By Chris McNulty
WHEN veteran Italian Giovanni Trapattoni took over as manager of the Republic of Ireland international soccer team, he succeeded a turbulent 21-month reign of rookie boss Steve Staunton.
Trapattoni has yet to lead Ireland to a major finals, but the wily Italian (72) has taken Ireland forward, missing out on a place at last year’s World Cup thanks to Thierry Henry’s hand, while they’re well-placed to contest for a berth at Euro 2012 with the qualification campaign reaching crunch time in the coming months.
Early in his tenure, Trapattoni asked that he be given some time with his players in between international breaks in the calendar, a tactic used well by former Italy boss Arrigo Sacchi.
Trapattoni was informed, however, that it wouldn’t be possible given the demands placed on them by clubs in England.
Instead the Ireland players were sent away with individual training schedules.
“I have written advice for all of them,” said Trapattoni at the time. “You need to do that, you need to improve this situation. It is only a case of 10 or 15 minutes at the end of training. They are little details, but the little details are very important.”
In the three years since he took over as Irish manager Trapattoni has consistently talked of the ‘little details’.
In a recent interview, he said: “I pay attention to every little detail and situation. And there are many situations that determine a game.”
Elaborating, Trap noted that the ‘little details’ to which he referred were all about improving four key things in his players – mentality, condition, psychological and physical fitness.
Jim McGuinness might be out of the more modern school of management, but the big Glenties man is another who appreciates the little details.
Since the Ulster Championship preliminary round win over Antrim, McGuinness might well feel like an Italian football boss such has been the level of discussion about the now (in?) famous ‘defensive’ style the pundits have bemoaned.
Donegal mightn’t necessarily be reading out of the Italian soccer ‘catennacio’ manual, but their system has worked thus far, and were the Anglo Celt to be paraded up Quay Street to the Diamond in Donegal town in two weeks’ time, how it got there will be of little concern.
It’s almost a year since McGuinness was elevated to the Donegal throne. From the outset, he worked on the ‘little details’ with things like mentality, condition, psychological and physical fitness high on the agenda.
“Jim has taken pieces from everywhere to put his things in place, from the top right the way down,” says Kevin Cassidy, who has seen first-hand what the new set-up has done. “We see it especially with the medical team – and people don’t know how important that is to get the right treatment for players. Take Leo McLoone this year as an example: any other year, he’d have been written off, but he was back a few weeks ago against Cavan. It’s so important that players are looked after.”
Last Sunday in Clones, Dermot Molloy’s last-gasp goal fired Donegal to within 70 minutes of Ulster glory. In a stuffy St Tiernach’s Park, the ‘little details’, a combination of a few of them meant that it was Donegal’s day. With half-time approaching, Anthony Thompson kicked a ball into the forward line that went stray and was picked up by a Tyrone man. The ball was worked into the Tyrone full-forwardline, where Stephen O’Neill pulled the trigger. The Clann na nGael attacker sized up the target and looked a cert to blast to the net. He was denied by a brave block by a Donegal defender. Who, but Anthony Thompson, after scampering back some 60 metres to atone for his earlier blip.
That block epitomised the belief of the Donegal team on Sunday, one of the little details that combined made up the big difference between the sides.
Fourteen minutes from the end, Colm McFadden managed to finally get free to emphatically crash to the net and put Donegal ahead. Other ‘little details’ come to mind. What of Kevin Rafferty plucking a Peter Harte free from the sky a few minutes from the end, or Dermot Molloy’s golden strike in injury time that won it?
“A lot of boys would have fisted over,” says teak tough Donegal defender Neil McGee.
“That took balls. But for the club last year he was the same and McFadden’s goal took class as well. They had the belief to go for it and got the reward.”
Jim McGuinness is well trained in the art of psychology and in a unique unifying tactic, McGuinness gave every player a wristband before the quarter-final with Cavan. Etched into the white bands is a Donegal crest and a couple of personal messages for the players.
“It’s something personal that Jim introduced for every player to have,” explains Kevin Cassidy.
“We take it with us every day we go out. Every one is the same. It’s one for all and all for one in a way. Every man has the same and it’s like a symbol of our unity. They’re particular messages we feel we need for the game.”
All part of the ‘little detail’ that Jim McGuinness hopes will see a few bigger details brought to the county in the coming weeks.