BY CHRIS MCNULTY
WITH Jim McGuinness, there is no such thing as off-the-cuff.
Everything the charismatic Glentiesman does is evaluated and reasoned; thought out to the nth degree.
So, when he stresses, in that unique and engaging way of his, that his acceptance of a part-time job at Celtic Football Club as a Performance Consultant will have no impact on his position as the manager of the Donegal senior football team, it is worth considering that he’ll have looked at the combination of roles in finite detail.
McGuinness doesn’t do half measures – and it was the establishment of an ‘all or nothing’ mentality, which demanded 100 per cent commitment, that helped lay the foundations for September’s ground breaking All-Ireland win with Donegal.
Friday morning’s confirmation that McGuinness had again broken the mould and become the first Gaelic football manager to take such a gargantuan step into a professional sport sparked real fears in Donegal that the Messiah might well flee the nest.
However, in all his discussions with Celtic officials and their manager, Neil Lennon, McGuinness made it clear that giving up Donegal was not on the menu. And Celtic were happy to agree.
“It will have no effect on what he is doing at Donegal,” Lennon commented on Friday.
“He will probably initially come in two days per week and we will take it from there.”
Jim McGuinness’s attention to the most absolute of detail is something which has impressed Celtic, and most especially Dermot Desmond, the club’s majority shareholder, who was the key broker in this deal.
Desmond had kept a watching brief on McGuinness during his meteoric two years as Donegal manager. The spotlight has shone on McGuinness quite a bit – but with his never blinking style he dealt with it all admirably.
His first championship game as Donegal manager was a dour win over Antrim in May 2011 and was one that sparked a media frenzy that was topped when Pat Spillane, on The Sunday Game, remarked that no man of the match award should have been presented.
This incensed McGuinness, who felt that his players and his county had been ‘disrespected’ – and he let RTE’s reporter present at the next game know just that. With both barrels, McGuinness succinctly made his point.
On the surface, some of his decisions appeared, at times, to lack rationale, but those who know him will be aware that there is never a time when McGuinness does something without first knowing of the consequence of his actions.
Twelve months ago, he axed All-Star defender Kevin Cassidy from his panel for his contribution to the book This Is Our Year. That he refused to conduct a press conference immediately after the All-Ireland final with the journalist Declan Bogue – the author of the book – present in the room, came as a shock to many. Again, it was the best and worst of the calculated McGuinness all in the one scene.
Dermot Desmond and Celtic are a professional sporting outfit – and they have seen the values that McGuinness can bring to their organisation.
How must those three men who sat in a Jackon’s Hotel meeting room in late 2007 and shunned McGuinness’s advances when first he courted the Donegal job be feeling now? He wanted a socket to deliver a PowerPoint presentation; he received blank stares.
He has been a true professional operating in the amateur confines of the GAA, but what he brought to Donegal meant that his squad lived professional lives in all but name. The manager baulked at some of the happenings in his tenure, last year’s reluctance by the Co Board to fund an overnight stay would have been a particular irritant, though a successful approach to London-based businessman Tony McFadden ensured that the preparations went on as he’d planned.
When some of his players were in the middle of college exams before the 2011 Championship, McGuinness organised a helicopter to take them to Ballybofey for training: Meticulous to the last with the welfare of his players always at the centre of the action.
When McGuinness says that he can combine roles, who are we to believe otherwise?
“There will be no impact on the training with Donegal,” insisted McGuinness, who starts with the Glasgow giants at the end of the month, upon his return from a trip to America with the All-Stars, departing on Wednesday of this week,
“I have sat down, looked at it and worked it out. There will be no drop off in terms of my attendance at training or my input to the team.
“I’ll have the best of both worlds really with a day job in sport and my commitment and passion for Donegal still in situ as well.”
Speaking on Highland Radio on Friday, Martin McHugh was keen to point out that the move was the right one for Jim on a personal level. When he was manager of Cavan, whom he helped win Ulster in 1997, McHugh held down a full-time job. Why? Quite simply, he had to.
It should be remembered that managing Donegal was not going to put bread on the table for McGuinness, his wife Yvonne and their three young children. Nor was it going to meet the mortgage repayments on the new family home at Kilkenny, Mass in his native Glenties.
The move, reportedly worth a six-figure sum annually, made sense economically, first and foremost.
