Sport Premier League

Monday 18 December 2017

He'll be 'Jim Who?' -- all his GAA achievements will count for nothing

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

PAUL McGRATH tells a story in his autobiography about the reaction in the Aston Villa dressing-room when their new manager Dr Josef Venglos arrived into the club in 1990.

Venglos had taken his native Czechoslovakia to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and was heralded as a master sports scientist, a man who was ready to bring academic ideas to a new culture.

But he was mistaken if he thought that his background would afford him respect.

"His appointment caught everyone by surprise," said McGrath. "Because, to put it bluntly, no one had ever heard of the man."

Venglos was a football man, and yet the fact he had featured on the sport's biggest stage just a month earlier was an irrelevance. It may be the world's most global sport, but football is capable of being more insular than any other.

And this is the scene that Jim McGuinness is entering. He may not be going to work with senior pros who have seen numerous managers come and go; liaising with the youth section of the club is a different animal.

Nevertheless, one thing is certain. He will be 'Jim Who?' to the fresh-faced kids that he will be working with. Everything that he's done in GAA will, effectively, count for nothing.

There has been no fanfare in Scotland over his appointment, and some senior members of the Celtic coaching staff only learned of his recruitment when they heard it on the news yesterday morning. In a club of Celtic's size, he's just another cog in the wheel.

He will spend two or three days a week in the academy at Lennoxtown, dealing with players under the age of 20.

As a performance consultant, it's understood that a big part of his role will be using his motivational skills and one-to-one nous to evaluate the cubs that are on the verge of stardom.

With his masters in sports psychology from Liverpool's John Moores University, he will be looking to get into the players' heads.

Chances are, he might find it slightly more difficult than in Donegal.

There tends to be a lot of self-serving guff written about the virtue of Gaelic footballers compared to their counterparts in professional soccer.

Nevertheless, there's no disputing the impact that the financial aspect can have on the mentality of impressionable kids coming through the ranks in a multi-million pound operation.

Often, the problem is not the player himself; it's the vultures who attach themselves to a rising star, planting ideas in their heads.

Right now, in Irish football circles, there's a lot of talk about a hotshot teenager who has someone looking for €1m for their signature. It's hardly a normal upbringing.

The boys at Celtic will not be on big bucks compared to their counterparts in some of the top Premier League academies, where the special ones can earn staggering six-figure sums before they even kick a ball for the first team.

Still, the SPL champions have some high earners on their books, and with youngsters like James Forrest and Tony Watt making waves, the academy boys will have an idea of what stardom can bring.

By all accounts, McGuinness performed miracles to take control of a directionless Donegal side and unite them behind a common cause.

In a sphere where it can sometimes be a case of every man for himself, he will have to vary his methods.


En route to the Sam Maguire, he made the decision to dispense with certain players from the panel, and it was easy for him to do so.

It's more complicated in the professional game, where the club have signed into a contract with the player. You have to face them even if you don't like them.

Down the road in Edinburgh, another young homegrown manager, a product of the League of Ireland, has worked wonders with Hibernian.

Pat Fenlon was appointed a year ago this month, and inherited a dressing-room packed with egos and questionable work ethics.

He tolerated them until the summer, instigated a clear-out, brought in his own men, and now they sit joint top of the table next to Celtic.

McGuinness doesn't have that control over recruitment. He will have to deal with the hand he's given, and work his magic from there.

In this environment, patience is the key.

Irish Independent

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