Tuesday 21 February 2017

McGuinness restoring respect for Donegal

Published 16/07/2011 | 05:00

JOE Brolly has famously likened his team to an army of robotic Daleks designed to 'ex-ter-min-ate' creative football.

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But if Donegal, who have lost their last five final appearances, win their first Ulster title in 19 years tomorrow, Jim McGuinness won't give a toss.

Likening his side to a group of football drones is actually far preferable to him than likening them to a shower of carousing free-spirits... an image the county's footballers garnered after a few partying incidents during the last decade which unfortunately stuck.

It is a lazy stereotype that particularly riles McGuinness, as shown by his reaction to some other derogatory comments made on the 'Sunday Game' this summer.

"Donegal seems to be this county that everyone can have a good laugh at because we're not that serious. I don't like my players or my county being disrespected," he blasted.

myths

In the past two years, Donegal's young football manager has gone quite some way to exploding some myths, not least about himself.

Back in 1992 McGuinness found himself in the right place at the right time, a long-haired 19-year-old sub in his first year on the county senior panel who only went and won their first and only All-Ireland.

He'd play a more central role for the next decade but would never even win another Ulster title, and one of the hardest losses was the 1998 final to a late goal from the air-kissing Brolly.

Far worse was to come that summer. McGuinness, who had already lost one brother to a heart condition in 1986, lost a second one -- Mark (27) -- in a car crash.

By that time, he had already gone back and sat his Leaving Cert in his 20s and was a mature student at IT Tralee. From there he went on to the University of Ulster Jordanstown and McGuinness' protracted university career used to prompt sniggers in college GAA circles about where this apparently perennial student would pop up playing next.

But McGuinness' belated college career was not at all random. He first studied health and leisure in IT Tralee, got a degree in sport and exercise at UUJ and finished with a Masters in sports psychology from the prestigious John Moores University in Liverpool.

He went on to lecture at a Higher Education college in Limavady before setting up his own Letterkenny-based consultancy called 'Achieve', which offers training and advice to sports and business clients.

His burgeoning managerial reputation came after initial success with his club Naomh Conaill.

In 2005 -- the Glenties club's first final appearance since 1965 -- they won the county title after a replay, when he was still playing but was also a team trainer.

When they got back there in 2009, he was manager (they lost to Letterkenny) and they won it again last year, by which time McGuinness had moved on to manage the county U-21s, whom he led to the All-Ireland final.

And down in IT Tralee they saw particularly early signs of his flourishing managerial talent.

In 1999, Tralee, captained by McGuinness, looked doomed even before their Sigerson Cup season started, with Padraic Joyce (Galway) suspended and Colm Parkinson (Laois) out injured, yet they went on to beat Garda College in the final.

"To be honest, Jimmy could have been managing the team himself, he was that good," said Vinny Walsh. "He played a huge role in our success, a natural leader. He was brilliant with the other lads but also wasn't afraid to come to us as management and tell us what he thought we were doing wrong, though always in a nice way. You could see that he had a natural talent for dealing with people."

McGuinness' natural aptitude has since been backed up with years of study and practice and he has taken a singular approach to the Donegal senior job, surprising many by making ex-Fermanagh star Rory Gallagher his right-hand man.

Gallagher, a one-time triallist with Manchester Utd, still holds the record for an individual score (3-9 versus Monaghan in 2002) in the Ulster SFC and would have been seen as a bit of a maverick.

But he is now living in Killybegs, had helped out a bit in the club and when local man Peter McGinley had to step down as a selector due to work commitments, he recommended Gallagher as his replacement.

The minute Gallagher met McGuinness he realised they had similar philosophies, not least a low threshold for mediocrity in both preparation and performance.

Former Donegal star Martin McHugh is also a mutual friend (he coached Gallagher at Sligo IT) and is believed to be a close adviser.

Since February they have lost just one of 11 games, beat Laois in the Division 2 league final and have not conceded more than nine scores in their three Ulster SFC games to date.

Their decision to employ Michael Murphy so deep, with extra men in defence, is not popular with everyone but the end justifies the means.

Now just Derry stands between them and Donegal's first glory day since 1992.

Irish Independent

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