Tuesday 30 August 2016

Sneak peeks into inner world fuel our fascination with McGuinness

Published 08/08/2014 | 02:30

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness hits the balance between control and empowerment
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness hits the balance between control and empowerment
James O'Donoghue, Kerry

It was during a religious pilgrimage in Medjugorje that Fr Chris Ferguson met Jim McGuinness. Fr Chris knew who McGuinness was but didn't know him.

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As the groups from Donegal and Derry started their descent from the top of Cross Mountain, Fr Chris found himself walking alongside McGuinness. He was soon hooked on McGuinness' outlook, positivity and sincerity.

McGuinness didn't know then that he would finally land the job of Donegal senior football boss a few years later, but whatever about McGuinness the manager, it was McGuinness the man who made a big impact on the priest from Derry.

After talking for over an hour, Fr Chris said that his short time spent with McGuinness made him a better person. When Fr Chris told me this story at my friends' wedding years later, it always stood out as an example of the 'McGuinness Effect'.

I don't want this to be an exercise in myth-making about the Glenties man. As McGuinness himself said this year, nobody knows what goes on behind anyone else's dressing-room door. But maybe it's because we've got a few sneak peeks of the inside world that further fuels this fascination about McGuinness.

In the book 'This Is Our Year' which resulted in Kevin Cassidy's exile from the Donegal squad, Cassidy revealed that before their game with Cavan in the 2011 Ulster Championship, McGuinness brought all 30 players into a big ballroom in a hotel.

With blankets and pillows on the floor, he switched off the lights and told everyone to lie down and go to sleep. "Jim went around talking about what we were going to do against Cavan, to try and focus in on the early ball. It got a message into our heads," Cassidy added.

In public, McGuinness' musings can be a mixture of regular management speak, featuring words like 'the collective' and 'traction'. But he also uses rhetoric that is less regimental and more revelatory.

After Donegal's win over Kildare in the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final, McGuinness said: "People are very rarely 'alive', you know. And for those 20 minutes in extra-time what was going through my mind was: 'this is unbelievable'.

"Because those boys are in the thick of this now. Every moment counts and they are living on the edge. And it would be brilliant if they can come through this and win, but even if they don't, this is going to be a great life experience . . . Because in that moment, they were living in the fullest sense."

You would imagine that McGuinness, a sports psychologist, has his own nuanced version of one of the main principles of Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal's philosophy. The Dutchman calls it the totale mens principe or the 'total person principle'.

As Van Gaal explains, it's about taking an interest in "the psyche of a player; how he feels is influenced by his environment". (Van Gaal took it to the extreme, though, when one of his former players Peter van Vossen said the manager visited his home and advised him not to paint his kitchen white. Van Vossen did as advised.)


From his short time spent with him, Fr Chris believes McGuinness is the kind of man who believes in making his team not just better players but better people.

Before the 2012 All-Ireland final, Donegal captain Michael Murphy explained: "Jim always refers to it before we go out on to a football pitch and we put on our Donegal jerseys, that we are not just representing ourselves but that we are representing the whole county and when we pull off the jersey, we are still representatives of Donegal. That's very important for us."

Like all managers, McGuinness must hit that balance between control and empowerment. In an interview with Donegal broadcaster Charlie Collins earlier this year, McGuinness gave a interesting insight into his dynamic of integrating the young with the experienced players at training.

McGuinness doesn't want a habitat where senior players criticise the younger guys. "I try to create an environment at training where they (younger players) never feel under pressure or threatened by a senior player or anybody else," McGuinness said.

"There's never a situation where there's any conflict or animosity between players because players don't go down that road – that's up to the coach to say 'why are you not doing that?' or 'continue to do that'. There's a divide."

Just like the soundings from Ireland rugby players about head coach Joe Schmidt, reputation counts for little. McGuinness insists that all players get the same treatment, that young players get "the same rights, votes and voice as the older players".

With the change in the back-room staff and the departure of Mark McHugh, we waited to see if any fault-lines would appear this summer. Maybe we should have known better. They wrested back the Ulster title from Monaghan.

One Monaghan player privately said later that it looked like McGuinness seemed to rub their noses in it with his celebratory run to his players at the final whistle. It didn't seem like McGuinness was trying to be provocative. But maybe his reaction betrayed more about the pressure he was under going into the Ulster final.

Like every week leading into a Donegal game, we wonder just what plan McGuinness is spawning for tomorrow's All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh.

There's nothing mythical, magical or religious about McGuinness' belief system of commitment, focus, believe and achieve. But he has a vision. And it's one we'll all be watching.

Leg power makes O'Donoghue potential track superstar

So, apparently he's a six- or seven-trick pony. We know he can kick off both feet. We know he can shoot and score.

But what exactly makes Kerry's James O'Donoghue a special player? An interesting offering came from my sister Niamh as we sat in Croke Park last Sunday.

She's a chartered physiotherapist and has worked with track and field athletes, rugby players and gaa players.

She believes O'Donoghue has a particularly long stride pattern, but also has incredible strength in his back leg while running. It all helps his acceleration, speed and power.

Although, I hope Jerry Kiernan isn't reading this. Or else he may just question why a possible Ireland track athlete is playing Gaelic football.

Treaty-Cats clash spiced up by hurt of 2013

Are Limerick simply better primed this year for the All-Ireland semi-final assault compared to last August?

The giddy hype isn't as huge. Even if it wasn't as tough as expected, they had an invaluable quarter-final win over Wexford.

And they've also got emotion stacked in the hurt locker from their underwhelming display against Clare in last year's semi-final.

Then you look at Sunday's last-four opponents Kilkenny. They've also got the hurt locker packed with baggage from a disappointing championship for them last season.

Two teams who know what's coming from the other. So what's going to give?


Irish Independent

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