No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

Jim goes for men he’s been in the trenches with

JIm McGuinness has gone for trusted former team-mates.

JIm McGuinness has gone for trusted former team-mates.

IT’S fair to say that there was an element of surprise in Donegal during the weekend when the announcement of Jim McGuinness’s new backroom team was made.

Damian Diver, Paul McGonigle and John Duffy are the men annointed with Jim’s seal of approval for 2014.


It’ll be interesting to see the dynamic of the backroom team and the actual shape it takes because none of the three are coming from a point of view of having coached or been involved with teams at any great depth.

If we dig a little, maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised at all.

Jim has been in the dressing room with these guys, he’s played in big games with them and he knows exactly what they’re all about.

Jim has been in the trenches with them and that must stand for something. Damian was a top-class defender and probably one of the few ‘attacking defenders’ of his time. Damian was always very committed to the Donegal cause – he would have gone through a brick wall for Donegal.

He was one of the fittest players I ever managed and he always kept himself in good shape. He was very dedicated and was a serious man for the training.

Damian always did his talking on the field. He was one of the guys who really led by example.

John is the surprise ticket. I played with John and then managed him for a time. He was a superbly-talented forward. He was one of those players who could win a match with a goal out of nothing. He was a special player, but probably never reached the heights that he should have. I remember we drew with Armagh in 1999 and John was excellent that day. He was a natural goal-scorer and, although he hasn’t been involved in football in recent years, that talent and knowledge he had in his playing days remains alive and well.


He possessed a very smart football brain so it’ll be interesting to see if he can transfer that onto the football field now.

Paul has been heavily involved in the Buncrana club. He managed their senior team and has been very close to club football since hanging up his boots.

Jim will have spent a fair few hours mulling over all of this and I’d be surprised if he hadn’t some of these men in his mind even before the events of last week.

For me, there remains a question about the roles of the trio and how they slot into the positions vacated by Rory, Maxi and Francie.

Maxi would have done a lot of video and stats work and a lot of the coaching on the field was done by Rory, while Francie was the kitman. Maxi’s role, I feel, was a very specialised role and, to me, it doesn’t appear as if there has been a man to replace him in that position.

I wonder if there’ll be extra men appointed in these areas or just where these new men come in.

It will all become clear, I suppose, in the coming weeks and months.

This looks like being a selection committee with Jim as the manager and the three guys on board as selectors.

One thing you want from your selectors are opinions. You don’t want a case where you give an opinion and everyone just says ‘yes, Declan, I agree’. You have to be challenged on certain things.

The buck stops with the manager, but you need men around you who will ask questions and pose challenges.

It’s very important to get different thoughts and opinions on board. As players, all three of Damian, Paul and John were strong minded, so hopefully they’ll continue that now on the sideline.

Change on backroom teams is nothing new. Mickey Harte did it in Tyrone and Brian Cody has done likewise in Kilkenny. All the top teams and all the top managers make changes.

Personally, I think an approach should have been made to Ryan Porter. He coached Monaghan to an Ulster title this summer and was well got in Donegal when he was here before.

He’s a top class coach and is based at work in Strabane as well as having a serious amount of coaching experience.


THE Dubs are back at the top – and could be there to stay for quite a while.

Jim Gavin has a young enough squad of players to work with. It’s a great squad that has so much depth.

Not only have they won their second All-Ireland in three years, but they have also won a rake of underage titles and those teams coming through is a prospect that really ought to make the rest of us take note.

People talk about Dublin having big resources, big populations and what not – but they still have to mould the team and squad like anyone else.

Jim Gavin deserves immense credit for what he has done and Dublin have so many top-class players.

Take Michael Dara Macauley. He’s not the most refined footballer, but by God is he effective.

He’s up and down the field, he makes and takes hits, he drives Dublin forward and generally is an inspiration. I think he’s heading for the Footballer of the Year award. It would be well deserved for a man who has won two All-Irelands in his three years on the Dublin panel.

For Mayo, you just wonder: Why and When?

They were playing the best football for the Championship but, again, they have come up short in a final.

There were a number of important moments in the gane, but I felt that James Horan and his backroom team won’t have been happy with their own performance last Sunday. They were in a point up at half time and looking good.

Ger Cafferkey had been having a good season, but was completely the wrong side of Bernard Brogan. That Cafferkey was left one-on-one with Brogan in that situation was also not advisable – didn’t they learn from last year and Michael Murphy’s early goal?

The goalkeeper, Rob Hennelly came and got nothing. When a goalkeeper leaves his line he has to get something – either man or ball. He got neither and Mayo were punished.

That said, Hennelly had a great game otherwise and made several brilliant saves throughout the game.

Taking Alan Freeman off before half-time was a big mistake. It looked to me like management were looking for an excuse because there had been a lot of talk beforehand about Michael Conroy playing really well – but they brought him in way too early.

Freeman being taken off was definitely a mistake. Their midfield didn’t function at all. Dublin had their homework done on Aidan O’Shea who was kept anonymous.

How was Stephen Cluxton let go with almost all of his kick-outs being sent direct into hands right under the Cusack Stand for the whole second half?

Dublin won every one of his kick-outs in the second half. Mayo had to make sure they contested those – they weren’t close.

Keith Higgins was a big influence for Mayo, but Eoghan O’Gara coming in for Dublin nulified Higgins because O’Gara had to be watched closely. Even when O’Gara was injured and basically was just on the field for the sake of it with all the switches already made, Mayo didn’t make the most of it. Higgins was left there!

That, too, was a huge error at a crucial time.

Mayo’s management will ask a lot of questions about where it went wrong. They may find that the truth hurts. You wonder how they can bounce back from this now. It’s a huge blow.


THE GAA lost an inspirational man in former President Paddy McFlynn during the week. He did so much work for clubs and counties. He’ll be sorely missed.


WELL done to Moville on their winning of the sevens shield last weekend, too. What a great achievcement it is for them to have won it.


I MUST say I enjoyed the All-Ireland football final experience last Sunday. Thanks to Aidy O’Kane from Tyrone and his friend, the Leinster rugby player Lote Tuqiri, for their company on Sunday afternoon. We had a great day out.

Have you a comment to make on any of the above or would you like Declan to raise an issue in this column? Get in touch by email

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