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Jim McGuinness: Generational athletes can turn games in an instant while handling extreme pressure

Basketball wunderkind Victor Wembanyama, Lionel Messi or GAA stars like Kerry’s David Clifford are all touched by greatness or potential for such exceptionalism

On May 16th the National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft Lottery took place in Chicago. There are 30 teams in the NBA, 14 of which do not make the playoffs. As a result, each of those 14 teams becomes eligible for the draft lottery.

A draw takes place to determine the first four picks in the draft. It’s very like how the National Lottery works here, numbered ping-pong balls are mixed in a drum, whisked around, and selected at random.

It is a huge occasion for the teams involved, watching on as their chances of signing the game’s next big talent is determined by the serendipity of a lottery draw. The balls are numbered one to 14, with four drawn out to provide a winner each time. There are 1,001 possible combinations, which are divided among the 14 teams. Your chance of winning the lottery is the same as the next team.

Three weeks ago the numbers came up for the San Antonino Spurs, they won the 2023 NBA Draft Lottery and with it the right to draft Victor Wembanyama. If you haven’t yet heard about the 19-year-old French basketball player, chances are you soon will.


Standing at 7ft 5in, Wembanyama seems to have it all. With an 8ft wingspan, he can create his own openings, shoot, dribble and hit three-pointers, all of which makes him the most eagerly anticipated prospect to enter the NBA in decades.

General manager of the San Antonio Spurs Brian Wright said: “People talk about generational talent and you only think about on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that.”

He continued: “It’s just an incredible day for the franchise, for the fans, for the entire organisation. We are incredibly excited about the future.”

It is believed the mere acquisition of Wembanyama in the lottery could be worth up to half a billion dollars for the franchise, not to mention what he will bring to the team on the court.

The term generational player is one that is thrown about widely in many sports. But what is a generational player?

For me, they are individuals who know what their job is, they understand pressure, they understand clutch moments and find a way to shine under the most severe pressure.

They have the emotional control to deal with the guy on the other team whose only job is to take them out of the game. They are obsessive about their sport and obsessed about being the best, quite literally the best.

For these individuals it almost goes beyond sport, it’s a case of, “this is what I was put on earth to do”. They are the players who are willing to carry the heavy load and who don’t crack under the weight of expectation.

Soccer has had its fair share of them in recent history — Messi, Ronaldo, Maradona, Pelé, truly world-class players.

Gaelic football has also had its splattering of generational talents down through the years — players like Colm Cooper, Pádraic Joyce, Peter Canavan and Michael Murphy. Dublin were fortunate to have several at the same time in recent seasons.

And Kerry now have hit the jackpot and won big with David Clifford. He is undoubtedly a generational talent and the standout superstar of our game at the moment.

He’s quick, strong, and incredibly agile for a big man. He is skilful, intelligent, two-footed and has superb balance. He is stylish with precision-like accuracy in front of the posts. Some argue that he doesn’t score easy points. He can, it’s just that he knows he can make the difficult ones.

He’s deadly in one-versus-one situations and as good when in on goal as he is shooting from distance. He is lethal in the air also and can win his own ball, the list of his physical talents and attributes goes on and on. And it is all backed up by an extremely well-balanced and positive mentality. He really is something special.

Managing those types of individuals is different because they are not just another player under your auspices. Indeed, in many instances, they are central to your own dreams and ambitions.

For me, as a manager, they are not just part of the conversation, they are central to it and thus central to the development of the team as well.

To quote George Orwell: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Why are they more equal? Because these players have shaped themselves to greatness through dedication and hard work, with their attitude and single-mindedness. They understand sacrifice, they understand the game and they know what has brought them to this point in their life — which is practice, practice and more practice.

Utilising that knowledge is critically important for a manager to get your “franchise player” to drive those standards, which in turn gives your group the best chance of winning.

Much has been made of Kerry’s form this year.

Certainly, on the back of an average National Football League campaign and having suffered a setback on home soil against Mayo in the All-Ireland series two weeks ago, the narrative grew that Kerry have a fair bit of work to do if they are to retain Sam Maguire in 2023.

And nothing that materialised in Cork at the weekend has necessitated any major edits to that particular storyline. Kerry got the job done, nothing more. However, Clifford was the elite player for the All-Ireland champions again, the one constant threat in their attack. Whether gathering the ball at pace, firing over from close range or kicking over nonchalantly from outside the 45, he just oozed class.

Yes, at the final whistle, the same questions hung over the Kingdom. But the reality is no matter how events transpired at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday, Kerry would still have left Leeside with the best player in the country on their bus. In the lottery of birth, they won big with David Clifford.

With such a generational player in that dressingroom, the Kingdom will be a tough nut to crack as the summer warms up and it is hard not to feel sunny days await for him and Kerry.

For now, though, Kerry supporters, and indeed San Antonio Spurs fans, should try to live in the moment and enjoy every second of the gift that is in front of them.