Monday 24 October 2016

Paul Kimmage meets Jim McGuinness: 'We played Kerry a year after Mark died and I was dead. I felt dead and I looked dead'

From Glenties to Glasgow, from Gaelic football to soccer, Jim McGuinness is on an epic journey with an unknown destination

Published 18/09/2016 | 17:00

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

Five minutes have passed since he glanced at his watch . . .

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"Oh for fuck sake! Ten o'clock!"

. . . reached for his coat and headed for the door. The suite at the Hotel du Vin - a magnificent room with a four-poster bed, deep bath and monsoon shower - looks like it has been ransacked.

A half bottle of wine and the remnants of a club sandwich have been abandoned on a tray near the sofa. Three books - 'Until Victory Always', 'Winning' and 'This is Our Year' - two notebooks and a wad of newspaper cuttings have been tossed on the carpet floor. Soiled mugs and used tea-bags litter the walnut table.

The Nespresso machine has pressed four capsules and all of the complimentary water - four bottles - on the sideboard have been drained. A black rain pounds the streets of Glasgow. I check for his voice on the recorder, fall onto the bed and try to quell the storm in my head.


Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Photo: Oliver McVeigh / Sportsfile




This is how it feels to interview Jim McGuinness.

1. Ghostwriting

It hit Mark's side and lifted our car clean off the road and spun us like a matchbox three or four times. It sent us back up in the direction the lorry had come from, because it hit us at an angle. Then we hit a tree and that stopped us - we fell and the car was shuddering. And an otherworldly thing happened then: as soon as we hit the tree, the noon Angelus bell began to chime. The radio hadn't been on in the car, but the collision must have turned it on, it must have been 12 on the dot and you could just hear:





Nothing else.

'Until Victory Always'

Paul Kimmage: Let's start with your book. I listened to an interview you gave to Matt Cooper shortly after it was published last year, and you told a fascinating story about the first session with your ghostwriter, Keith Duggan.

Jim McGuinness: Yeah, we met in Galway.

PK: But you have no real idea what you want the book to be?

JMcG: No. There was some good stuff in it (the session) but I struggled to get it out. There was nothing coherent at all. It just didn't seem right for some reason. I had a coaching course (part of his UEFA 'B' licence) the following morning and then I was driving back to Dublin and flying to Glasgow. So I was driving to Dublin and I was reflecting on it.

PK: The interview?

JMcG: Yeah, the session the night before. I was thinking about home, and the people at home. I was thinking about Charles and Mark. I rang Keith and we started talking about them and talking about me. 'Why do you feel that way?' he asked. The call lasted two hours and it just hit me . . .

PK: The book was about you?

JMcG: Hmmmm.

PK: Is that it?

JMcG: It was about the people that impacted on me growing up. It was about everything that had happened to me up to that point as opposed to . . .

PK: It was about who you are?

JMcG: Hmmmm.

PK: Who am I?

JMcG: It was about who I became because who I was, and who I became, are two very different people. And that actually makes me sad sometimes.

PK: Because you don't like who you became? Or because it took the death of two brothers to make you that person?

JMcG: What makes me sad is the loss of innocence. It was perfect, like. It was absolutely perfect. And then, in a split second, you're just fired into adult reality, if that makes sense. I look at my own son, Mark, now and I think of myself as a young boy. He is seven years of age and that innocence is just perfect - and that's why I feel sad when I think about it. And that's what came to me after Keith had left the room.

PK: And you're driving back to Dublin the next day and you call him about it.

JMcG: Yeah, and it was a moment of release on one level, and a moment of apprehension on another. I thought: 'Do I really want to do this book? Do I want it to be open and personal? Or do I talk about the point we scored in the Ulster final, and the mood in the dressing room?'

PK: Because it feels uncomfortable?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: You are exposing yourself to the world?

JMcG: Aye, but it's not just that it's . . . Our Mark was killed, and we were going to Letterkenny afterwards, myself and Frank, and I was sitting with him and he asked me 'what did happen?', I think he said. And I got a few sentences out but I couldn't go any further. It was as if there was this barrier around the car that I could not go near because it would put me back in that place. Do you know what I mean?

PK: Yes.

JMcG: And that's the way it was from 1998 through to 2014 when I spoke to Keith about it.

