Saturday 21 September 2019

Jim McGuinness: There are people who want me to fail - they see me as a GAA manager

Former Donegal boss Jim McGuinness is looking forward to his new role as manager of Charlotte Independence. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Former Donegal boss Jim McGuinness is looking forward to his new role as manager of Charlotte Independence. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Dermot Desmond took Jim McGuinness aside in 2012, at the height of his Donegal management career, and pointed him in the direction of a role as a performance coach in Celtic, there was the caveat that he could eventually take the journey a lot further.

It was the financier who sowed the seed in McGuinness' mind that he could do something almost unthinkable and go on to become a high-level soccer coach.

"When I met Dermot in Dublin in 2012 and he offered me the position, he said, 'I think you can become a high-level coach. But it'll be a long process, it might take 10 years'.

"So when you have somebody like that, that has a belief in you, that means a lot to you as an individual," recalled McGuinness.

Just over six years on from that conversation McGuinness boarded a plane last night for North Carolina, via Scotland and China, to begin the groundwork as coach of the local Charlotte Independence USL side for the next three years.


The season doesn't start until March but McGuinness' head was already racing ahead, full of thoughts on strategies, game-plans and types of players he may need to execute those plans in Dublin yesterday prior to departure as he spoke of a "journey" that is filled with equal amounts of ambition, risk and potential.

The great cross-pollination coaching experiment is under way and he's only too well aware that as many people who would like him to succeed will want him to fail.

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A man who made his mark as a GAA coach by doing things so radically different making it as a soccer equivalent in his 40s, having never played the game at a high level?

"There is risk involved since day one. You know, it's a journey. You could just hit a ceiling and people could say, 'Oh, that was never going to work, a Gaelic football manager? That was never going to happen'.

"And there are people probably waiting for that day to come," he accepted.

"I'm sure there's every bit as many wishing me well. That's always been the way.

"When I was manager of Donegal there was a polarised opinion anyway, so it's not something that's new.

"Everybody has an opinion, I totally respect that, and I never had a problem with that.

"But equally there are people that think it's intriguing and they're going to wait with their opinions to see how it pans out."

Yet those risks are no different to any risk a manager/coach takes these days in soccer.

He notes the average stay in the Premier League and Championship across the water.

"You move your family into the city and you take the job and everything is exciting, and after 14 months you're gone and you're moving again. So there's risk involved in everything.

"If you were going back to take Donegal this year and you were the manager of Donegal then there would be risk there as well.


"You just have to be true to yourself and be true to your own philosophy and your own principles and that's why I'm really happy that I've got that nailed down now."

McGuinness began visiting US clubs earlier this year and it was on one of those visits that he came in contact with Pádraig Smith, who previously worked with the FAI and is now general manager of the Colorado Rapids, an affiliate of Charlotte Independence.

"I spent a week with them, we were talking every day, he had a very clear idea of how I operate.

"He said he had been speaking to this guy who was an interesting guy, 'Why don't you have a conversation.' And it went from that, there is always an Irishman in there."

Charlotte was an opportunity that ticked more boxes for him. There had been offers in Ireland - reputedly from Galway United and Derry City - and, as McGuinness acknowledged, his mother would have willed him to take up whatever came his way on this island. But he's always been one to push himself out of the comfort zone.

"It would have been easier to walk into a dressing-room in Ireland and everybody to know who you were and how you operate and how you think.

"So to go out of Ireland to a different country and work with players from different cultures in a league that's spread out - it's almost like international travel in many respects for some of the games - a lot of those things will benefit me long term. It's probably a more difficult path," he admitted.

Inevitably, a conversation with McGuinness tilts back to Gaelic football.

He wasn't offered the vacant Mayo job at the end of the summer but felt it would have been "would have been a very interesting proposal."

Stephen Rochford, now in Declan Bonner's Donegal backroom team, is an "excellent" coach and is "really excited about not having the pressures of management, really going in and doing what's he knows he's really, really good at."

He'd "never say never" about a return to GAA management but the "different path" he's on now is something to "get used to that and accept."

And then there's Dublin. He remains the only manager to plot their championship downfall on Jim Gavin's watch but right now he doesn't see the gap closing between them and the chasing pack.

Even under new rules, McGuinness feels Dublin won't be put out by them and could return to their "swashbuckling" ways.

"I remember the league final against Derry a few years ago, the way they kicked the ball and won the ball, runners off the shoulder, it was phenomenal so every cloud has a silver lining and even though they won't like it in the short term it could end up bringing that style back to the fore."

Ultimately, he'd "relish" planning for this Dublin team. "There's a divide between all these teams and Dublin.

"You have to come up with a plan that can do something on a given day to take a team down. That will happen eventually, it's just a matter of when."

Irish Independent

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