the field and off it.

Losing to Derry in the Ulster final, and especially Armagh in the fashion they did, offered powerful evidence that the Declan Bonner era had reached the endgame.

Subsequent events have been far more damaging, and for much of this Carr is entirely blameless – the recent unravelling of Donegal GAA’s Academy being the most obvious.

It should be stressed that the senior team’s travails and Karl Lacey stepping down as Head of Academy Development in early February, and the lingering controversy this has spawned, are entirely separate sagas. But both issues raise questions about the leadership of Donegal GAA.

The executive will attempt to address the academy controversy head on at a specially convened county committee meeting tonight … presumably they’d prefer if this wasn’t taking place against the backdrop of a managerial mess.

The prolonged search to unearth a new manager last autumn called into question why it took so long for the county board to get their man – especially when several others, most notably Rory Kavanagh, were seemingly earmarked first.

Consider the timeline. Donegal lost to Armagh on June 12; Bonner stepped down on July 20; Carr was ratified on October 24.

The newcomer brought some All-Ireland pedigree (as Kilmacud Crokes manager in 2009) and his head coach Aidan O’Rourke was a Celtic Cross winner with Armagh.

But whereas it would be entirely wrong to say Carr’s Donegal misadventure was doomed from the outset, his appointment raised eyebrows: his previous inter-county stint, with Louth, had ended in 2003. The new Donegal ticket also had a cobbled-together feel given that Carr and O’Rourke had been nominated separately.

His brief tenure was blighted by a mix of bad luck and a steeply declining results graph.

In terms of body blows to a dressing-room, it doesn’t get any worse than losing Michael Murphy to retirement. Then, in only his second league outing, came a literal hammer blow: a hamstring injury that required surgery for his new captain, Patrick McBrearty.

And to think it had started so brightly the previous week, with a comeback victory over All-Ireland champions Kerry, sealed at the death by a trademark McBrearty point on the loop. It proved the ultimate false dawn: consecutive eight-point defeats to Tyrone and Monaghan, the brief respite of a battling draw with Galway, then another sobering loss to Armagh. And that abject display, all but sealing relegation, at home to Mayo last Sunday.

Carr is a very personable and usually upbeat manager but even he couldn’t dress up their reaction to Ryan O’Donoghue’s early second-half goal.

“The fight seemed to go out of our lads and that’s a worry,” he told Highland Radio. “Heads went down, and that’s not what lads are sent out to do.”

As his statement confirmed, he has stepped away “following a discussion with some senior members of the Donegal football team.” That clearly implies a level of dissatisfaction with how the relationship was working – or not.

After this sorry chapter, whoever inherits the role is unlikely to describe it as his dream job.