PK: In that interview with Cooper, you were asked if you had sought counselling?

JMcG: Hmmm.

PK: You said you'd had one session.

JMcG: I didn't like that question. I thought it was too personal. You could infer a lot of things from that. I say 'yeah, I've had a bit of counseling', and the perception is 'this guy has a mental health issue'. It's a curveball. It's very personal. There's hundreds and thousands of people listening to the radio and one wrong word and you're labelled as something.

PK: Maybe you're being hypersensitive? Everybody has lost somebody in this world, and everybody knows how much that hurts. A lot of people out there - those thousands and thousands of listeners you're worried about - know that it helps to talk about it and have sought counseling. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with them.

JMcG: Maybe it's because I've been misquoted so many times, and maybe it's because I've read comments in newspapers that I've never said.

PK: What we are engaged in here is an act of faith. You are the subject; I am the interviewer; you are ceding control of everything you say in this interview to me. That's the deal.

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Two of the most traumatic events of your life - the death of two brothers - are things you've had no control over. Has that left a scar? I get the impression you like to be in control?

JMcG: I like to be in control of the football team - I like to be in control of every aspect, but I think what it's really about is trust. I was going to ask before this interview started 'what type of interview is this? How do you see it?' - and then I thought 'no, I'm not going to ask that'.

PK: Well, that's good because I would not have been able to answer it . . . You trusted Keith?

JMcG: We were rivals in basketball (at school). It was a long relationship. He allowed me to be relaxed and honest and truthful about my past. Keith says I'm one of the few people in his life who is better on the phone than face-to-face.

PK: Really?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Better in what way?

JMcG: Well, maybe not better but as good . . . expressing myself. At the start, he was figuring we were going to have to meet for the interviews but 90 per cent of it happened on the phone. We would talk candidly for hours. "That was powerful stuff," he would say. "I appreciate being part of this." And I would say: "It's hard to believe you carry all this inside you." These were the conversations. We didn't have to be face to face to be connected. We were incredibly connected.

PK: Yeah, that's obvious from the book.

JMcG: He's explaining everything as we go. We're trying to get the tone right, and we're trying to get the language right - well, Keith is. I'm giving him the information on one hand, and he's telling me how he writes it on the other hand, and that's the way we operated.

PK: And what about when the final draft is in front of you, and you turn the final page? How are you feeling then?

JMcG: I haven't read it.

PK: You haven't read it?

JMcG: I've only edited the bits as we were going along.

PK: Why?

JMcG: That's a good question. I don't know.

PK: You don't want to revisit the pain?

JMcG: I don't know.

2. The fish factory.

In the September after Charles died, I started first year at the comprehensive. Our street was just two hundred metres from the school so we could leave the house at nine in the morning and be at the desk at 10 past. School was a world I didn't fully understand. I was punctual and I hope I was mannerly enough. I know I was a chatterbox. But I wasn't there. The seats; looking through the big metal-framed windows; the bell ringing; the shuffling down the corridors; the lunches . . . I sleepwalked through it all. It was a place I never felt I belonged and my real life began as soon as the bell rang at 20 to four.

'Until Victory Always'

PK: I was talking to somebody before I came over - I'll tell you who it was later - who said 'Jim McGuinness should be writing the education programme for the Irish government. He is living proof that you can become whatever you want to be'.

JMcG: I doubt that very much, but I fully agree that you can be whatever you want - intelligence - it's knowledge. There's nobody smarter than anybody else; it's got to do with your exposure - somebody willing to explain something to you; your ability to have the time and space and quietness to take it in. That's why I'm so passionate about education, because it's there for everybody.

PK: That wasn't always the case?

JMcG: No.

PK: You spent a lot of time daydreaming?

JMcG: Yeah, I was trying to work out the reality.

PK: Charles?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: You are 12 years old. It's a Friday evening in 1985 and Charles is out with some friends at an underage disco. You share the same bedroom but you're asleep when he comes home. At four in the morning, you're awoken by a terrible shout. You jump up and switch on the light. Your mother comes racing into the room. She's screaming. It's mayhem. But there's no saving him. Your brother has died from a heart attack.

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: The aftermath is awful. You go from this happy-go-lucky kid to being vulnerable in the blink of an eye. The only positive is your resolve to honour his memory by playing for Donegal.

