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McGuinness puts GAA expertise in shop window

ONE of the country's leading sports performance experts has warned the GAA to cherish its top young coaches in the wake of Jim McGuinness's appointment at Celtic.

Mike McGurn, the renowned fitness expert, who has worked in Gaelic football, rugby union, rugby league, boxing and soccer, believes the GAA is teeming with young, emerging coaching talent likely to be targeted by other codes following McGuinness's move.

Highly-rated coaches like Jason Ryan, Cian O'Neill, Kieran McGeeney and Paddy Tally have all amassed impressive qualifications, along with top-flight experience, and McGurn reckons the quality of coaching in Gaelic games is now at an all-time high. "I don't think we're going to see a flood of coaches suddenly leaving the GAA or anything but with regard to the young, scientific coaches coming through, there could be a threat that we might lose some," McGurn said.

"A lot of the modern GAA coaches coming through know how to train teams but more importantly they know how to coach them as well -- they're not just sending them to the gym or around a field to do laps.

"These young guys have it all and they'll be looked at by other sports -- no doubt about it. I can't see an exodus or anything like that in the near future but a path has been worn all the same with Jim's move to Glasgow."

There is no shortage of youthful, in-demand sports performance experts either. Cavan's Nicholas Walsh is coaching with AFL club GWS Giants, Bryan Cullen is impressing the Leinster rugby academy with his work, while his Dublin team-mate Philly McMahon last week joined Shamrock Rovers as strength and conditioning coach.

In the recent past former Armagh and Galway football coach John McCloskey worked with London Wasps as skills expert, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan took the Springbok rugby team for an eight-day kicking and handling programme in 2006 and McGurn spent several years with the Irish rugby team. Armagh sports psychologist Enda McNulty, meanwhile, has been involved with a variety of elite athletes since his inter-county career ended.

With McGuinness making such a giant leap to a high-profile professional outfit, McGurn accepts others will seek to make their mark in different codes, but warns that it won't be an easy transition.

"Even with the Celtic youngsters Jim will find that they don't have much interest in conditioning or psychology -- most of them will just want to get out and play soccer. He has been dealing with men of the calibre of Michael Murphy and Karl Lacey but this new role will be an entirely different proposition. Those young lads will just want to go out and play soccer and might not be that interested in all the other stuff."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Independent understands that Celtic were fervent in their pursuit of the Glenties native over the past few months.

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The Scottish club's owner Dermot Desmond was said to be hugely impressed when he met McGuinness in June at the Irish Open golf championship at Portrush.

McGuinness then attended Celtic's Champions League qualifier against Helsingborgs in August and was given a tour of the club's Lennoxtown training facility. A month later, Neil Lennon was in attendance at Croke Park when Donegal won their second All-Ireland title with a convincing defeat of Mayo. The Donegal manager duly returned to Parkhead last Wednesday night to see Celtic crown their 125th anniversary celebrations in glorious fashion with a 2-1 win over Barcelona.

He spent Thursday in a series of meetings centred on finalising his involvement with the Bhoys while also staying in charge of the Donegal team for one more year at least. Contracts were signed that night and the deal was officially confirmed on Friday morning.

McGuinness has pledged not to miss a Donegal training session in 2013 and will start work in Glasgow at the end of the month, starting off on two days a week, before inevitably enjoying a more permanent schedule.

Reports indicate that his salary could rise to €150,000 but if the new job only entails two days a week in Glasgow for the moment, it seems a fanciful figure. Other reports have suggested that the arrangement could start off at around €60,000 per annum.

"The cross to football won't be a problem for Jim," Neil Lennon declared last week. "He'll come in and predominantly work with younger players. But if I feel there is a first-team player or players who will benefit from Jim's skills then I'll have no hesitation in using him to do that."

After his playing career ended, McGuinness worked as a fitness coach and a sports psychologist in the North West Regional College, Limavady. He has an MSc in sport psychology from John Moores University, Liverpool, as well as an honours degree in sport, exercise and leisure from UUJ. He also holds a higher certificate in health and leisure studies from IT Tralee. McGuinness has previously worked with soccer clubs Finn Harps, Derry City and Limavady United.

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