Johnny McDonnell hadn’t had a break from football since 1983.
McDonnell has a long career as a defender, which saw him play his trade on both sides of the border and become a League of Ireland winner twice with St Patrick’s Athletic.
By the time he hung up the boots for good after a spell at Dublin City in 2002, he had already sat in the dugout for the former Fingal club, as well as at Newry Town.
A four-year spell back at Inchicore as manager preceded spells at Shelbourne, Newry City, and the Faroe Islands, but after leaving Drogheda United in 2015, the national scene has not heard from McDonnell since.
Until now, with the 52-year-old coming in to assist Declan Roche this year with DCU, and Johnny Mac couldn’t be happier to be back out on the pitch.
“I’ve had a nice break over the last year and a half.” McDonnell said.
“I haven’t had a break since I suppose 18, I’m just back from a three week break in the Canaries, I just chilled out.
“But when Deccy [Roche] approached me over the summer to do a bit of work with them, it just gave me the guile to go again.
“I’m obviously not working at the moment with any senior teams in the League of Ireland. Deccy approached me a few weeks back, I sat down with him and we had a chat about what he was trying to do and where he was trying to go with it.
“He asked me, with my experience, to come in, and I said ‘yeah why not’.
“It gets me back into the scene and it’s something different for me.
“It’s not every single day, 24 hours a day where your phone’s ringing, it just gets me back onto the pitch.”
Working with younger players was another big pull factor for the Northsider.
McDonnell sees his role with the college as a developer, and he hopes to be able to give over his experience to improve the quality here at DCU, and the former assistant to Brian Kerr has been impressed with what he’s seen so far.
“We’ve been three weeks back now, and the commitment is fantastic.” he said.
“Facilities here are fantastic as well.
“These players we have are working at senior level with First Division teams, Leinster Senior League teams, and League of Ireland teams, so it’s good, the standard in training is good.
“They do whatever we need them to do, and I just can’t wait to get them onto the pitch, see a game and see the level we’re at.
“I’m liking working with the younger players as well. From a coach’s point of view, we educate them and bring them along, we help them here as well as giving them help with their senior teams as well.”
McDonnell is making no bones about his commitment to the DCU cause.
“I treat it as if I’m managing a senior team in the League of Ireland.
“That’s the standard I would come in with, and I’ve said that from the start with the players – come in, and just be committed for the hour and a half in the morning.
“Give it everything that you can, so that every time they leave the pitch they’re leaving with something technically, tactically, even mentally, that will make them a better player.”
Image Credit: Paul Mohan/Sportsfile