JMcG: There is no positive. I say in the book that it made me a vulnerable person, and that you carry that with you, and that is very true. When you raised it there I could feel this (he motions pressure being applied to his chest) because I knew I would have to talk about it. And that never leaves you.

PK: Would you have made it as a footballer if Charles hadn't died?

JMcG: I wouldn't be sure. I always liked football, but in terms of focus, motivation and single-mindedness, I wouldn't be sure.

PK: Would you have been better in school?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Explain that to me.

JMcG: Because you're a fraud in many respects; you pretend that everything is all right, and everything is not all right. You haven't got the capacity to talk to anybody, and you drift and you move, and you drift and you move, and you're trying to make sense of your life. You're in this limbo where you don't have any traction. You don't have a focus and you don't have an academic identity because that's not really important. The really important stuff is the stuff you can't work out.

PK: Sure.

JMcG: And so you spend every single moment - consciously and subconsciously - thinking 'how can I fix this? How can I put the family together again? How can I make things better for Mammy and Daddy? How can I fix this?'. It's fuckin' unbelievable really how many times, as a young boy, those questions go through your head. And then eventually, after years and years, you work out that you can't.

PK: How many years?

JMcG: (Exhales)

PK: Because this doesn't happen once, it happens twice.

JMcG: The first time around I didn't have the capacity to (understand it) . . . The second time around you're an adult, but it was 10 years before I acknowledged Mark was dead.

PK: So you leave school at age 16?

JMcG: Maybe before that.

PK: You hadn't done a Leaving Cert?

JMcG: No.

PK: Had you done an Inter Cert?

JMcG: Hmmm.

PK: Why are you smiling?

JMcG: I got one pass in my Inter Cert.

PK: What subject?

JMcG: Science, because I liked it.

PK: You went to work in a fish factory?

JMCG: Yeah.

PK: When did you take a drink for the first time?

JMcG: The first time I took a drink, I didn't know I was drinking.

PK: It wasn't planned?

JMcG: No. We were in a bar called 'The Blackthorn' in South Boston. I'd gone over with John Gildea, Gerry Doherty and Stephen McKelvey to play football and somebody ordered a 'Woo Woo'. Don't ask me what it is - some kind of grape-crush thing in a shot - and there was no trace of alcohol in the taste at all. I had two or three and went to the toilet. There were these black-and-white check tiles on the floor and mirrors all over the walls and on the back of the door. So I'm in there, and this thing hits my system, and I'm in there for about an hour-and-a-half before I can find my way out. They're putting chairs on the tables and the place is getting ready to close.

"Where the fuck were you?" says McKelvey. "Are you alright?"

"I'm a hundred per cent."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm fine. I'm fine."

We go outside and we're waiting for a taxi. I'm standing there, swaying, with my hands in my pockets when one comes along: "Come on," he says, running for it, but I just went like this. (He stands up, walks to the bed and tips back off his heels).

PK: Jesus!

JMcG: And that was it.

PK: I was going to say we all started like that but maybe not.

JMcG: I started with a bang!

PK: In 1990, you achieve your goal and honour Charles' memory by playing for the Donegal minors. A year later, you've returned from Boston for Christmas when you get a message about a trial for the Senior team. You score 1-3 and are gathering your bag in the changing room when you notice Brian McEniff waiting by the door.

"Did you enjoy that?" he asks.

"Yes," you reply.

"Would you be interested in joining the panel?"

And 10 months later, you're a member of the squad when Donegal win the All-Ireland - their first in history.

JMcG: (smiles): Yeah.

PK: One of the perks is a job at Eircom, where you learn to play '25' . . .

JMcG: (Laughs)

PK: . . . but not much else, really. You're getting older, you're going nowhere - time is slipping by. You're toying with the idea of taking an adult education course in Letterkenny.

JMcG: I understood that there was a void in me. And I understood that I wanted to have a life in sport, but I wasn't really sure how to do it. And that was what I was playing with when I spoke to my mother.

PK: "You know, Jim," she says, "there's boys up the town there and they're walking about doing nothing. By the time you're finished that course and are out the other side, they'll be still walking about doing nothing."

JMcG: She wasn't happy about that when the book came out.

PK: Why?

JMcG: Because it was probably a private conversation in Ardpatrick (the family home in Glenties).

PK: It's harmless!

