Wednesday 21 March 2018

'It has gotten very personal': Will Jim McGuinness ever get over his messy break-up with Rory Gallagher?

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

If a Donegal footballer ever comes across one of Jim McGuinness' columns on a morning when the team is mentioned it probably makes for uncomfortable reading - like watching divorced parents bicker while one of the kids is within earshot.

The former Donegal manager is one of the authoritative voices on Gaelic football and since he started writing in the Irish Times over a year ago he has tackled a number of topics - championship structures, punditry in the GAA, defensive systems - in an interesting and thought provoking way.

But when the man who led Donegal to All-Ireland glory in 2012 writes about his old team, something feels amiss.

The manager who succeeded McGuinness, Rory Gallagher, had a widely publicised exit from the team's backroom staff in 2013, a year after the duo combined brilliantly in masterminding Donegal's second ever All-Ireland victory.

After McGuinness revisited the departure in his book last year, two different versions of events were put forward by the protagonists - one where Gallagher jumped and one where he was pushed.

Now that McGuinness regularly covers Donegal in his columns, his relationship with Gallagher - or lack of one - is the elephant in the room.

As Joe Brolly put it on Newstalk last week, "Since leaving the Donegal job he [McGuinness] has heaped pressure on Rory Gallagher without ever mentioning his name. Jim is extremely Machiavellian make no mistake about that."

After Donegal lost to Tyrone in last Sunday's Ulster final, McGuinness used his subsequent column to criticise the game plan. Again, Gallagher's name was missing from most these paragraphs but they were obviously directed at him.

That isn't an observation that only Brolly has picked up on. Newstalk pundit David Brady also feels that McGuinness' comments about Dongeal often veer towards personal - if implicit - attacks on Gallagher.

"You are entitled to write what you want as a columnist but I do think it is sad," Brady told

"It is two men who led Donegal to victory and it is not a nice thing to see. There is without a doubt a certain degree of innuendo with regards to Rory [Gallagher]. Rory does have a certain amount of responsibility but so do the players.

"It has gotten very personal against one of his old comrades."


Brady points to the underperformance of a number of Donegal stars as a major factor in their loss to Tyrone, rather than some awful sideline blunder from Gallagher. Mainly though, he feels that blame should be shared between the coaches and players rather than directed at one man.

Sometimes McGuinness writes about the Donegal players as if it is the group he coached in 2012 rather than a squad who are four years older, and in some cases, nowhere near as healthy.

"Some past county managers don't want to say one bad word about their players and there was every reason for Jimmy [McGuinness] to do it after last Sunday," Brady says.

"It [his criticism] was solely directed at Rory Gallagher.

"If players don't kick any long balls in, who have been there for ten years, they should have the ability and experience to change things. They're not robots."

When reading McGuinness' views on Donegal, it is hard not to view them, at least in part, through the prism of his falling out with Gallagher.

Obviously since Donegal have lost two straight Ulster finals, there is room for criticism of the current manager, but Brady thinks that the amount of time McGuinness has devoted to his successor - both directly and indirectly - says a lot.


"If you read Jim McGuinness' book, he mentions Rory Gallagher about four times," Brady says.

"If you read his columns, he mentions him about 44 times. He should have done this and he should have done that.

"Last Sunday was an Ulster final that Donegal might have won - if they had won would Jim McGuinness have been overjoyed for Rory Gallagher? My honest opinion is no."

One of the aforementioned instances of McGuinness heaping 'pressure on Rory Gallagher without ever mentioning his name' may have been his insistence that Donegal were one of the best placed teams to challenge Dublin.

Read more: Joe Brolly: Jim McGuinness is taking the piss with his praise of Donegal

Gallagher's men have a tough qualifier against Cork on Saturday week in Croke Park, which if they win would set up a quarter-final encounter with Jim Gavin's men.

Such a game would be the biggest test of Gallagher's tenure so far, and would give him a great chance to rebuke - on the pitch - some of what has been written about his team during the last two seasons.

There should be two more Jim McGuinness columns between now and that potential last eight clash. It will be interesting to see what the former Donegal manager has to say - either implicitly or directly - about the man who succeeded him.

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