Tuesday 30 May 2017

McGuinness goes on offensive in furious outburst

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Jim McGuinness doesn't take long to move through the gears and get into full flow. He has a lot to get off his chest.

It's been five months since Donegal's All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Dublin and in that time some of the most pressing off-season matters have concerned him and his players.

So he used Allianz's announcement in Croke Park yesterday that they will sponsor the football and hurling leagues for a further three years, taking the link to 2015, to take a significant swipe at those who have caused them frustration.

DCU and Niall Moyna were the chief targets, but those critics who castigated and lampooned Donegal throughout and since last year's championship are also on the receiving end of a stinging broadside.

He suggests there has been "an agenda" at play since his defence of Ryan Bradley's right to the RTE Man of the Match award after their opening Ulster championship game against Antrim in Ballybofey.

"There is a lot of crap going on. There's a lot of people who have an agenda and they're using the pen as power and trying to have a go consistently at us," he said.

"When I stood up for Ryan Bradley -- and I would do it again tomorrow because he was disrespected in a public domain -- then the muck was being fired at the wall consistently.

"Some other people now feel that because we're being abused in the public domain so much, they can join in and give us a kick when we're down.

"There are a lot of things going on that are not football-related, but in fairness to the boys none of it has taken a fizz out of them. They just get on with the business and look forward to staying together and training.

"We don't want to be going to war with people, but there are boundaries and there's respect. There were always boundaries in the GAA, but now it seems some people feel they can overstep those boundaries.

"A lot of the time it's ex-players, who are making an awful lot of money on the back of people who are out of work and trying their best for their county in a voluntary capacity. Morally, I don't think that's correct."

Throughout a 35-minute conversation McGuinness doesn't mince his words when it comes to defending himself against accusations that he's "a bully" -- the words of DCU manager Moyna last week -- and even questions DCU's own adherence to player welfare standards. When contacted last night, Moyna said he had "no interest" in responding to the Donegal manager's claims.

McGuinness suggests that the Sigerson Cup be brought back to a November conclusion, that third-level teams should no longer be invited into pre-season provincial competitions like the McKenna and O'Byrne Cups and refuted any suggestion that he had any influence over Michael Murphy's groin operation, which will rule the player out of the opening rounds of the league.

McGuinness says he has serious concerns about the welfare of top players in the 18 to 22 age bracket and the pressure he alleges is being put on them by colleges who feel they have "ownership" over them because of scholarships.

"I think the whole thing needs to be looked at from the point of view of the players. There was a task force on burnout. The people who were highlighted as the most at risk were Michael Murphy, Martin McElhinney, that age bracket. That's only two of my players.

"It's (third-level conflict) the elephant in the room, it's not being dealt with and the players are stuck in the middle of it. There's an undercurrent as well that, if we help you through admissions and we put you up into digs and we pay your tuition fees, that there's an ownership situation."

McGuinness gets animated as he seeks to again defend himself against the accusation from Moyna that he is a "bully" who threatened to drop McElhinney from the squad if he didn't show up for Donegal's challenge match in Clones on the same day as DCU's O'Byrne Cup semi-final with Meath in Navan. He counter-claims that DCU forced Murphy, McElhinney and Michael Boyle to travel down from Donegal in early January when they were sick, injured and still on their Christmas holidays.

"We had a meeting on January 2. Michael Murphy had the flu, Martin McElhinney had a sore foot and Michael Boyle, who wasn't at the meeting I don't think, had the vomiting bug.

"DCU were training the following day, the boys were home for Christmas but DCU told them they had to be up in Dublin for that session.

"The boys got into the car at 8.0 the following morning, drove to Dublin, stood on the sideline at DCU when the rest of the boys were training, because they were sick or injured and watched.

"When the training session finished, they got into the car and drove back to Donegal. Now you tell me where the welfare of the player is there. These things have been fired about the place, people have been firing things out into the media about me and about Donegal all year. Perception is reality. Throw enough stuff out there and it's going to stick.

"I'm coaching 20 years to kids. Now would you send your kids to me for coaching if you thought I was a bully? It's a disgraceful accusation to fire at anybody, it's totally unfounded."

He insists that he had no part in pushing Murphy to have a groin injury and would never try to influence any member of the medical profession.

"I don't even make the call on who goes out on the training pitch. My physios and my physical therapists and the doctors make the call. I could never tell you who is going to come out of the medical room. That's how removed I am from the medical set-up."

On Kevin Cassidy's dismissal from the squad for his insight on Donegal's season in the book 'This Is Our Year' McGuinness insists that everyone in the squad knew the parameters.

"It was just an issue that came up and had to be dealt with. It was dealt with at the time -- we were very clear. Everyone in our group knew the parameters and it was dealt with," he said. "I'm not going into details, but that's the bottom line and everybody in our group knows about it. Our team and our squad, we are very happy. We're a very happy camp."

McGuinness, who hasn't spoken to Cassidy since their November meeting, mentioned the case of Adrian Hanlon and Eamonn McGee last season, who were dropped from the squad but have since been reinstated.

"I wouldn't close the door (on Cassidy) but the bottom line is this: our rules and our parameters were very well defined and what happened (with Cassidy) was so far over the line in relation to our group."

Irish Independent

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