JMcG: No, it's not. Some of them boys are still up the town, so it's not harmless. Do you know what I'm saying?

PK: Sure.

JMcG: It's not Dublin. It's not a generalisation.

PK: So you decide to go back to school?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Letterkenny?

JMcG: The Ard O'Donnell Education Centre.

PK: To do your Leaving Cert?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: That's not easy?

JMcG: That was not easy, no, considering we had won an All-Ireland. And it wasn't easy the whole way through, but once you were actually in it was . . . I was excited about going to school every day. I was learning things and seeing things through a completely different lens. I was enjoying the interaction and asking questions; I was engaged and I wanted to be there. It was the complete opposite to what it was the first time around

PK: So what's the hard part?

JMcG: The hard part is the initial thing to get over yourself. And to get over how you will be perceived.

PK: What will people think?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Who else is in the class?

JMcG: Young people who had dropped out of school; people struggling with their life; people of 50 years of age - older - a mad diversity. But there was a great humility in the room, because we were all in the same boat at the end of the day. We had all fucked it up for different reasons, so that humility was there, and that is the absolute opposite to a classroom of 17-year-olds.

PK: So you get your Leaving Cert and decide to study Sports Science in Tralee, and you tell this fantastic story in the book about your first day: 'I drove down on a Sunday evening in the autumn of 1997 and my head was filled with doubts . . . I stood at the door of the main entrance hall and there was this sound of voices and laughter bouncing off the walls and the notice boards were crammed with bits of paper, and all the students were carrying bags and folders and they were going places while I felt paralysed. And I had the exact same feeling that I used to have in school in Glenties. This voice telling me: This isn't for me. I don't belong here. This is for other people.'

JMcG: Yeah, it was a bridge too far in my head.

PK: And you decide to quit - you're actually walking towards your car when you meet this guy, Joe Dunne, who encourages you to stay.

JMcG: No, he didn't encourage me to do anything. He just said "you're Sports Science aren't ya? C'mon, I think we're in (this room) here'.

PK: You win a Sigerson Cup with Tralee that year.

JMcG: Both years, I was captain the second year.

PK: The year of the other pivotal moment in your life.

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: It's July 19, 1998, and you're playing midfield for Donegal against Derry in Clones. In the book your write: "In a way my life revolves around that Ulster final." Because of what happened after?

JMcG: Yeah.

3. Dead.

Next thing it was three in the morning and we were out on the street with nowhere to stay. When I was doing the Leaving Cert, I had lived in the apartment above Mac's Mace for two years and the fella I lived with, Adrian Doherty, was still there at this stage. So he got the call and, fair play to him, he said we could crash for the night. There must have been 20 of us: players, Glenties boys, a few hangers-on. Everyone found a corner: the sofa, under the table, in the hallway, on the sitting room floor. Everyone was pure exhausted. You set off Sunday morning to win an Ulster final and you finish up in the early hours of Tuesday morning on a carpet in Letterkenny town.

'Until Victory Always'

PK: You're leading the Ulster final until the final minute, when Joe Brolly scores a goal to clinch it for Derry. It was a game you should have won?

JMcG: We should have won it, yeah. We were probably pound-for-pound a better team and dominated a large part of the game but . . .


. . . it's the pain, the pain of defeat, you know? I don't think people fully comprehend how much it means. The Ulster Championship is massive, and to be in and around it is massive, and you've got to take the opportunity when it comes but it didn't happen. And if it did happen, my life would have . . .


. . . I would never have been going to America had we won that game. So, does that moment (Mark's death) in my life happen? Does that event happen? I don't know.

PK: You were studying in Tralee at that stage. Why were you going back to the States?

JMcG: I was going to New York (for a few weeks), just to play.

PK: And you ask Mark to drive you to the airport?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Some people who know you have talked the "before" and "after" and the transformation in your life. Is it too simplistic to attribute the new Jim McGuinness to what happened to Mark? I'm still trying to figure where to draw the line?

JMcG: The line between?

PK: When you become this different person?

JMcG: I think that line is blurred. I'm a different person today than I was two years ago; I'm a much different person than before I took the (Donegal) Senior job in '10. There are critical life moments, and that was a critical life moment. You're not the same person after it.

PK: Some people who knew you before say 'this guy was a wild man - fighting, drinking . . . everything'.