The successful managers have all had careers outside of their sport: Pat Gilroy led Dublin to Sam Maguire in 2011, holding down his role as Managing Director of Dalkia at the same time; Brian Cody is the principal of St Patrick’s De La Salle in Kilkenny and has guided the Cats to nine All-Ireland hurling titles; Liam Sheedy won an All-Ireland hurling crown with Tipperary as well as having a high-ranking job with Bank of Ireland; former Kerry manager Jack O’Connor was a teacher in Coláiste na Sceilge while winning All-Irelands with the Kingdom.
Two new appointees to high-ranking counties, Eamon Fitzmaurice (Kerry) and Jim Gavin (Dublin) both have full-time jobs with Fitzmaurice a secondary school teacher in Dingle and Gavin holding a high-ranking position with the Aviation Authority.
Double jobbing is a must for Gaelic football managers – but the crucial difference with McGuinness is that he will be working in an area that can seriously benefit his Donegal team.
Don’t be at all surprised if you read on these pages at some point in 2013 that Donegal will make use of Celtic’s facilities.
Rumours that they were to do so during their surge to the All-Ireland final this year proved unfounded, but it wouldn’t be the first time a Gaelic football team were present for some training.
In the spring of 2011, Pat Gilroy took his Dublin footballers to Lennoxtown, where they spent two days utilising their facilities
The £8million, 46-acre site contains top-class sporting facilities. Within its confines is an indoor training hall, a fitness centre with gym and fitness suite, physiotherapy and medical facilities, a hydrotherapy pool, as well as education facilities and an administrative wing. It also houses a sports science/sports development facility in which McGuinness will be based.
“It’s a great opportunity for Donegal on a level because I’ll be in a professional environment a number of days a week,” said McGuinness.
That will be a great environment for me to be in, in terms of taking the skills that I’ll learn at Celtic back to Donegal.
“I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to developing my own learning.
“It’s a professional sport and it’s a great opportunity for me, personally, in terms of my own development.
“You’re learning every day you get up and trying to move yourself forward. There are things out there that other teams are doing and are transferable to Donegal. I have always been very open to that.”
That he will be working with Celtic for just two days a week will not be to the detriment of Donegal’s fortunes. Initially it had been said that McGuinness would be with Celtic three days a week; the difference between two days and three, in terms of his commitment to Donegal, is stark.
It seems as if the two days, logically, would be a Monday-Tuesday or Wednesday-Thursday combination, allowing him return to Donegal for their Tuesday or Thursday training sessions.
Travel will not be an issue as McGuinness could, conceivably make it from Glenties to Glasgow as quick as he would make a Glenties-Dublin trip. From Carrickfinn (just a half-an-hour from McGuinness’s home), Flybe fly four times a week to and from Glasgow; while Ryanair have a daily service from City of Derry airport; and there are regular connections from Belfast, too.
On the off-chance that he did have to skip a session here or there, he has an able-body deputy in Rory Gallagher, his wing man in Donegal, who has the capabilities and the trust of the players to take charge.
Working with the young players at Celtic allows McGuinness to work in an area from which he gets his greatest kick.
At his press briefing before the All-Ireland final in September, McGuinness told the reporters about the moment in his career that had given him ‘the best buzz’. It wasn’t winning a championship with Naomh Conaill or any of his glory days with Donegal.
Rather, McGuinness’s standout moment was from his time as manager of the Gaelic football team at Limavady College.
Prior to his arrival, they had no Gaelic football team in the college.
McGuinness said: “When I went up there and I had to try and get a team together. We won the league in the first year, won a championship in the second year and there was a young lad that never played the game before who came on in the final in the second year for about five minutes and dropped his first ball.
“Then he won the ball and he slipped the ball. A couple of minutes after that, he won the ball, slipped it again and somebody else kicked it over the bar.
“That was the best buzz I ever got out of football coaching. Because this young fella had never set foot on a pitch before and all of a sudden, at a very small level, he was part of a winning team. And his face and his team-mates’ faces looking at him was unbelievable.”
When Jim McGuinness says he has sat down, looked at something and worked it out, scepticism is unfounded and doubt is absurd.
That trusted blue whistle of his might not be in action at Celtic Park, but when he blows it on those chilly nights in Castlefin or Ballybofey in January, it’s fair to say that he’ll have some new methods and ideas garnered from the early days at Celtic.
As his project with Donegal enters its third year, the prospect of him becoming a better coach should have his opponents quaking and Donegal fans excitedly looking forward to watching this unique transcending of the codes.
Jim McGuinness celebrates his 40th birthday today. Life, in more ways than one, is only beginning.