Galway’s most decorated League of Ireland player Stephen O’Donnell, who won 6 league of Ireland titles, 3 FAI Cups and 3 League Cups in a glittering domerstic career, has announced this week that he is to retire from playing with immedite effect and join Dundalk’s coaching staff. O’Donnell joined Dundalk as a player in December of 2012 and in the 6 seasons he played with the Lilywhites he won 4 league titles, 2 FAI Cups and 2 EA Sports Cup titles, making the PFAI Premier Division Team of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
Having started out his underage career with Newcastle in Galway, the brilliant teenager was snapped up by Arsenal in 2002 as a 16 year old and signed his first professional contract in early 2003. Stephen spent 3 years at Arsenal without making a first team appearance before moving to Falkirk in Scotland in 2005, where he made 52 appearances. In 2007 he returned to Ireland to join Bohemians and in 2008 won the league and FAI Cup double with the Gypsies, the first of 3 such successes in Irish football for O’Donnell. 2009 was spent at Cork City before a year later he spent one season with Galway United, scoring 8 goals in 26 appearances. It was a disappointing season for United, who had to rely on a 1-0 relegation play-off win over Bray Wanderers to ensure their survival. Interestingly, the second highest scorer in the league of Ireland Premier Division that year was Padraig Amond of Sligo with 17 goals, the same player who scored the winning penalty for Newport County against Leicester City in the FA Cup third round last weekend.
In 2011 Stephen signed for Shamrock Rovers and more success followed as the Hoops won the league and Setanta Sports Cup, but it was in August 2011 that saw one of his career highlights when he scored the winning goal from a penalty at Partizan Belgrade as Rovers became the first Irish club to reach the group stages of the Europa League. At the end of 2012 Stephen made his final career move as a player when he signed for Dundalk and in his first season with Stephen Kenny’s side finished second in the league, 3 points behind champions St Patricks Athletic.
O’Donnell suffered a very serious injury playing against former club Shamrock Rovers in April 2014 when he tore his cruciate knee ligaments, but he returned 6 months later to play a pivotal role in the last game of the season against Cork City. Stephen scored the first goal in the 48th minute of Dundalk’s 2–0 win over Cork City in the final match of the season, picked up the Man of the Match award and as a result, Dundalk were crowned premier league champions for the first time in 19 years. Further honours followed with league titles in 3 of the last 4 years but injuries have plagued the Galwegian in recent seasons and he missed the bulk of last term after suffering a leg break in May.
One of O’Donnell’s briefs will be to take over the role as opposition scout under new head coach Vinny Perth who takes over following Stephen Kenny’s departure. It is understood that his backroom team role will also involve some coaching and helping out in the area of player recruitment. Having married Galway girl Michelle Glynn last November, Stephen’s move from player to backroom staff is the latest exciting chapter in a brilliant career. We wish him well.