Saturday 14 December 2019

10 key decisions taken by Donegal's Jim McGuinness

Jim McGuinness
Jim McGuinness

1 Taking the job in the first place

McGuinness was twice turned down for the position before he was appointed in July 2010. Famously, when he went for the job the second time in 2008, he brought a laptop to make a presentation, outlining his vision of the future, only to discover that the room the interview was taking place in had no power socket! He left, and the presentation was never viewed. It might easily have dissuaded him sufficiently not to make himself available for a third time. But by then he was the unanimous choice, he had the conviction, and the presentation has since become reality.

2 Making Michael Murphy captain

Murphy was still only 21, one of the youngest players on the squad, when he was handed the responsibility. Few inter-county captains are that young. The temptation could have been to give it to more seniors players. But McGuinness knew the character he was dealing with from U-21 level and understood what he could bring to any team through leadership and example. He has been his on-field general at all times.

3 Challenging comments about Ryan Bradley's man of the match award against Antrim in 2011

When Ryan Bradley was awarded man of the match by 'The Sunday Game' after McGuinness' first Championship match, the tone from the panel, given the quality of the game, was dismissive. After the next match against Cavan, McGuinness cut loose with an emotional reply. "I think Donegal at the minute with the media is a thing that you can poke fun at. You can eulogise about Kerry and then talk about Dublin. But Donegal, just poke fun at them," he said. It was a statement that illustrated how he was willing to stand up for his team, that showed Donegal people how their football team would not be ridiculed in such a way.

4 Redefining Murphy's role

Most managers would chalk down Michael Murphy as the first name on their team-sheet. Few would think of him as anything other than a full-forward, given his ball-winning power, accuracy and capacity to score goals. But his deployment in a variety of roles has had such a profound influence. McGuinness has managed to think differently about Murphy and has spread his talents to suit the team's needs. Other forwards of similar ability might recoil against being cast in such roles but not Murphy, the ultimate team player.

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5 Committing so many numbers behind the ball against Dublin in the 2011 semi-final

for their previous five matches Donegal had effectively locked down their own area when they didn't have possession with up to 12 players. Generally Murphy, Colm McFadden and Patrick McBrearty held higher positions. But for Dublin, McGuinness opted to pull everyone bar McFadden back when their opponents had possession. It was as daring and unconventional a tactic as any manager had produced and, if they had countered properly, it would have worked.

6 Removing Kevin Cassidy from squad

Cassidy's collaboration for the book 'This Is Our Year', which focused on nine players from nine Ulster counties throughout the 2011 Championship season, made for absorbing reading and gave real insight into how McGuinness transformed Donegal. But McGuinness had operated a strict confidentiality clause where players signed up to an agreement not to divulge specific information about what went on behind the dressing-room door. The manager saw it as a breach of squad trust and felt that a line had been crossed. Cassidy had a brilliant season and was rewarded with an All Star but within days of the book's launch in Gaoth Dobhair, he was off the squad. McGuinness was criticised and risked so much as a consequence of letting such a quality player go but firm parameters had been laid by the action. The message went out that squad rules couldn't be compromised by anyone.

7 Committing to stay for a fourth year

On the back of a 16-point defeat in an All-Ireland quarter-final with a team whose appetite, from a distance, looked to have been sated by their achievements in the previous two years, committing for another year had an element of risk about it. Certain players, as they have since revealed, were wavering. But McGuinness didn't want them to be remembered for Mayo and felt they would - unless they stayed on. They circled the wagons, they re-committed, they stayed the distance.

8 Management change in 2013

It has never been firmly established whether Rory Gallagher (pictured) decided himself to leave last year or whether McGuinness sought change. A Donegal statement at the time revealed that the manager had informed the board of his "intention" to make changes. Either way it was a significant parting of the ways as McGuinness and Gallagher had appeared to be one of the most economic management teams around. But it hasn't derailed the team in any way.

9 The removal of club fixtures from the inter-county calendar

As far as McGuinness is concerned, this was the key decision for progress in 2014 and a cornerstone for him continuing for a fourth year. For four of the eight weeks of the duration of the 2013 Ulster Championship, Donegal players were away on club duty as three rounds of club championship were played. Donegal's club championship in 2012 had been condensed into just five weeks and the aim was to guard against a repeat. But injuries were picked up, players took club defeats badly, rival teams with county players engaged in "fisticuffs" in the new programme that mixed club and county action. There were too many "negative" dynamics and they got no "traction" at training. "We were managing a situation, not a team," recalled McGuinness. He proposed two rounds of club championship prior to the start of the Ulster Championship but clubs felt it wouldn't work and they put it off until Donegal interest was finished. It has made all the difference.

10 Using contacts to embellish resources

When a helicopter touched down in Ballybofey on the Thursday night before McGuinness' first Championship game against Antrim in 2011 and offloaded a number of Dublin-based players for training, it became apparent that the manager was aiming to resource the team in a much different way, even if it meant going far beyond the pot that a county board could provide. He wasn't prepared to wait for them to come up with the funding for what he wanted to do. Pat Gilroy in Dublin and Kieran McGeeney had been using a similar model. Through business contacts at home, in the UK and the USA, McGuinness has been able to supplement the funding of training camps - four this year alone - and get the cost of pre-match accommodation covered too. The Donegal Supporters Club have also been active too, at home and in Dublin.

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