Archive for October, 2014

The Man

For as long as I can recall now, folks have been eager to speculate on whether Jim McGuinness would stay or go.  I generally avoided or ignored any such discussion.  At most, I would just say that he would be irreplaceable when he did depart.  Now the day that anyone who cared for Donegal at all feared has arrived.  I know that there are more important things in life, but this feels like one of those moments that will haunt us for a long time to come.  Is it worse than the feeling at around five o’clock on 21 September 2014?  Yes, quite possibly I’d say. The damage done here goes way beyond one game.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Jim McGuinness.  It was in the build up to the All Ireland Final in 1992 and Donegal were training in Donegal Town.  I don’t know if it was an official open training session or whether we just chanced our arm (or indeed was there such a thing as closed training in those days) but my dad took me over.  I was 12 at the time.  One of the few things I recall was an unknown tall dark gangly scruffy looking sort walking off and taking a mouthful of water from a bottle and them motioning as if to spit it at someone on the pitch.  I wasn’t impressed.  I didn’t even know who he was or even if my dad did.  I don’t know how we found out who he was.

All throughout his career as a player for Donegal I never quite knew what to make of McGuinness.  That first impression stayed with me throughout and Donegal’s failures in the period after 1992 didn’t help I suppose.  Guys like Damien Diver, Adrian Sweeney, Christy Toye and Barry Dunnion were probably my favourite players in those 20 years – after the 1992 panel had been broken up.  McGuinness didn’t seem to inspire me one way or another.  It didn’t help that he seemed to be a perpetual student and I was never quite sure of what he was doing at the various schools he attended.  I saw him as a kind of mercenary or eternal party boy – taking scholarships from whoever would offer them.  That was based on nothing only my own prejudices.

I’d be embarrassed to mention any of the above if I met the man now.  I was young and ignorant I guess.  I am no longer young and my perspective on the man has changed considerably since his playing days.  I think it’s fair to say that no man has ever had such a dramatic and positive influence on the fortunes of our footballers.  I am no great analyst of the game by any stretch, so I’m not sure how much of what he brought was tactical versus pure inspiration or game management.  I never thought his game plans were that complex, but the level of effort and dedication required to implement them was immense.  That was not accomplished by merely telling players what they needed to do, it required a much deeper level of engagement.  I’m sure there are plenty of managers around the country that have a vision for how they want their teams to play and how they are going to win games, but getting players to buy into that vision is the hard part in my opinion.  If I am selling him short on the tactical side, then I humbly apologise.  But for me, he was more a leader of men than a tactical genius.  If that is damning him with faint praise, then so be it.

The greatest thing was of course was that he was one of us. He enjoyed the victories as much as we did.  He was as disappointed in defeat.  He acknowledged the people of Donegal in his speeches.  After years of disappointment and frustration as a player, and after being rejected as manager the first time he applied, he still came back and put his name in the hat again.  He wasn’t too proud to turn his back on Donegal and even served his time with the Under 21 team after being rejected for the senior post before he got his shot at the big time. In some ways, I guess he couldn’t lose. We were at a low point and whoever came in couldn’t do much worse than we had done in 2010.  What he did however was exceed all reasonable expectations.  Even if we had never won the All Ireland in 2012, he restored something that wasn’t there in Donegal football for a long time.  I hesitate to use the word ‘pride’ because that is unfair on many who toiled in the jersey in the 90s and 00s but in reality, pride is the right word for it.  I certainly never felt whatever I felt watching Donegal for the last four years back in the wilderness years.  There was some joy along the way back then, amidst all the despair and anger, but nothing like the feeling Jim inspired.

Fare thee well Jim McGuinness.  You have done more for us than we could have expected if less than we had hoped.

Where to next for Donegal?  I have no idea.  When all is said and done, he is gone. It doesn’t matter who comes in, it won’t be Jim standing on the sideline in 2015.  What else is there to say after that really.

Until Victory, Always.