Jim McGuinness doesn't see much knocking Dublin
Former Donegal manager says proposed football rule changes may help close the gap on Dublin
Dublin’s Philip McMahon celebrating this year’s All-Ireland win. “I think Dublin are an exceptional football team, and will continue to move forward,” says Jim McGuinness. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Jim McGuinness is talking about all the things he hopes to instil as head coach at American soccer team Charlotte Independence – “systems that are interchangeable, the transition to attack, a really clear vision in your head for every phase of play” – when the subject of Dublin football comes up. Isn’t that exactly what makes Dublin such a good team to begin with?
“Well, it’s hard for me to answer that,” he says diplomatically, “in the sense I can only give my opinion in terms of what I have seen, how good they are, and how smooth the processes are. I’m not sure do they work in terms of breaking every phase down like that? Or is it a different approach? Or is it like Brian Cody in terms of he got all his coaching done in really competitive games that were played a couple of nights a week.
“I think you have to be privy to what’s going on behind the dressing room door to be able to answer that question honestly.
“But what I do know is that they’re highly coached and they are top athletes, and their execution levels are really, really, really high, and will continue to be because that wheel is moving now. And it’s going to take something exceptional to knock or jilt that wheel off course, yeah.”
The former Donegal manager, six years on now from guiding the county to only their second ever All-Ireland football title, has no doubt his immediate future lies in coaching US soccer – for the next three years anyway, his contract with Charlotte Independence seeing him through to the end of 2021.
That doesn’t mean he is given up on Gaelic football, or, indeed, the idea he might someday return to manage Donegal again. And the prospect of trying to halt Dublin’s quest for a record five All-Ireland titles in a row is something McGuinness believes any manager would relish.
“Of course, everyone is talking about the five in a row,” he says. “It was Offaly’s chance the last time [halting Kerry in 1982], and you become an iconic team because you’re the one that stops it. You would absolutely relish it.”
Never on his radar
McGuinness was linked to the vacant Mayo position [before James Horan returned], but insists that was never on his radar. “Listen, it would have been a very interesting proposal, I suppose, in terms of where they’re at and the dynamics and all, but not at this stage of my development.”
Can the likes of Mayo, any other team for that matter, close the gap on Dublin in 2019?
“I don’t know if that gap is closing on Dublin. I think Dublin are an exceptional football team, and will continue to move forward. Every young lad in the city wants to play for the team, and all these young lads that are winning under-21s aren’t even getting close to the squad, so they’re going back home to their clubs looking to prove a point, get back in, so it’s a fantastic position for them to be in.”
The proposed football rule changes, especially the limiting to three hand-passes, on paper may help close some of that gap on Dublin. Yet Dublin, says McGuinness, are well capable of further evolution.
“Dublin are very vociferous in terms of the new rules as the new rules will impact on Dublin hugely. They have now morphed into this really controlled, possession-based game, so the hand pass rule will impact on them.
“Obviously Stephen Cluxton will kill you going short and then if you push up he goes long, but now we know that he’s going to be going long. They are their two mainstays at the moment, the capacity to play possession football, draw the opposition out, wait for the space and play behind that space, and the capacity to use their goalkeeper to go and attack.
“They are their two strongest things that the rules will impact on. That’s why you see the players coming out and saying that they don’t like the rules, some of the ex-players saying that the rules are not really favourable. Everyone has their own interest at heart, that’s every county, saying ‘how will this impact on us’.
“If they think it’s good they will go out and say the rules are great, and vice versa, but Stephen Cluxton is critical to them, he has been and he will be impacted, the hand pass will. But they will adapt.
“What could happen is that they regress back to what they were doing when Jim Gavin took over, that sort of swashbuckling, aggressive kicking game that was almost unstoppable, to my mind the best brand of football I have seen in many, many years. I think it’s more controlled and conservative now, more efficient, if you like.
“I remember the league final against Derry a few years ago, the way they kicked the ball and won the ball, runners off the shoulder, it was phenomenal.
“So every cloud has a silver lining and even though they won’t like it in the short term it could end up bringing that style back to the fore very quickly as he has already adapted that and he will know how to coach that in a heartbeat.”
Hard to look beyond Dublin for that five-in-a-row so?
“I think Kerry need to find a full back, maybe two in the full back, but going forward they have a huge amount of talent. Donegal going forward too. Tyrone will be there or thereabouts, but there is divide there between all those teams and Dublin at the moment. It will happen eventually. The only question is when.”