Sharing Sam with Donegal exiles a joy for McGuinness
By Tony Tighe
For Jim McGuinness, it’s days like last Sunday that are the added perks of winning an All-Ireland title.
A guest at the Donegal Association’s dinner dance the night previous, McGuinness delighted a large number of ex-pats by bringing the Sam Maguire Cup down to Tir Chonaill Gaels’ clubhouse and posing for pictures for over an hour.
The Donegal manager has a hectic schedule, even more so now his role as performance consultant at Celtic has been confirmed. He could be forgiven for choosing to sidestep the odd event, but these are occasions he has no intention of missing out on.
“You can see what it means when you’re bringing in the cup, the looks on their faces,” he said. “It’s a source of great pride for Donegal people in London, to see the cup, and it’s a great sense of pride for myself and the players to be able to bring the cup across the Irish Sea.
“We’re away on Tuesday to America; the same journey is ahead of us. It’s fantastic. These people mightn’t have been able to get home, or get tickets for the All-Ireland final. It’s a lovely thing to be able to do.
“For the likes of Tir Chonaill Gaels, where I trained myself around 11 years ago, it’s fantastic. You know a lot of the faces around here, from the players to the people who are supporting the club behind the scenes. It’s a weekend that we’ve all enjoyed.”
Once the photoshoot was concluded, McGuinness made his way towards the dressing rooms at Tir Chonaill Park, where the home side were getting prepared for a training session. They were due to contest the Conway Cup final on Sunday, only for Kingdom Kerry Gaels to hand them a walkover.
It was an unsatisfying way for TCG end such a successful domestic season, and was their last chance of a competitive outing before next month’s All-Ireland quarter-final against the Munster champions.
However, McGuinness feels that after a long, arduous season, a break might do the Gaels some good, and he told them just as much in a passionate teamtalk that gave the players added impetus for the coming weeks.
“They’ve had a very good season,” he said. “They’ve their championship under the belt, and sometimes it can be good to get three or four weeks of a clear run. It gives them an opportunity to get any injuries sorted out and get all of the wee bits and pieces squared away.
“They can make their plans, and once they know who they’re playing, they’ll have a good insight. You’re quietly preparing for battle while they’re still doing battle with someone else.”
He added: “Tir Chonaill Gaels have a very professional set-up here. They’re a great ground here with fine pitches; it’s a lovely area of the city.
“The club works very hard to accommodate their players, to them placed in jobs and get somewhere to stay. They treat them very well in the hope that they’ll turn out and be loyal to the club. I think that’s a very good model.
“They’ve a very good side at the minute. They’re the champions of London again, and they go into next month’s All-Ireland quarter-final with the opportunity to put in a big performance.”
While TCG’s dominance of the senior ranks in 2012 has been impressive, it’s the work being done at underage that intrigues McGuinness. Along with the likes of St Kiernans, Tara and Parnells, TCG have a great pedigree when it comes to bringing through home-grown talent and made history last year by fielding a British-born side in the junior championship.
“Obviously GAA overseas has impacted by emigration but the work that has gone on, on the ground, has been fantastic, particularly at underage level with second-generation players,” said McGuinness.
“That’s what I find very interesting. I was listening to Matt Cooper from New York last week and some GAA people were on the show. At some of the clubs over there, 40 or 50 pc of their players are second-generation Irish-Americans. It’s fantastic to see the product moving out there and being developed, and being sustainable as well.
“That’s the big thing. The connection between the older Irish and the second generation, that’s a very important link to Ireland and our culture. That is being strengthened by the work on the ground that is going on, at coaching and administration level.
“It’s exciting to see what level these new kids can get to. You don’t have to come from Ireland to be a top-quality player.
“I remember a young lad called Kevin Lilly playing for the Donegal club in New York; he was second or third generation Irish. He was one of the best forwards I’ve ever seen. It used to blow my mind on one level.
“It just goes to show you that when people want to do something and they’re being given the proper direction, it’s very possible. That gives you great hope for the future.”
McGuinness’ future also looks very bright. He turned 40 on Monday and it marks the beginning of a new chapter. Juggling his roles with Donegal and Celtic will not be easy, but he is adamant he can make it work.
“It’ll be a few days over in Glasgow and then a few back, so it’s not overly intrusive in terms of the work effort that’s required,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to work with players of a very high level in both codes. There’ll be certain things I’ll be able to bring back to the Donegal team; it will be transferrable as well in terms of training, management, fitness and strength.
“I’m looking forward to getting into the job. I feel it will broaden my own mindset. That’s a healthy thing for anyone to do in their job.
“Will more soccer clubs look at GAA coaches? I guess it depends on how things go really. No pressure so! There are a lot of talented and well-qualified people in the GAA who have very good ideas about the game. I’ve no doubt the thing will probably move forward from here.
“Celtic were be my boyhood team. When the opportunity presented itself, it was a very easy decision. It’s professional sport, it’s highly skilled developing players, which is very exciting from my own point of view because that’s what we’ve done in Donegal.
“It’s a young team but you’re trying to put systems in place to push their boundaries to different levels.
“We focused on the individual in Donegal and then the collective benefits, and that’ll be the way forward with Celtic as well.”