Stephen O’Donnell’s First Year in Charge: Success or Not?

Before we start, I will admit that I’m a St. Patricks Athletic fan. Have been for a long time now. I’m getting this information out early doors as I don’t want it to be mistaken for being bias. Nor do I want it to be looked at as a fan having a moan. Like most of the stuff I talk about it’s all opinion based.

These are the issues we really want to hear from the fans on. An open forum if you will and this is simply my two cents on the matter. The Big Kick Off ismy safe harbour away from the villainy of social media and fan forums.

Stephen O’Donnell recently reached his one-year milestone as Head Coach at St. Patricks Athletic.

He took charge of his first game back on the 6th of September 2019. It was a winning start beating Finn Harps 2-1 away in the league.

This was O’Donnell’s first ever time managing at senior level. He was previously a part of Dundalk’s back room staff before his appointment. Acting as their Senior Opposition Analyst and Scout.

So, many people were surprised to see O’Donnell appointed as Head Coach at St. Pats.

Stephen O'Donnell named St Patrick's Athletic Head Coach - League of Ireland

Humble Beginnings

He replaced Harry Kenny in the hotseat. Kenny was shown the door at Richmond Park after an abysmal performance away to UCD in the FAI Cup getting beat 3-1 by the students. This would be the same season UCD would be relegated back down to the First Division.

In fairness to Stephen O’Donnell it’s never easy taking over the reigns at a club midway through the season. You are taking over someone else’s team that you can’t change.

O’Donnell took over with only seven games remaining of the 2019 Premier Division season. He even said himself that the rest of the season was a write off and he would just use that time to judge what players he wanted to keep for next season.

St. Pats would finish the 2019 in 5th place. Not what fans expected with the talent available in the squad, but O’Donnell done his bit during his introduction.

He only lost two of those seven remaining league games. One of those was an away defeat on the final day of the season to Champions Dundalk.

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First Full Season

The arrival of the 2020 season did bring renewed optimism.

Pats fans were hoping for a season that would see them get back into Europe. With plenty of fresh faces coming in it seemed like O’Donnell was starting to put his stamp on this St. Pats side.

However, the Saints currently sit 3rd from bottom. Three points away from the relegation play off position with eight league games to go.

Blaming the forced Covid-19 break seems like a cop out at this stage. It was a spanner in the works for everyone in the league and to blame the inconsistency at Pats this season solely on that would be wrong.

Even before all that things weren’t all rosy in the garden.

The Saints had a favourable enough start facing Waterford, Sligo Rovers, Shelbourne, and Cork City in their opening four games of the season. While you can’t look past any teams it was a way to pick up a healthy chunk of points before facing the likes of Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers.

From his 21 competitive games in charge Stephen O’Donnell’s side have won seven games. With two of those wins coming in the Leinster Senior Cup.

Compare that to the record of Harry Kenny who was also met with heavy criticism during his time at the club. Kenny had the luxury of more games manging Pats 35 times in competitive action. With a record of 14 wins, 7 draws and 14 defeats.

While Kenny did play more games, his side wasn’t that consistent with results either. However, many believe that St. Pats on field product is much worse under O’Donnell.

Martin Rennie warns St Patrick's Athletic rivals that they will put  stuttering start behind them - Dublin Live

Poor Performances

I hate to say it, but it shows a club on the decline on the field. A big complaint from Pats fans in recent seasons is the outright lack of passion or leadership on the pitch.

This has arguably been a problem before Liam Buckley left the club as things began to get very predictable.

While it isn’t an issue brought into the club by O’Donnell, he’s the main man now and it’s an issue that needs to be fixed.

Watching the most recent game away to Waterford in the league was embarrassing. It looked like a group of players that just met on the bus journey down to the RSC.

This isn’t the first time either. Besides a false dawn performance again to champions Dundalk at the return of football St. Pats have been horrific to watch as a fan.

Things are actively getting worse as the weeks go on and Pats are really looking into the abyss of a relegation battle in a season that seen Pats fans renewing their passports in anticipation.

We scrapped a draw at home against rivals Shamrock Rovers and some fans met this result with pride.

Pats haven’t scored single goal in a month since their 2-0 win over Finn Harps back in the start of August. Overall, the Saints have only scored seven goals in the league this season. Those my friends are relegation numbers.

What time and channel is St Patrick's Athletic vs Shamrock Rovers on today?  All you need to know - Irish Mirror Online

What’s Going Wrong?

In this short season nothing can be taken for granted.