JMcG: No, I became . . . well, I didn't become anything, I just lost myself for a period. And I was never the same footballer. The first time around (Charles' death) I made a decision (to play for Donegal) and was going to do it. The second time around, I wanted it even more but just couldn't get it together. We played Kerry in Ballyshannon about a year after Mark died and I was dead. I felt dead and I looked dead and I remember sitting in the dressing room thinking: 'What am I doing here? What is this all about?' And I remember Declan Bonner having a real good go at me, saying: "What the fuck is wrong with you?" I remember thinking 'do you not fucking know?' - but he didn't know. He genuinely didn't. Because it's only hurting me - everybody else moves on. But you're sitting there with all this chaos and mayhem in your head dropping slowly under the radar.

PK: When do you hit rock bottom?

(He reflects for a minute before replying.)

JMcG: I remember coming in from a nightclub, a year after Mark died, and being in a really bad place, and just hurting. But I don't know if there was a definitive moment. There's just this period where you can't function.

PK: How long does that period last? You said it took 10 years before you could accept he was gone?

JMcG: Before I could even acknowledge it - not accept it - acknowledge it. That's a long time to be trying to make sense of something.

PK: So where are you on that curve when you meet Yvonne in 2002?

JMcG: I'm very vulnerable, probably. I had recovered on the field of play, and was back playing well, but yeah, very vulnerable. Was I organising my life? No. Was I able to deal with things the way everybody else was? No.

PK: "She slowly and steadily helped me to rebuild a sense of who I was and to get some focus in my life. I'm not sure if I would ever have got there without her."

JMcG: I think that's very fair.

PK: You were 30 years old?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: No serious relationships before that?

JMcG: (Laughs) I don't think any relationship should be serious.

PK: No meaningful relationship? No one you got close to?

JMcG: No, I had a concept in my head of the type of person I wanted to meet but I don't think you can go and actively meet that person.

PK: You met Yvonne in Croke Park?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: She's Colm McFadden's sister?

JMcG: Aye. Her mother organised it.

PK: Her mother?

JMcG: Yvonne had been going out with this guy but had split up with him that summer, and her mother was going:

"And what about Jim McGuinness?"

"And what about Jim McGuinness?"

Yvonne was sick of it:"Will you just shut your mouth about Jim McGuinness! Why are you talking about him? I've never even met him!" Anyway, we're in the players' lounge in Croke Park after losing to Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final and this woman - her mother - calls me over. And (Yvonne) turned around, and I turned around, and that was it. So I owe her mother a lot, too.

PK: Where were you with your studies?

JMcG: I was in Belfast (Jordanstown University) at that time.

PK: And then you leave for Liverpool to study Sports Psychology and it's here, at John Moores University, that 'the coach' is born. You're thinking about the game and the way it's played.

JMcG: It had always interested me. I used to come home from county training under different managers and draw every drill that was done into a book: What we had done. Why we had done it. The lot. I was forming this philosophy about the game in my head.

PK: And your first chance to experiment is with your club in 2005?

JMcG: I broke my leg that summer and knew that my inter-county career was over. Hughie Molloy was managing the club and asked if I would do a bit of work with them, coaching. We met and had a chat and I told him that the only way it would work was if I got full control of the training environment. We had never won a county championship. I got the head down and started working with them. We played a friendly against Ardara and beat them 3-17 to 2-14, or something like that. I thought 'this could be interesting'. Then we blitzed Glencolmcille in the quarter-final and, to cut a long story short, we won the county final.

PK: Against St Eunans?

JMcG: Against St Eunans.

PK: And that was the birth of 'the system'?

JMcG: Yeah. I was formulating it, and drilling holes in it, and trying to find solutions. For me, it's about questions. How many questions can you ask? And what types of questions? Dublin ask a lot of questions of you:

"You wanna push up?"

"That's fine, we'll kick it over your head to the big guys on the wing and bury it in the back of the net, because the only thing we're thinking about is goals."

They've got two-footed players all over the park from number 8 to number 15.

You turn onto your left to block? They turn onto their right and kick it over the bar. They've the best players, the best system and they're asking questions all the time. And that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to manage Donegal. I wanted to take on the best to try and beat them.

