Donegal GAA "not happy" with Academy arrangements as they belatedly accept Lacey's resignation

Karl Lacey (right) resigned as Head of Donegal's Academy in early February, a move tonight accepted by the county board. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Karl Lacey (right) resigned as Head of Donegal's Academy in early February, a move tonight accepted by the county board. Picture by Seamus Loughran

DONEGAL GAA has “reluctantly” accepted the resignation of Karl Lacey as head of the county’s academy.

Almost a month after the former Footballer of the Year tendered it to the county board following a dispute, Donegal GAA tonight released a lengthy statement outlining its decision to accept it, stating that attempts at mediation “did not succeed”.

Lacey had taken up the Academy position at the end of 2021, having just stepped down from then-senior manager Declan Bonner’s backroom team at the time.

While acknowledging the relative success he had enjoyed in the short time he held the role, Donegal GAA’s statement said that it was “not happy with the arrangements as implemented in the Football Academy”.

“As the on-field successes of the academy grew so too did the distance in position of the County Board and the Head of Academy on the arrangements,” it read.

“Good control should not interfere with or hinder success, it should provide a sound base to allow it to grow and flourish. Donegal GAA are not only bound by, but fully endorse, GAA governance standards. There has never been any question that any activity undertaken by Donegal GAA must adhere to these standards.”

The statement adds that there is “absolutely no suggestion or inference that there was any malintent or neglect” on the part of Lacey or any of the Academy coaches.

Donegal GAA claims that members of the executive had spoke to and met Lacey “on a number of occasions” to try and arrange a meeting to solve the issues, but that their attempts were unsuccessful.

In a county that has only ever played in one All-Ireland minor final, it was felt within Donegal that Lacey’s work was helping them make strides to correct that.

He resigned on February 3 after months of tension with the county board over various issues.

In his message to fellow Academy coaches after stepping down, he said he left with “a heavy heart” but that while he was proud of their achievements, he “[felt] sad that we have not been supported in continuing to impact our young players.”

It’s understood that one of the primary issues on the board’s behalf was around the increased cost of running the development squads in 2022 compared to the previous year.

The decision to accept Lacey’s resignation ends one chapter of the story but certainly doesn’t close the book on it.

A group of approximately 40 coaches involved with the county’s U14, U15 and U16 development squads departed their own voluntary roles in support of the Four Masters clubman.

The only coaches left in place were those in charge of the flagship U17 and U20 teams, led by Luke Barrett and Leo McLoone respectively.

The rest resigned en masse in support of Lacey, and their position over a possible return in light of Lacey’s permanent departure is uncertain.

Their statement at the time finished with the line: “As a group, we have lost all confidence in governance of Donegal GAA.”

“We wish to be clear that any former Academy coach will be welcomed to participate,” said the county board statement regarding future plans for the Academy, which also said they would seek meetings with those coaches.

The statement, signed by county secretary Declan Martin, continued: “We thank Karl Lacey for his outstanding and exemplary efforts, as a strong role model for all that is good in our game. We acknowledge this has been a difficult time for all concerned.

“The GAA in Donegal should be in a place where excellence is the standard and that we all play our part in ensuring this happens.

“We wish Karl every success in his future. By working together we are committed to making our underage development best in class.”