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Eugene McGee: Personally, I totally disliked McGuinness' approach


Jim McGuinness celebrates with his players after Donegal's victory against Dublin. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Jim McGuinness celebrates with his players after Donegal's victory against Dublin. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE


Jim McGuinness celebrates with his players after Donegal's victory against Dublin. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

As a manager who orchestrated a famous breakthrough for Offaly, Eugene McGee can appreciate the dramatic change in fortune which Donegal experienced under the leadership of Jim McGuinness over the last four years.

During his career, McGee came across many players from Tir Chonaill and appreciated their raw talent. At county level, however, for too many years, success only came sporadically.

That changed when McGuinness arrived with a crystal-clear idea of how he wanted to set up the team's style, and the unrelenting dedication he demanded.

It wasn't easy on the eye, and it was shocking to fans and opposing teams. While McGee respects their level of achievement, the former Offaly manager reveals that he was not a fan of the Donegal tactics, not least because of the 'copycat' factor that inevitably percolated down to club level.

McGee writes: "Jim McGuinness did amazing things with Donegal county football teams in recent years by changing the whole attitude to the inter-county scene in a short space of time.

"It is no exaggeration to state that Donegal had a rather fractious relationship with county football for a lifetime. They managed to make the All-Ireland breakthrough in 1992 but another 20 years went by before another All-Ireland was won. For a county with as huge a population and geographical area as Donegal, this was a very poor return.

"Donegal developed a reputation, rightly or wrongly, of their footballers being rather free and easy as regards team discipline, training and overall approach to playing for Donegal. We constantly heard reports of mini-rows, absenteeism from training and generally the notion that if every player good enough applied himself to the Donegal county team all the time, they could be a major force in the game long-term.

"Those of us involved in third-level GAA games going back through the years would have agreed with that, as many of the best players who lined out for colleges like UCD and UCG in particular came from Donegal and were outstanding performers at that level.

"Then along came Jim McGuinness, a man who himself was well immersed in third-level football, having played and been successful with Tralee, Sligo and Jordanstown, making him possibly the best educated county footballer in Ireland at the time.


"Jim then turned his attention to the inherent problems of the Donegal county team.

"He set up new structures for selecting, training and managing the team and was handed unlimited power by the Donegal County Board.

"But McGuinness did not merely organise new structures, he also formulated a new system of playing Gaelic football that to most GAA people was revolutionary.

"In the process he completed the already commenced project by other counties of dismantling the century-long traditional line-out system for playing the game.

"Gone was the old system of team formation that was: 1, 3, 3, 2, 3, 3.

"Instead, to the casual observer, apart from the goalkeeper the other 14 players could play anywhere they wished - or more precisely anywhere McGuinness wished. The policy was to play as many as 12 players in the backline when Donegal were defending, and if and when they regained possession to then have several players to dash forward into attack to receive the ball from outfield players. There were many variations of this style but that was the gist of it for the common GAA man.

"Initially it led to terribly defensive games such as the semi-final meeting between Dublin and Donegal which finished Dublin 0-8 Donegal 0-6 in a game that was described among other things as a travesty, an abomination, the destruction of Gaelic football and a reneging on everything Gaelic football stood for.

"But McGuinness, by now Public Enemy No 1 as far as GAA people were concerned, ignored the criticism and instead commenced to refine his basic defensive theory to facilitate the team getting more scores and he won the All-Ireland the following year, 2012."

McGee has always been concerned with the GAA at all levels, particularly the grassroots of the club scene which remains the cornerstone of the Association.

And while McGuinness has stepped aside from Donegal, at least for the foreseeable future, McGee highlights his concern about the spread of the ultra-defensive tactics being utilised by coaches and managers outside the elite who slavishly follow the McGuinness/Donegal template.

McGee continues: "As usual in this situation nearly every manager of a club team decided to copy Donegal and we had an orgy of club championship games with combined scores less than 20 points.

"McGuinness imposed draconian powers on the Donegal players, particularly in relation to discipline and training. He could justify all that by winning the All-Ireland, but the wider GAA public wanted nothing to do with his style.

"The man has to be admired for breaching the boundaries of tradition as teams like Down (1960) and Kerry and Dublin (in the '70s also did).

"Personally I totally disliked the Donegal approach because it confined the game to a handful of undemanding skills they perfected to the exclusion of many more.

"The handpass was crucial to the Donegal style and stopping opponents when they had possession was also a key part of their game.

"But Jim McGuinness deserves great credit for his bravery in breaking the shackle of conservatism in football. Only time will tell what his, and Gaelic football's, legacy will be in 10 years' time.


All-powerful county bosses can upset the club scene far too easily

In extracts from his book, Eugene McGee on a shift in power

The strange thing is that the GAA has never defined, to this day, what the role of a manager is.

Managers have never been officially part of the GAA system.

Over the years they took on different roles depending on their own personalities but as time went by one overriding factor emerged clearly - the power of the manager grew and grew. So nowadays we have county managers who are the most important people in the particular county.

For example county team managers have a huge say as to how club fixture-making is carried out and we have witnessed some extreme examples in recent times.

In Donegal, under the managership of Jim McGuinness, senior club championship games are virtually abandoned so long as Donegal are still in the All-Ireland race, and much the same applies to Dublin.

And even though in each county the Competitions Control Committee (CCC) now has full control over fixtures arising from a motion put forward by the Football Review Committee in 2013, the county manager can still manage to disrupt them if he sees fit.


The emotional impact of a plea from the county manager to postpone club games 'to protect the county players from injury' is the weapon used by those managers who constantly want club games delayed

In reality it would appear that such managers, and fortunately they are only a minority, care little about club players but want total 'ownership' of the county players for the duration of their championship run.

In some cases managers want to control the lives of county players, controlling their diets, limiting their social activities, banning them from things like using alcohol even sparingly and so on. They want professional standards applied to amateur players.

The biggest problem facing the GAA today is club fixtures, the inability of many county boards to draw up and implement regular programmes of club fixtures from May to September, the time of year when thousands of club players wish to play games regularly.

There are many reasons why this problem exists but one of the major ones is the ability of some county managers to upset fixtures schedules.

To the best of my knowledge hardly any managers, county or club, have a written contract from the relevant GAA body to control and manage the way they operate. They are in reality unlegislated for within GAA structures.

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