Gavin's pacy Dublin impress McGuinness
HE is known for winning matches, but this weekend Jim McGuinness will be watching a whole lot of them.
From the Donegal senior championship, he'll go to the Ulster semi-final on Saturday night, work on his players' recovery on Sunday morning and then head for Croke Park to see the Dubs take on Kildare.
It is all part of the learning process. His mantra may be the old 'one game at a time', but he and Rory Gallagher will head for the capital with one eye on August and the other on adapting his team's play to combat some of the players he is watching.
His side's style of play is being replicated all over the country, but McGuinness is trying to move it on. While he created his own 'Barcelona', McGuinness is open to taking other elements on board and likes what he has seen of Jim Gavin's Dublin.
"Dublin have a lot of youth in the team, a lot of pace. They are bringing their game to the opposition, something we'd like to do more of," he explained.
"We feel we have players who are capable of doing that and we'd like to get them to be more dynamic up the pitch. I think all the managers and all the teams at the highest level are learning off each other and it's great to see those teams."
While he may take bits and pieces from the way others play the game, McGuinness questioned the merits of other managers taking what they see as his template and reproducing it.
"I'm not likening ourselves to Barcelona, right, but in soccer terms everybody talks about Barcelona," he said at the launch of the Arthur Guinness Projects.
"Barcelona have a specific way of playing the game and I don't see anyone out there at the minute who are even close to doing what Barcelona do.
"The messages that we give the players on the field are what translates into how we play; the messages that the Barcelona players get year after year translates.
"Somebody in another county, they don't know what messages we're giving our players. A philosophy, an idea, a concept, coaching. It is players who want to be there and are focused on what they are doing, taking information and using it.
"You wouldn't say that we are playing the way we want to play all of the time. We'd like to score more, we'd like to be more dynamic. We'd like to ask more questions, sometimes we'd like to be better defensively, in different aspects of our defence.
"We have a template that we're trying to work and develop on. Other teams can look at that on a television screen and say: 'We can do this,' but I don't know."
So, how much of his managerial line of thinking came from watching others? "A lot of the best learning that I ever got was in situations where you'd say: 'I wouldn't do that'," he said.
"So, it's all the managers you would have worked under and all the coaches you would have worked under.
"You'd be saying: 'That's very good, I could use that', or, 'that's in line with my thinking', or 'Christ Almighty, what's he talking about? He's just taken the energy out of the room or he's disrespected a player.' So, you'll take what you want and you'll leave what you don't want and you'll form your own opinions then and put it all together."
It has worked, but McGuinness' template has also drawn plenty of criticism and last week's win over Down is the latest of Donegal's games to be panned for lacking entertainment. His currency, however, is medals and he believes that those criticising the style of play don't understand the competitiveness needed to win in Ulster.
"Maybe a lot of those pundits just cruised into provincial finals, won in a certain way," he said, adding that the prospect of becoming just the fourth team to win three Ulster titles in a row is a major incentive for next month.
"I think if you play in Ulster you know that it is going to be attritional, that is why it is so hard to win. That is why we get such a kick out of competing for it and that is why the medal is held in such high regard. It would be incredible if we could win this final.
"For this group of Donegal players to go into the history books with Cavan of the '40s, Down of the '60s and Armagh of the '00s... to join that calibre of company based on where these fellahs have come form, when they were basically written off inside and outside Donegal.
"If you said to me three years ago, was that achievable? I'd be thinking: 'it'd be unbelievable, but a lot of things would have to fall into place to make it happen'."