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McGuinness living the dream at Donegal and Celtic

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16 March 2013; Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Cork v Donegal, Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

16 March 2013; Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Cork v Donegal, Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

16 March 2013; Donegal manager Jim McGuinness. Allianz Football League, Division 1, Cork v Donegal, Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork. Picture credit: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

WHETHER he's at Lennoxtown or Letterkenny, Jim McGuinness is at his happiest when he's on a training pitch – passing on what he has gained from many years of preparing for what he feels is his destiny.

The once scraggy-haired perennial college student is now box office in Gaelic games, and the head-hunting of the Donegal manager by Celtic FC following his All-Ireland win in September was a pointer to the talents of the Glenties native.

His journey has not been a seamless one: from re-sitting his Leaving Cert at 23, to those years of studying at Tralee, Jordanstown and Liverpool, McGuinness has climbed the ladder the hard way.

Now, though, when he holds court in Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey, a posse of journalists is taking in his every word as if he's relaying the secrets of Fatima.

His ascension to the glamorous world of professional soccer in accepting a role as a performance consultant with Celtic in Glasgow raised eyebrows initially, with sceptics suggesting that double-jobbing was impossible.

PUZZLES

McGuinness, however, has insisted from day one that he could have the best of both worlds and has vowed that his new role would not impinge on involvement with a side that now stands as one of Gaelic football's great puzzles.

"I don't think Jim could have walked away," says Mark McHugh. "He stuck with us through so much and Celtic obviously saw what he was doing and recognised it. But we have something special in Donegal and it wasn't something he could have left when he felt he wasn't finished."

He is now in his third year as manager of Donegal, fourth if you include the U-21s of 2010, and the hectic schedule of the commute from Glasgow to Glenties has not drained any of his enthusiasm.

"It has been a fishbowl situation, but that is when I am most comfortable in life – when I am managing teams and coaching," says the 40-year old.

"In one sense I haven't been living in reality for the last four years. It's training, working with people, trying to develop people, trying to win games and grow as a group, building fitness, strength, strategy, everything.

"We love it and that's why we do it. It is a very privileged position to be in, managing a team. It is an unbelievable privilege to be managing your county. The icing on the cake is if you're managing your county and you're being successful. That is the ultimate honour.

"It brings a great sense of pride to everyone related to you, to be able to go to the top level and manage your county. If you can do that and be successful, it's a very special experience."

McGuinness talks of the development of his knowledge of sports science, injury recovery, training and coaching by working with a club that reached the last 16 of the Champions League this season.

McGuinness's attention to detail in these areas will surely have rubbed off on his players at Donegal.

He says: "I've been watching their training and watching the coaches and how they coach. It has been very good for my own development to sit back and watch all of that unfold."

McGuinness has a portfolio of around 10 players in Glasgow he works closely with. He has worked alongside Tony Watt, the young Scot who netted the memorable match-winner when Celtic took down Barcelona at Parkhead.

When McGuinness speaks about his players, he does so with so much enthusiasm – and he holds his own top players in Donegal as dearly as Neil Lennon does his Celtic stars.

McGuinness says: "When you're working with people who want to be there and who want to be the best they can be, improve all the time – and I include all of our top players in that – and have this attitude of 'I still have weaknesses and want to improve', it makes the experience very enjoyable.

"It is a privilege. Ultimately, we wouldn't be successful without the players we have.

"To be working with your Michael Murphys, your Colm McFaddens and now the Patrick McBreartys – who is really coming into form and showing all the signs we hoped he'd bring as an inter-county footballer – watching them developing and maturing all the time... you see the players up close and it's a great moment in your life."

The championship looms large for McGuinness this week, following six days of preparation at a training camp in Johnstown House from Tuesday to Sunday. It is in these situations, in that so-called fishbowl, that he is at ease.

"I was speaking to a fella at Celtic last week and he was saying that even if they weren't getting paid anything they'd still be in football. They just love football," he says. "It's the same in Donegal. When you love what you're doing and you're working with people who love what they're doing ... if it was a situation where you thought it was arduous or that the players weren't motivated, or you were pushing or forcing issues, it wouldn't be enjoyable."

A home draw against Tyrone, the side whose mantle as kings of Ulster Donegal have taken of late, is a challenge McGuinness relishes. And it's a day that he's had marked on the calendar for some time.

"When the draw was made, it was a real 'focuser' for everyone. It brought us down to earth again. It gave us a chance to say that Tyrone was on the horizon and something like that focuses the minds very quickly," he says.

Irish Independent