Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Jacko McDonagh

1985 - 87 : Nîmes Olympique (France)
1988 - 91 : Waregem (Belgium)

Born in Dublin in 1962, he began a promising career with Bohemians in the city's north-side  When he was 20, Jacko McDonagh moved across the River Liffey to join Boh's arch rivals Shamrock Rovers. 

At Glenmalure Park, he became a hero, and his big performances were rewarded with 3 Ireland caps before he had turned 22. McDonagh's star was rising, and many people thought a move to the English First Division was not far away. 

In the summer of 1985, at the age of 23, he scored his big move away from the League of Ireland, when he surprisingly moved to France. However, he was not signing for a French giant, his new club, Nîmes, were a Second Division team.

McDonagh wasn't the only Shamrock Rovers player moving to Ligue 2 that summer. His teammate Noel King was on his way to Valenciennes, but would only last four months.

His new manager was former French international Marcel Domingo, who had previously managed Valencia and Real Betis. McDonagh was one of three foreigners with the club, alongside Dutch international Jan Poortvliet and Danish legend Kristen Nygaard. It was a talented team, well capable of reaching Ligue 1, and McDonagh was drafted in to aid this goal.

A relatively small club in France; Nîmes had been founded in 1937 in the Southern city of the same name. Nicknamed Les Crocodiles, they play home games at the 18,000 capacity Stade des Costieres. However, when McDonagh was there, they were still playing at the older Stade Jean Bouin ground. The club have never won a major honour, although they reached the final of the Coupe de France three times.

McDonagh (back-row, third from right) with Nimes in 1985

Playing in the French Second Division,McDonagh made 20 appearances for Nîmes in his first season with the club. He also managed to score twice. Nîmes finished the season in 6th place in Ligue 2, 8 points off promotion. They would have to battle it out again next year.

Domingo left the club that summer, and McDonagh's team-mate Kristen Nygaard was appointed manager. This was good news for the Irishman, as his Danish friend thought highly of him, and his place in the first team with more appearances was assured.
In his second year at Nimes, McDonagh (back-row, third from left)

In his second year with them, he made 28 appearances, netting 3 goals. The club had fared no better and no closer to promotion however, as they finished in 6th place again, 14 points off promotion.

McDonagh himself felt his career wasn't progressing. He had played very well in France, but wasn't getting the attention he would have liked from bigger clubs there. Also, his Ireland career had vanished, as he had failed to be called up for successive squads since his move to the continent. With that in mind, he decided to leave and return to Ireland. A few years after his departure, Nîmes would see the likes of Eric Cantona and Laurent Blanc join its ranks. 

His return to his home country wasn't as memorable as his first stint there. He signed for Derry City, a relative newcomer to the League of Ireland, as it had previously played in the North's Irish League. His spell wasn't successful at all however, and the defender now aged 26 seemed to have seen his glory days pass him by. He moved to England, but to lowly Oxford United, where he spent half-a-season before deciding once again to return to the continent and the promises it could hold for him.

By now sure that he would never play for Ireland again and in need of a competitive, professional contract; he signed for Belgian outfit KSV Waregem in the summer of 1988. This was a club vaguely familiar to Irish football enthusiasts, as it is where compatriot Liam Buckley had played two years earlier. Buckley's time with the club had been a huge success as he helped guide them to the Quarter-Finals of the UEFA Cup.

By 1988 though, Buckley was in Switzerland, and McDonagh was relishing his new challenge. Based in West Flanders, the Flemish speaking city of 36,000 inhabitants has had a team since 1925, and reached the Belgian top flight for the first time in 1966. Through the years, because of mergers and varying political/cultural trends, the club's name has been changed on a few occasions. As of 2012, they are known as S.V. Zulte-Waregem and continue to play in the Belgian Top League. The club clinched the Belgian Cup in 1974 and the Super Cup in 1982 and play at the 8,500 capacity Regenboogstadion.

The season prior to McDonagh's arrival had seen Waregem finish in 6th place, qualifying for the UEFA Cup. The Irishman was one of five new signings in the summer of 1988 to help the club challenge in Europe again. Sadly, the club slumped to 9th place that season.

In the UEFA Cup, they got off to a great start by hammering Norwegian club FC Molde 6-1 on aggregate in the First Round. McDonagh played in the second leg. However, the Second Round saw them drawn against East German giants Dynamo Dresden. In the first leg in Germany, Waregem were slaughtered by Ulf Kirsten in a 4-1 drubbing. McDonagh started for the Belgians that night.

Dynamo Dresden 4-1 Waregem

He kept his place in the squad for the return leg as Waregem beat the East Germans 2-1 at home. This wasn't enough to steer them through however, and Waregem's last European dream had died.

The following summer, Belgian legend René Verheyen was appointed manager.  He couldn't help steer the ship however, and the club finished the 1989-90 season in 16th place, just one short of relegation and disaster.

In McDonagh's season with the club, they finished in a respectable 13th place, however their glory days were clearly behind them.

The same could probably be said of McDonagh himself, who took it upon himself to retire in the summer of 1991, he was just 29. His career, certainly at international level had peaked early, and he never really clawed back the reputation he had built at home as a young centre-back. His time in France was productive and he should be proud of it, but sadly no bigger clubs there or anywhere came looking for him. 

He probably could have achieved so much more...

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