4. This is our year.

The solitary sour note left on Donegal's All-Ireland victory came after the game when Jim McGuinness refused to begin his post-match press conference until Belfast Telegraph reporter Declan Bogue was removed from the room. Bogue is the author of the book 'This is Our Year', that caused controversy last year when it led to Kevin Cassidy being excluded from the Donegal panel. McGuinness then went on to explain that he had kept his counsel on his feelings about the book all year and had waited until now to make them known.

Malachy Clerkin, 'The Irish Times'

PK: Here's the one part of your story that makes no sense to me. The month is September, 2012. Donegal have beaten Mayo to win the All-Ireland final and Jim McGuinness is being heralded with the Gods. He has done something only one other manager in the history of Donegal football has achieved. If he never does anything for the rest of his life, people will remember him for this day.

JMcG: I know what you're going to ask.

PK: Yeah?

JMcG: And it's a very simple answer.

PK: Okay, well I'll ask you first, and you can give me the simple answer: You walk into the press conference . . .

JMcG: (Laughs.)

PK: . . . It's the greatest moment of your life, but you catch Declan Bogue's eye as you enter the room.

JMcG: I didn't. I didn't even know who he was. Somebody told me he was in the room.

PK: That makes no sense. I know how these press conferences work.

JMcG: No, you don't.

PK: Think about it: you've just won the All-Ireland. Why would somebody. . .

JMcG: You're calling me a liar here! I'm not lying. I haven't said one word that is inaccurate since I walked into this room.

PK: And I accept what you're saying, but I'm just putting it to you that it seems absolutely fucking extraordinary that somebody would tap you on the shoulder and say 'hold on a second here folks. Let's forget about the fact that we've just won an All-Ireland for the second time in history and we're all on cloud nine. Lets focus on this wanker in the corner who has done what, exactly? What did he do?

JMcG: Can I say something?

PK: Sure.

JMcG: This is the only time (since the interview started) you've got animated. And that's because it's a journalist we're talking about.

PK: No, it's not.

JMcG: Yes, it is.

PK: No, it's not.

JMcG: Yes, it is.

PK: OK, that's a fair observation but . . .

JMcG: It's a very fair observation. It's the only time you got lifted and that's because it's a journalist. All journalists have this wee thing . . .

PK: No, Jim, I'm going to pull you on that. I've no time for a lot of journalists and have never subscribed to the view that we're all one family.

(He is laughing.)

I really resent that.

(Big hearty guffaws.)

What are you laughing for?

JMcG: No, its good.

PK: You don't believe me?

JMcG: Do you want me to answer the question? First thing, there were inaccuracies in the book that I was not happy about.

PK: Here's the book. Show me them.

JMcG: No.

PK: Have you read it?

JMcG: Of course I've read it.

PK: Okay, well here's a few stats: There are 273 pages in it. There are references to you on 50 pages. There is not one criticism direct, or indirect, of you. Your academic qualifications are celebrated. Your tactics are described as radical, bold and brilliant. This is a quote from page 207:

JMcG: (Laughs.)

PK: The U-21 players he brought to an All-Ireland final are his keenest students but Cassidy continues to be amazed by one of his oldest friends. "I like to listen to Jim just before I go out. That's when I really enjoy it, focusing on what you're meant to do. Anybody else would lose the dressing room. Jim could chat for an hour, a straight hour, and not lose anyone's interest. He was always a good speaker. When he used to play with me he used to talk a lot, but then his training in college has helped him. He does a lot of lecturing now and he could speak for an hour and nobody would interrupt him."

JMcG: That's irrelevant.

PK: Is it, Jim?

JMcG: It is absolutely irrelevant. Somebody says 'oh, you're a great man', and on the basis (of that praise) I'm supposed to make decisions that have an impact on the group! I've seen people in the media and they've said incredibly glowing things, but that doesn't give them the right two months down the line to absolutely lambast you! That doesn't make sense in my eye. My mother said a hundred times 'sure there's only two foot between a tap on the back and a kick in the arse'. So I'm not worried. I don't care. I wasn't in management for people to go 'you're great! Well done!' . . . Do you get my point?

PK: Yes, I do.

JMcG: We had a group of people with the ambition of being All-Ireland champions. We had one of the people in that group, leaving the group and spending Saturday after Saturday after Saturday after Saturday with a journalist, while we're in the process of trying to win the All-Ireland.

