By David Hennessy
There was a special and memorable day at Tir Chonaill Gaels ground in Greenford on Sunday when Donegal manager Jim McGuinness arrived with the Sam Maguire Cup.
Just days after the All-Ireland winning manager was revealed as a performance consultant with Celtic FC, McGuinness shared his excitement about the new post with The Irish World.
“That’s a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to it. It’s an opportunity to work with a very high level of players in both codes,” he said.
“Obviously there will be certain things I can bring back to the Donegal team and are transferrable in terms of training, management, fitness, strength: I’m looking forward to that. I’m looking forward to getting into the job. I think it will broaden my own mind. That’s a healthy thing for anybody to be doing.”
Celtic FC have proud and strong Donegal links. This was one of the factors that made it an easy decision for Jim.
“It would be my boyhood team. The opportunity, when it presented itself, was a very easy one. It’s a professional sport with high skill development which is very exciting for me because that’s what we’ve done with Donegal,” he added.
“It’s a young team, you’re trying to put systems in place to push their boundaries at different levels. We focused on the individual and the collective benefits will be the way forward with Celtic as well.”
Jim’s role with the Glasgow football club is three days a week with the remainder of his time spent steering The Tir Conaill Men. Positive he can bring lessons and standards of the professional sport to the amateur game, he also realises GAA has a lot to teach other sports, hinting other GAA coaches could follow.
“I think there are a lot of talented and well qualified people in the GAA and I’ve no doubt we’ll move forward from here,” he said.
There was a large and excited turn out for Jim’s Sunday lunchtime visit to Greenford with everyone getting pictures with him and the cup. Are these proud days for Jim? “Absolutely, you can see the faces on people when you bring the cup and the pride particularly in people from Donegal.
“It’s a great sense of pride for me and the players to be able to bring it across The Irish Sea to the Irish diaspora. We’re off to New York on Tuesday and it’s fantastic because all these people weren’t able to get home. It’s just a lovely thing to be able to do.”
Being congratulated on his new role by all around him, Jim was excited to be back at another proud club with Donegal traditions: “I would have trained with Tir Chonaill Gaels myself eleven years ago. It’s lovely because you know a lot of the faces, the people that are supporting the club behind the scenes. It’s fantastic and a weekend that we have all enjoyed.”
Over the weekend Jim trained Tir Chonaill Gaels’ senior team and shared some of his experience in an inspirational team talk. He was full of praise for the county champions as they look for All-Ireland glory.
“It’s a very professional set-up. They work very hard to accommodate the players: Get them placed and jobs and they treat them very well in the hope that they will be loyal to the club. I think that’s a very good model and they’ve a very good side at the minute. They’re county champions and they’re going into a quarter-final now: A good opportunity to put in a strong performance.”
Although they had no game at the weekend due to Kingdom Kerry Gaels pulling out of their Conway Cup final. Jim feels the break could allow Tir Chonaill Gaels to rejuvenate.
“Sometimes it can be good to get a three-four week clear run aswell. You can get an opportunity to get all your injuries sorted out and get all those wee bits and pieces squared away: Make your plans. Once you know who you’re playing, you’ve got a good insight into their team and you’re quietly preparing away while they’re doing battle.”
Having once trained with London, Jim has been impressed with the progress London have made in recent years and is excited to a national game become global.
“It’s fantastic. I think in America and Australia and so forth as well, obviously it’s impacted by emigration but I think the work being done on the ground is fantastic and particularly at under age level and second generation. I think that’s very important and exciting as well.
“You don’t have to come from Ireland to be a top quality player. I remember a young lad playing for Donegal from New York, Kevin Lilly. He was second or third generation Irish and he was one of the best forwards I’ve ever seen. It blew my mind on one level because the structures and so forth wouldn’t have been as strong but it just goes to show when people want to do something and they’re given the proper direction and people supporting them in the proper way, it’s very, very possible and it gives hope for the future.
“Some of the clubs (in New York) have 40-50% second generation Irish-Americans so it’s great to see the product moving out there and being developed and sustainable as well, that’s the big thing: That connection with the older people in the city and the young second and third generation coming through. That’s a very important link to Ireland and our culture. Having that strengthened is very, very important.”
He has already inspired Donegal to their first All-Ireland since 1992 in only his second season at the helm. After taking time to train the team and offer valuable motivation, Tir Chonaill Gaels’ further success must also be attributed to Jim McGuinness in some way also.
Tir Chonaill Gaels have a proud history with many poignant moments. They were honoured at the recent Irish World Awards, hosted Taoiseach Enda Kenny last year and were managed by comedian Patrick Kielty on RTE’s Celebrity Bainisteoir. However, the visit of Jim and Sam will surely go down as the club’s proudest day in recent times.