Jim McGuinness carries on plotting in Glasgow

Celtic work only adding to Donegal coach’s expertise and extra free time a big plus too

Thu, Jun 20, 2013, 01:00

In the continually impressive process of winning matches Jim McGuinness reckons he is bringing more from his role as performance consultant with Celtic FC than even he could have realised – or at least those who questioned whether his commitment to Donegal football could still be as complete.

“You would be picking up things all the time,” he says. “The big thing, for me, is how they prepare the players for matches, have them ready physically and mentally, how the coaches coach, and how they get their message across.

“You are standing back, trying to be useful by getting balls and stuff, but the reality is you can see an awful lot of what is going on, watching the development of players, the sports science side of it, the recovery, the individual programmes, all that sort of stuff.”

Indeed since McGuinness took up his role in Celtic, last November, there has been little to suggest Donegal won’t be every bit as strong in 2013: relegation from Division One aside, they comfortably handled the challenge of Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final, and although without All-Ireland winners Karl Lacey and Neil McGee for Sunday’s semi-final against Down, the Donegal manager has lost none of his confident tone, either.

In commuting to Glasgow, for a three-day week, McGuinness also reckons he has had more time to plot the downfall of teams like Down: “Yeah, I probably have more time, because I have the couple of nights over where I am on my own. Once I get my work finished up I can do a bit of work on Donegal.

Freed up time
“I have three kids at home, so you wouldn’t get that sort of head space with them. It has freed up time for me in many respects. Even when you’re travelling you are just sitting on a plane reading or whatever. It has been very good. Then you have the benefit of being in a professional environment and seeing the inner workings of it.”

He sees direct parallels too between the professional soccer player and his so-called amateurs in Donegal:

“They’re all very driven. Our lads in Donegal are very, very driven. They want to win. They don’t think it’s a God given right to win. They know they have to work very hard to win. If we want to win the game on Sunday, we have to work extremely hard and perform if we are to win. That’s a mentality and a mindset that the players have now. The boys in Glasgow are exactly the same. They’re desperate to make it. For these lads, it’s their job.”

McGuinness is equally proud of the fact that every one of his All-Ireland winners are now in full-time employment, at least partly thanks to their success on the field last September.

He was speaking in Croke Park at the announcement of a new agreement between the GAA and Celtic FC to pilot their Youth Leadership Programme Let’s Go; Lead Through Sport at special camps in Ballymote in Sligo next week and in Lurgan in Armagh in early August, using coaching sessions in both Gaelic games and soccer.

It hasn’t been the perfect season to date, although McGuinness explained why he had no interest in prioritising the league, and remains unconcerned about being relegated to Division Two for 2014.

“You’ve got to prioritise what’s important for you and your team moving forward. If you’ve a squad of 30 players and there’s very little between them you’d be putting out a very strong team every day, and you could still be going out to win the match every single day.

“For us, you have to look at what the players went through last year, the amount of training they done, the amount of training they done the year before; they went to the All-Ireland final, and then do you let them come down from that or do you keep cracking the whip?

Cracking the whip
“I think if you keep cracking the whip the wheels come off in May, as opposed to getting going, and that’s the approach we take but it’s very, very specific to ourselves.”

When McGuinness says he never once thinks about “defending” the All-Ireland title he is not trying to convince us, but is convinced of it himself.

“The only thing that’s ahead of us is Down. That gives us a chance to go to the Ulster final and that’s where our focus is at.

“We’ve never talked once about defending the All-Ireland. We’ve never once talked about defending the Ulster championship. It’s about what’s ahead of us.

“For the last six months what was ahead of us was Tyrone and that’s where our focus was and now we’ve got to recalibrate and get ready for Down. It’s a model, it’s very simplistic but it is how we did it, and it has worked well for us and we won’t be changing it.

“You also have to be flexible, have to be adaptable. It was a sharp turnaround since the Tyrone game, because we do respect every single team we play and we look at them, we look at their strength and we try to look at their weaknesses and once we have that process complete we try to get our own game right, because 75 per cent of it is our own game plan but that 25 per cent is still very important in terms of the opposition.”