Former Bolton Wanderers goalkeeper, Seamus ‘Jim’ McDonagh was the last in a succession of goalkeepers who filled a largely unhappy void between two of Everton’s great custodians, Gordon West and Neville Southall.
A £250,000 recruit from Bolton Wanderers in July 1980, McDonagh came in for George Wood, considered the finest of West’s many successors. Those who tried to fill the green jersey without success included David Lawson, Dai Davies, Drew Brand and Martin Hodge. McDonagh, in his season long spell, was considered more on a par with Wood than the hapless ‘Dai the Drop’ or Lawson – competent, commanding, reliable and yet not destined to greatness or to fundamentally alter the fortunes of a declining team.
Yet his time at Goodison started well and he supplanted Gerry Peyton (himself later on Everton’s books) in the Republic of Ireland team. Everton also overcame some poor early performances to rise to third by October. ‘Everton’s scintillating form this season has been a revelation to the whole of football and they have finally rid themselves of the tag of being the second best team on Merseyside,’ recorded the Manchester United programme when Everton visited Old Trafford on 25 October. ‘Football at top level is very much am attitude of mind. Everton have had skilful players in abundance for years. Now Gordon Lee seems to have got them thinking positively.’
If only that was the case. Everton lost 2-0 that day and their form nosedived thereafter. A run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup was ended by Manchester City and they took just a single point from the following eight games. Everton’s final three home games of the season witnessed the club’s three lowest post-war league attendances. At the end of the season Lee was replaced by Howard Kendall who initiated a clean sweep.
‘He was inclined to trust in experience but I don’t think the older players who were already at the club, the likes of Trevor Ross, Peter Eastoe and the goalkeeper Jim McDonagh, were his type of player,’ Kevin Ratcliffe later told the Liverpool Echo. ‘When you inherit players who are under contract you are stuck with them. He was trying to balance things. It does take time for a manager to make the changes he wants and it was no different for Howard.’
Kendall brought in Jim Arnold and – crucially – Southall, and McDonagh was on his way back to Bolton in a part-exchange deal that brought Mick Walsh to Goodison.