PK: That's not the journalist's fault!

JMcG: Hold on a second . . . I was not going to be a hypocrite. I was not going to sit in that press conference and pretend it didn't happen. That would have been the easy thing to do. The hard thing was to go 'I'm taking a stand here'. Because if there was one thing - and I'll get animated now - if there was one thing that had the potential for that day not to happen, that was it.

PK: That wasn't Bogue's fault.

JMcG: Are you sure about that?

PK: Absolutely. He's a journalist. He's doing his job.

JMcG: But it has to be done properly.

PK: Yes, it has to be done properly but he's not answerable to you.

JMcG: He doesn't have to be answerable to me.

PK: He's doing his job.

JMcG: That doesn't mean I can't have an opinion.

PK: Of course you can have an opinion, but you're holding him responsible.

JMcG: I'm holding him responsible, on equal terms, for the fact that if there was one thing that could have impacted on that day not happening, that (book) was it. And you don't want to see that.

PK: That's not true. I totally understand and absolutely appreciate the point you make with regard to Kevin Cassidy. He's the guy togging out for you. He's part of your team. He's the guy who's talking to the journalist. But the journalist is doing his job. Show me the inaccuracies and your argument will be stronger.

JMcG: No, it's got enough traction.

PK: You can't hold Bogue responsible - I don't think that's fair.

JMcG: That's fine, that's your opinion.

PK: That is my opinion. And can I just make one small point? I mentioned earlier about the government education strategy, and what you could do for it. It was Declan Bogue who paid you that compliment.

JMcG: That doesn't change anything.

PK: OK, we'll move on.

5. The talk of the town.

If there is a slightly miraculous lustre to the story of Donegal and Jim McGuinness, yesterday's confirmation that the Glenties man has joined the coaching staff at Glasgow Celtic deepened it. If McGuinness was to join any club, then Celtic was the perfect place - and his appointment to the coaching staff at Parkhead should be celebrated not just by Donegal fans, but by GAA people in general. It is due recognition of the level of coaching and conditioning in the current game.

Keith Duggan, 'The Irish Times'

PK: Talk to me about your working day: What does Jim McGuinness do at Celtic?

JMcG: I had my normal alarm call this morning before seven when all the kids came into the room, and that was beautiful because I spent four years living in a two-bedroom flat in the West End - utopia if you're a single man - but they're (his wife Yvonne, and their five children) over three weeks now and we've found a place out in the country.

PK: So there's a sense of normalcy returning to your life?

JMcG: Yeah, a big shift, a lovely shift.

PK: OK, keep going.

JMcG: So, got up, made a cup of tea and off to work. You're normally in for eight o'clock, that's the normal routine.

PK: This is in Lennoxtown?

JMcG: Yeah, the training centre. Most of the staff would be there for breakfast at 8am, and there's meeting - a first-team meeting and a development squad meeting - at 8.30am. Previously, I would have been sitting in on those first-team meetings and picking-up the sound bytes: Who's going well? Who's not going well? Who's a wee bit off? It could be their contracts; it could be their form; it could be non-selection. I'd watch them training and catch them after lunch for a chat. That would have been the job.

PK: 'Performance consultant'.

JMcG: Yeah, but I'm coaching with the development squad now and the role and the responsibility is different.

PK: Remind me again how you got the job?

JMcG: It started with Paul McGinley and his father, Mick, in many respects. It was the end of 2011; we had won the Ulster Championships and lost to Dublin in the semi-final and Mick McGinley rang me up: "Paul would like to meet you. He has a couple of questions for you." Paul had designs on the Ryder Cup captaincy, potentially, and . . . you know him?

PK: Yeah.

JMcG: He's a guy who likes to get to the bottom of things, and he was talking to people who had been in management, or were in management, and we just hit it off. Man United were playing Newcastle on TV and it was about three o'clock in the morning when I left the house. We just kept chatting and chatting and I think, on the back of that, Paul said to Dermot Desmond: "Keep an eye out for Donegal next year."

PK: And the year obviously went well.

JMcG: Yeah, so the whole way through 2012 there was obviously an appreciation, from a distance, of what was going on. We won the Ulster final again, and played Kerry in the quarter-final and Cork in the semi-final and I was invited over to a Champions League match at Celtic Park, not knowing what was going on, or what it was about. And then, after we won the All-Ireland, Dermot invited myself and Yvonne to his office in Dublin and offered me a place. He actually offered me a full-time position - so I had to then, in the middle of that offer, ask if it would be possible for me to see out my four years.

