Archive for November, 2012

Managing Success may Prove to be the Biggest Test

And so it has come to pass. Jim McGuinness will take up a position with Glasgow Celtic as a Performance Consultant working with the youth academy. The idea had been out there in the open for the past few months, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sights and sounds of Parkhead last Wednesday night were enough to finally tempt Jim McGuinness to take up Celtic on their offer.

People rightly point out that the logistics of going to Glasgow a few days a week is not that much different from going to Dublin a few days a week – a very fair point. As long as it stays at two days a week, then maybe there’s no issue. Many people travel as part of their job; Jim’s commute certainly isn’t anything I would say will affect his work with the Donegal team in the short-run. The fact is that he will likely spend two nights a week in Glasgow however, which will at least restrict his involvement with Donegal in some respect, it certainly seems unlikely that he will be able to make a Tuesday and a Thursday training session in the same week. But this has no doubt been considered and if we know anything about Jim McGuinness it’s that a major part of Donegal’s amazing turnaround over the past two seasons was due to his clinical attention to detail and the way virtually nothing was left to chance in Donegal’s preparation. So why would anyone have any reason to assume he has not put the same thought into this as he did into each one of Donegal’s seven games on the road to Sam this past summer?

Of course Jim McGuinness should have a job in addition to his role with Donegal. Most (if not nearly all) of the intercounty managers in the country do something other than manage to earn a living. But it’s the job he has taken on that is the issue for me.

Being coach/consultant at Celtic isn’t really like being a teacher, a Garda or a distribution manager. It’s the kind of job that will be extremely results driven – the more you put in, the more evident the results will be. And it’s the sort of job where someone like Jim McGuinness will be keen to show that he can perform. The better he performs, the more Celtic will want Jim McGuinness to be involved. And, unlike most people and their jobs, it’s obvious that Jim McGuinness has a passion for what he does. I don’t think it’s a huge leap to see Jim standing next to Neil Lennon at Parkhead in 2014 in the same way Rory Gallagher has been at Jim’s shoulder for the past few years.

Another thing about this position is that it is one where there will be a lot of media and public attention on what Jim is doing and of course people and the media will be watching and commenting on the results. So, media scrutiny around Jim and the Donegal team will no doubt increase in the months ahead, over and above that which is normally afforded to the team that are All-Ireland Champions. Any slip up in Donegal’s performance and I have no doubt that the media and others will be quick to point to the fact that Jim is ‘double jobbing’.
People say that this will actually benefit Donegal. To me that’s a bit of a fanciful notion. Let’s remember that it’s Celtic who are hiring Jim McGuinness because of what he has achieved and what they feel he can offer them. And it’s not as if this is a sport that is new to Jim McGuinness, like, say, American Football or even rugby. I’m pretty sure there won’t be too much they do at Celtic that Jim hasn’t seen or is aware of already – I said more than once last year that the type of fitness and preparation displayed by Donegal was more impressive than anything you’d see in the Premier League – so I’m not sure that this will benefit Donegal in many ways. For me, the challenges in the coming years were on maintaining the focus and determination we’ve seen over the last few years and introducing the odd new player to keep things fresh.

I had been under the impression that Jim McGuinness and Neil Lennon came to meet through mutual admiration or moving in the same circles, but the news that Dermot Desmond was involved suggests that, well, darker forces were at work. Neil Lennon’s comments on Friday while meant to reassure Donegal supporters that the deal announced would no impact on the Donegal team did nothing to soothe me. What was telling was the use of the word ‘initially’ and the promise of a review in 12 months – that suggests to me that Celtic expect more out of this arrangement in the future. As well they might, for given the involvement of Desmond, that’s their only motive that I can see in making the offer in the first place. There’s always the danger that Jim will get sick of flying Ryanair every week sooner rather than later as well.

Looking at this from Jim’s perspective for a minute, this seems like the ideal role for him. I wondered how a group of well paid professionals might react to someone like Jim McGuinness – I’m not sure that prima donna soccer players would respond as well to his methods and thinking. The opportunity to work with youths is a great first step into the world of professional coaching for him. And despite the fact that many people will be curious to know how he’s getting on, much of what happens with the youth teams will be behind closed doors. Tournaments such as the NextGen Series will offer some insight into results, as will progress of academy players to the senior ranks. But there could be a long enough lead in time before tangible progress is seen by those outside the club.

Don’t think for a minute either that Donegal can afford to lose Jim McGuinness. Keep in mind that the players who won the All Ireland last year were largely the same as those who played in Crossmaglen in 2010. The key difference was McGuinness. The players put in the work at training and won the games on the pitch, but it was McGuinness who led this revival in our fortunes. I don’t subscribe to the notion that players can manage themselves – every team needs a strong leader off the pitch, someone whose authority is absolute and who sets out the vision for the team the and path to success. That should be the manager and nobody else. Jim McGuinness has been the only man in 20 years who has tamed the excesses and focused the ambition of Donegal’s footballers – if he leaves for good; I do not believe that we will see his like in charge of our County’s fortunes again for a long time to come.

Who really knows? Maybe I’m being overly pessimistic – not much new there. But this feels like it’s the beginning of something really exciting and challenging for Jim McGuinness but the end of something special in Donegal. At least we have the past two summers, and the promise of another great summer to come. And if nothing else, it’s a reminder that you can never take anything for granted. Yet another reason to enjoy every minute of the time that we spend as All-Ireland Champions.

Until Victory, Always.