Celtic role is final vindication of McGuinness's vision
SIDELINE CUT:The lure of the Bhoys! It is nothing new in Donegal.
If there is a slightly miraculous lustre to the story of Donegal and Jim McGuinness, yesterday’s confirmation that the Glenties man has joined the coaching staff at Glasgow Celtic deepened it. If McGuinness was to join any club, then Celtic was the perfect place and his appointment to the coaching staff at Parkhead should be celebrated not just by the Donegal fans but by GAA people in general. It is due recognition of the level of coaching and conditioning in the current game.
For the past few weeks, McGuinness has been wrestling with the dilemma of which road to take. Clearing his mind can’t have been easy. McGuinness came from nowhere, shaping his local club team into county senior championship contenders for the first time ever by using the same game plan he would later employ with the county.
When he was given the county under-21 job, he framed his game around the peerless gifts of Michael Murphy and the irrepressible athleticism of Mark McHugh. There was something fated in the aftermath of that final, when the cameras caught McGuinness congratulating Jim Gavin, the ecstatic Dublin manager: a sense that here were two smart lads on the rise. Now, Gavin is drafting his plans for the Dublin senior team while McGuinness has become the talk of the town.
It is worth remembering just how hapless and hopeless the cause of Donegal football seemed when McGuinness took over in the autumn of 2010. His ability to convince a senior team which was directionless and empty of all morale that they could become the best Donegal side ever was achieved with such smoothness that it still seems inexplicable.
All through this summer, the critics who heaped scorn on McGuinness’s innovations waited for its limitations to become apparent. There was an unspoken sense that a lot of commentators wished that Donegal would just vanish and reappear as the shambolic and harmlessly skilful bystanders of yesteryear.
Even as they tore into Kerry and Cork this summer, there was an expectation that they would stumble . . . that the shape-shifting would end and order would be restored. Instead, Donegal became a living nightmare for the establishment.
They won the All-Ireland final comfortably despite not playing particularly well. Even as the players continued to celebrate in a near deserted Croke Park an hour after the final whistle, it was obvious that McGuinness had engineered one of the greatest managerial feats in GAA history. Ever since Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, was spotted at the match and at the Donegal banquet afterwards, rumours of McGuinness’s links to Celtic would not go away. It helped that Lennon was an Armagh kid who kicked minor football for the Orchard men: he understands the depth and importance of the All-Ireland championship.