COMING  back from having no manager, no Youth Academy and only eight players sounds like a recipe for oblivion in the world of soccer, but one West Belfast club have managed to fight back and turn their fortunes around.

As of last year, Donegal Celtic found themselves with no manager, only eight players, and had been going down in the rankings, as well as losing their Youth Academy.

However, that changed on October 2021 with the help of Patrick Moore (Director of Football) and Sean Barker (Chairman) who sought to reinvigorate the club and commit themselves fulltime to the rebirth of Donegal Celtic.

“I came on board via former player, manager and club legend Liam Hunter who unfortunately parted ways with the club shortly after,” said Patrick Moore, a former player and ardent supporter with over 30 years of affiliation with Donegal Celtic.

“Myself and Sean came together and devised a strategy of how to immediately recover from the position we were in with the Senior team and also how to grow out the football department again, for and with the local community.”

Patrick Moore, Donegal Celtic's Director of Football

Patrick Moore, Donegal Celtic's Director of Football

Patrick and Sean both stated their goals in revitalising the club were to be focused around three core concepts: community, respect and action.

Seeking out a new manager became a top priority, and during interviews Owen Baggley  came to the fore.

“He was young, driven, and a real student of the game and had his A License qualifications, a specific qualification needed for football management,” said Patrick.

“Owen had come from around six years at the Academies of Glentoran and Cliftonville, and he was able to bring in a crop of young players, making 15 signings in the December window.

“Some of these signings have gone towards helping us create a quality squad, with players such as Niall Dixon, Odhran Braniff, Brandon Breen and Shea Burns to name a few.”

The changes which were made came through the second half of a very difficult season for Donegal Celtic, and they managed to hold off a major crash, coming 11 out of 14 in the Ballymena and Provincial League 2021-2022 season.

Heading in the upcoming season Patrick explained how the club are feeling extremely positive about the future.

“With the new season on the horizon a further 17 signings have been made, and early signs are that they really raise the levels of the squads,” he continued.

“But we will let you see that for yourself as the season progresses.

“We also kicked off our Youth Academy on April 10 and have circa 80 kids registered and training Mondays and Wednesdays from 6pm to 7pm at St Mary’s Grammar School and we will be entering competitions for the coming season for the kids in the Youth Academy – a mixture of games with the Belfast & District Football League and small sided games tournaments for the younger kids in Solitude.

“The club have also appointed and safeguard trained 18 new coaches for the Youth Academy.”

Patrick continued: “This is a fantastic achievement in such a short turnaround time.

“Luckily, I work with many businesses that have been very generous and sponsored each age group, and we are very close to reaching a point of getting stuck into games.”

Owen Baggley is first team manager

Owen Baggley is first team manager

Celtic have also added a senior men’s reserve side to their roster, with Paul McManus as manager, Paul Delaney as head coach, and Pádraig McKissock and Liam Skelly as coaches.

The reserve side will be entering the upcoming Belfast & District Premier Division for the 22/23 season.

The reserve team has with the help of Patrick and Joseph McCall also secured the grounds of Coláiste Feirste to be the reserve’s home ground for the season, sharing the grounds with St James’ Swifts Strollers.

Last Monday night saw the latest club development when their senior ladies team met for training for the first time, with 25 in attendance.

Recently appointed Head of Ladies Football Lauren McElkerney to welcoming women of all levels of ability to get fit, have fun and be part of the Donegal Celtic community.

Donegal Celtic's Youth Academy is in full swing

Donegal Celtic's Youth Academy is in full swing

Speaking on how the club turned itself around, Patrick spoke on the club’s three guiding principles of community, respect and action in how they have attracted sponsors with the local community in mind.

Patrick said: “With community being at the heart of what we are doing, since the kick off of our redevelopment strategy in October, we haven’t received any forms of grants or funding and I would like to take the chance to thank our sponsors for bringing us this far.

“Pizza Guyz, who are our Partner Sponsor; ‘NECTO Search and Selection’ our other partner sponsor.

“I would also like to thank our sponsors: Fallones, Susie’s, Body Basics, McCann Foundation, EMCG Transport, Fonehouse, Bells Bakery, Paul Johnson and City Vapes.

“Our sponsors have enabled us to run the club with community in mind. We operate through Team Fee Pay as a cashless club and charge less than any other football club.

“We run things very tightly and ensure we cover costs to provide the kids and adults with the best possible equipment and experience with minimal cost to the parents, times are tough as it is and parents should not have to chose between food/gas/electric and their kids participating in an enjoyable, competitive sport where they will make friends for life.”

Lauren McElkerney is the Head of Ladies Football at Donegal Celtic

Lauren McElkerney is the Head of Ladies Football at Donegal Celtic

With the pre-season games already on the way, Donegal Celtic are looking forward to beginning the new season fully prepared, with a new mindset and a focus on what makes a great football club, the people and players involved and behind it.

Patrick added: “One thing for sure is that the sleeping giant of Donegal Celtic has awoken and is making a return on all fronts.”