PK: Because you had signed up for four years with Donegal.

JMcG: Well, you don't sign for anything - there's no contracts in Gaelic.

PK: No, I understand that.

JMcG: I had asked (the County board) for four years, and Dermot Desmond could easily have said no.

PK: And if he had?

JMcG: He was never going to do that. He said: "You need to do what feels right."

PK: And what felt right was to see out the four years?

JMcG: Well, we were incredibly emotionally attached, myself and the players. And it just didn't feel . . . it just felt too early. So it was a wee bit surreal to be sitting in his office in Dublin, speaking about what we were speaking about, and having to say 'would it be possible to (do it part-time) for two years?' But that's the way it was.

PK: It was announced in November 2012?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: When was your first day to the club?

JMcG: Jesus, you're asking me a question now.

PK: Neil Lennon was manager at the time.

JMcG: Yeah, 'Lenny' was great. He had played Gaelic football at minor level for Armagh and understood where I was coming from, which made it a wee bit easier, because you have to remember it's a completely different world. The manager is 'The Gaffer', it's not 'Neil'. There's a culture there and a language and there's boundaries and roles. Very few people knew anything about the Donegal story, or cared (laughs). Do you think Danny McGrane cared about Donegal winning an All-Ireland? And that's the reality like. So it was hard in many respects settling into that culture.

PK: You have to gain their acceptance?

JMcG: Yeah, absolutely, but the club were great to me: Dermot and Peter Lawwell (Chief Executive) and Chris McCart (Director of the Academy) showed me great flexibility to allow me to do the job with Donegal, and I never missed a training session other than a sickness or something.

PK: Think back to that first day.

JMcG: Peter Lawwell drove me to Lennoxtown. I remember thinking: 'Will I be accepted? What the hell is ahead of me?' So there's that moment of self-doubt and stuff, but there's also the excitement of walking out through the tunnel for the first time and being introduced to the group. There's a huge difference between what I was doing then, and what I'm doing now; 90 per cent of psychological support is observation, whereas 90 per cent (of coaching) is hands-on.

PK: I get a sense you enjoy coaching?

JMcG: I love the one-to-one stuff, because you get to hear their story: Where are you from? What have you done? Who did you start with? How have you progressed? Who have you met? Who's the biggest influence in your career? How hard has it been? What are you doing it for? Who are you doing it for? What do you want out of the game? They're fascinating conversations, but if you're doing that all the time, it becomes solving other peoples problems as opposed to having puzzles in your head about the game. Do you know what I mean?

PK: Sure.

JMcG: That's what I was used to and there's a bug in that. But I also enjoy grabbing one of the development squad players now and sitting down and having a chat.

PK: You haven't set any boundaries in terms of your ambition?

JMcG: No, because I want to see where it takes me; and I want to feel that I'm on a journey; and I want to feel that I can create something that people would be interested in buying into.

PK: You're two years away from it now?

JMcG: Yeah.

PK: Is there anything you miss?

JMcG: Obviously, you know, when Donegal are playing there's that (thought) that in a parallel universe, there's a high possibility you would still be there. Is there a void? No. And I think the reason there isn't a void is that there is so much going on here. And the stuff I'm doing with Sky and The Irish Times has filled that void as well.

PK: But can anything you ever achieve here match the joy of what you did at Donegal?

JMcG: Well, it's funny, but one of the most enjoyable experiences I've ever had in coaching was when I was lecturing in Limavady, and the buzz of creating something out of nothing. And that's what I loved about Donegal - where we were; where we went to; and what was involved in the process. So you're asking me 'you'll never get that at Celtic?' . . . But if you get a group of people, and they come together and want to do something, and they put their heart and their mind and their soul to it and achieve something - that's incredibly satisfying.

PK: Sure.

JMcG: Will it end with the same buzz you get in the Abbey Hotel at four in the morning with the Anglo-Celt (trophy) being fired into the air?

PK: Probably not.

JMcG: I don't know.

PK: But it will be nice to find out?

JMcG: (Laughs) Yeah, it will be nice to find out.

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