Yes, if Pats win two games in a row things suddenly look a bit better. Many people have said Pats will be fine because Cork and Finn Harps are so bad. But both have picked up wins recently enough which would suggest that’s the wrong attitude to take.

Why are things going so wrong for St. Patricks Athletic this season?


Recruitment this season has worked out terribly. Before the start of the 2020 season O’Donnell signed a bunch of new players and three more during the mid-season break. While you can accept not every recruit will be fantastic the recruitment has been awful.

Conor Kearns wasn’t needed and pushed out a better keeper in Brian Maher. Jason McCelland and Georgie Kelly have both been poor. Ollie Younger came in on loan played two games got sent off in one and injured in the other and left, cheers for that Ollie.

That’s before getting on to the biggest offender Martin Rennie. Unlike most players that move to League of Ireland clubs he wasn’t out of contract, he commanded a fee to move to the Dublin club. If you seen him play you would agree he should be paying them money for letting him have a game.

The likes of Ciaran Kelly, Kevin Toner, Dave Webster and recently Brian Maher were all aloud to leave the club. A decision that now seems baffling.

Look some of the new players have been brilliant. The like of Billy King and Dan Ward must get credit where it’s due.

Even David Titov came during the mid-season break and won the clubs Player of the Month award for August.

How was he rewarded for this?

With a place on the bench against Waterford on Friday night. - - St Patrick's Athletic sign Scottish forward Martin  Rennie


Which brings us on to this biggest issue in my humble opinion, the consistency under O’Donnell is non-existent.

When he took over for Harry Kenny, we all understood those final games of the season would be used to work out his system, vision and look at players.

We are now a year on, and he still doesn’t seem to know his best starting 11. Nobody that watches Pats on a weekly basis will be able to tell you this style of play or vision that he has for the club going forward.

Management Team

The coaches around are as inexperienced as he is besides Alan Matthews.

Pat Cregg while a decent baller in his day has zero experience at any capacity as a coach. Yet, he was brought in by O’Donnell to be his assistant. He is apparently the person who recommended Martin Rennie to O’Donnell. So thankfully he didn’t come in as a Scout, things are bad enough.

Sean O’Connor is in the coaching staff too. The same Sean O’Connor that openly mocked the club in the past questioning their ambition now sits as part of O’Donnell’s management team.

Recruitment, consistency, and management team. Three things that are fundamentally flawed at the club from an on-field perspective. While O’Donnell isn’t solely to blame, he does have to take the brunt of it.

The club does have deeper issues at its core but that is another article for another day. That’s a rabbit hole nobody wants to go down.

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What’s To Blame?

A lot of the players just don’t seem to want to play for O’Donnell. The same way a lot of them didn’t want to play for Kenny.

Chris Forrester is a shadow of his former self. While the likes of James Donna and Jamie Lennon just to name two don’t look up for it at all.

O’Donnell just looks out of his depth.

A man that came into the roll vastly inexperienced and raised plenty of eyebrows on arrival. It just doesn’t look like he will have the same success as the likes of Ian Morris and Stephen Bradley who were also inexperienced when taking the reigns at their clubs Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne.

O’Donnell has a good budget for the league to work with. A good-sized squad with plenty of good players on paper and simply put, it just isn’t working.

I’m all for giving a manager time to implement his ideas and vision into a team. But a year is a good benchmark and while circumstances like Covid-19 haven’t done O’Donnell any favours in a results based business, the results done lie.

The team doesn’t look like it’s improving or it even has a solid plan going forward.

Dundalk loanee makes swift impact as St Pat's beat Finn Harps · The42

Tough Decisions

The short season is making everyone very nervous and the treat of relegation is real as of now for Pats fans.

Do you give Stephen the benefit of the doubt and judge him after a normal full season in 2021 away from all this Covid madness?

This could be the likely option as the board at the club isn’t known for making rash decisions. For better or worse they like to see how things play out.

They probably won’t want to let go of O’Donnell with only eight games to go in the league in such a delicate position in 8th place. Leaving the club in more unrest scrabbling for another replacement. They may prefer to give him until the end of the season if getting rid of him is their plan.

But on the flip side if you leave him in charge at this rate St. Pats could realistically drop down to the First Division for the first time in the club’s history.

Us Pats fans take pride in the fact we have never been relegated. Tough decisions need to be made to ensure it stays that way.

So, let’s simply answer the question from the title to wrap things up. Has Stephen O’Donnell’s first year in charge been successful? No.

St Patrick's Athletic boss Stephen O'Donnell believes overseas scouting  could reap rewards for the club after fine start – The Irish Sun

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