McGuinness digs deep to keep Donegal in tune
PERCEPTION and reality are quite different, Jim McGuinness explains.
It was said that his job with Glasgow Celtic would prove a distraction, but he points out that he can leave his house and touch down in Glasgow in the same time as it would take him to drive to Belfast.
The 'double-jobbing' has gone on for six months and, so far, Donegal haven't suffered. Relegation was an acceptable by-product of an experimental spring, but when Tyrone came around in the championship, they looked every bit the side that won the All-Ireland last year.
Celtic have been flexible – as have the airlines – to make the commute from Donegal not as arduous as it might seem.
"I'm very fortunate that there's an airport in our own county. They know me in the airport (Carrickfin) which is a big help and it means if the flight is at 10.50, I can leave the house at 9.50, be down there for 10.30 and walk on to the flight, so it's about 2 hours 15 minutes from door-to-door.
"It would take me an hour to get to Letterkenny and the same amount of time from there to Belfast, before jumping on the flight.
"It's only 15 minutes to my apartment on the far side and 25 minutes to Lennoxtown, if I'm going straight to work, so it's very handy."
With each trip, he brings home something new, whether it be in the area of physical and mental preparation or the science behind the best possible recovery.
But he seems more pleased to have a squad – who were once so ravaged with unemployment that McGuinness' predecessor, John Joe Doherty issued a public plea for jobs for the players. Happier players, he insists, make better players.
"We have got them all employed, we worked very hard on that and now we would like to get some of them into better jobs.
"I think the attitude towards the team has been changing over the last couple of years. The Donegal public, at home and abroad, have got a lot out of this team. We have been on a great journey with them.
"Winning the provincial Championship in 2011 was absolutely massive for us, it was a great sense of pride for everybody inside and outside of Donegal. And to go and win an All-Ireland on top of that is even more special for the people of Donegal and on Sunday we have a chance to go to a third provincial Championship final in a row.
"These are all great moments in the history of our county and I think the people of Donegal appreciate what the players are doing for them and for that reason I think they are looking after them.
The emergence of Ross Wherity was, he says, the single biggest plus to emerge for McGuinness in the Tyrone game. And with Karl Lacey and Neil Gallagher ruled out of Sunday's Ulster SFC semi-final with Down, he'll have to dip further into a squad that, he admits, is a little more shallow than some of the other frontrunners in the race for the All-Ireland.
"We don't have a big squad. But it hasn't affected our results. We managed the situation last year and we've continued to win.
"There's probably a grain of truth to it. If you haven't got your best players out on the field, it's going to impact on your overall level of performance.
"But it hasn't impacted on the results for us. The fellas that have come in have done a really solid job for the team.
"I can see why it would be said, though. The likes of Dublin realistically, could put 30 out in an A v B game and it'd be ultra competitive, both teams giving it hell for leather and there'd be very little between them.
"It's a different dynamic. But it's what we have to work with and it's what we are working with."
McGuinness' efforts to keep his side fit haven't been helped by a change to the club championship in the county, which means his players have more games to finish.
Two rounds have been played off since the Tyrone game, meaning McGuinness' preparation time has been squeezed ahead of Sunday's date with Down in Kingspan Breffni Park.
"We've never once talked about defending the Ulster Championship. It's about what's ahead of us. For the last six months what was ahead of us was Tyrone and that's where our focus was and now we've got to recalibrate and get ready for Down.
"It's a model, it's very simplistic, but it is how we do it. It has worked well for us and we won't be changing it."