Jim McGuinness and positivity go hand in hand and his message to Donegal people is that the three in-a-row is something he desires.
The aura around the Donegal boss is such that you would feel that if he had been elected Taoiseach five or six years ago, then this Recession would have been well and truly lifted by now.
The Glenties man is truly special. To have made this bunch of Donegal players buy into his vision is remarkable and there is a warning for all others, he is not finished yet!
“It’s not a case that we have ticked all the boxes. The All-Ireland probably came sooner than we expected, but there are a lot of things we want to bring to the table. We’re working on things in training now that we haven’t put a huge time and effort into up to this point, because we have been focussing on other things. Maybe it’s just me, myself and Rory and the way we go about it. I believe that if you want to get the message across, you want to be consistent in that message. We put a huge emphasis on year one on the defensive side of our game to get that right, to get a bedrock. Offensively we weren’t good enough to beat Dublin. Our score average was 12 points in 2011.
“Last year it was 17.5, but last year we put a huge emphasis on the offensive side of the game. We are working on other things at the moment and we are trying to develop them, but continue to retain the defensive and offensive stuff. Sometimes it’s difficult to do that. It’s the same in any job, if you’re really focussed on something, chances are you will take your eye of the ball on something else. So it’s trying to manage what you have already built and continue to develop; that’s the challenge. We’re working on things now that we would like to bring through for the rest of the championship.
“We’ve always said, ‘what’s ahead of us?’ Monaghan are ahead of us. That’s the most important thing. We’ve got to get a real firm grip of what they’re all about and then focus back on ourselves and try to get the boys up to a level that this is what the Ulster final is all about and then just go out and deliver that performance.
“We don’t care if we’re 1/10 or 10/1, it’s never ever, ever mentioned or just doesn’t come into the equation,” said Jim.
He has been given time by Glasgow Celtic to prepare for the Ulster final and he is thankful: “The night of the Down match. Neil had just come in and they were heading away on the pre-season the week after and he just told me to take a couple of weeks off and focus on the final. Obviously he’s played the game himself and he appreciates the game and he appreciates what we’re trying to do and where we have come from. The barren spell that we came from and now we have the chance to win three in-a-row.
“It’s a very unique situation for us. It’s something we hadn’t spoken about until we beat Down. Now the three in-a-row is on our radar. It has to be cause it’s presented itself to go and win it. It’s a big opportunity for us.
“Everybody else at the club (Celtic) as well, and it has been like that since I went there (have been helpful),” said Jim.
Of his time in Glasgow, he feels he is improving all the time. Next year if Celtic can get through to the Champions League phase, the U-19s would play in the Group and that would 12 European games at Development Squad level plus the league and the cup domestically.
“You would be learning all the time. You are training with the Development Squad or the First Team and you’re getting to see the players and how the coaches work with them. It’s been very, very beneficial. Even taking that time out, to reflect on things in the evening time.”
He says that the travel involved has not been any bother, in fact he seems to relish it: “Not at all. I’ve been fortunate that I live 20 minutes from the airport in Donegal and it’s a 40 minute flight into the city centre in Glasgow and it’s 15 minutes to the apartment.
“It’s been very, very easy and it’s given men head space as well to focus on both my roles. People feel that when you’re getting on an aeroplane that it’s very tiring, but the reality is, it takes me 40 minutes to get to Letterkenny from my house and its two and a half hours to Belfast, and I can be door to door two hours and fifteen minutes in Glasgow, so I think it’s just the concept. I feel fresh when I get there.
“The benefit of working with that level of player and being in a professional environment, sports science, video analysis and all that, has been really, really enjoyable.”
Then there is that ‘Celtic’ magic: “You’ve got the owner, Mr. Desmond, who is an Irish man; you’ve got the manager who is an Irishman. Both have been reared on GAA as well as other sports so they are sympathetic as to how it would work,” said Jim, who also agreed that the big Donegal connection with Celtic was helpful.
“Obviously the club would like to see me doing well as an employee. There is something like 260/270 people who work in the Stadium alone and then you have the people in Lennoxtown who are separate; the cleaners, the chefs and the medical people, the coaches, the admin. I would say there are 40 up there as well and obviously you have the playing staff on top of that.
“It’s a very, very big operation but it’s run extremely well. The whole club is very much based on real solid values, that are probably reflective of the origin of the club. It was based on charity originally. Them values have come through and when you meet players or coaches or anybody who is connected with the club in the hallway or on the training pitches, it is a very positive, friendly environment to work in. Obviously when you’re new to any job, that’s a great thing. But that’s not because it’s me, it’s because that’s the way they do it.
“It was manic after the All-Ireland (in Donegal); and it is still is. When you get away and you’re over the water, it’s a different ball game. But there would still be a lot of people on the street in Glasgow as well, students, and the huge Donegal connection. There would be first generation and second generation Donegal people would be stopping you, but it’s not at the same level. There is a great sense of pride in them. ‘My father’s from Gortahork and he was at the All-Ireland’, that sort of thing.
“In terms of a job, it’s a dream job in many respects. To be given the opportunity to work with Donegal at that level is also fantastic.”
And what of the difference between Celtic and Donegal: “The big thing is resources and money and for me, the only time I get apprehensive or frustrated in the lead in to a game is when I don’t feel the team is prepared to the level needed,” said Jim, pointing to club fixtures as one of the issues.
“In Glasgow the fixtures are made at the beginning of the year and everybody knows what is coming down the track and there is never any deviation from it other than a replay. Things like that leave it open to being more professional and better planning and people can adapt their schedules around that.
“The GAA have made huge strides. Obviously a professional soccer club is that, it’s professional from the top down.
“We have a huge back up team in Donegal but there is probably four or five there who are working voluntarily. We have a doctor who doesn’t take expenses; we have a surgeon who doesn’t take expenses. They just want to be involved and be part of something. We have a lot of people who have given up time in a voluntary capacity. We have a video analyst who is also a selector. We have tried to create a very professional set up with the resources that are available to us. I know Dublin are paying people for all them roles and there is a huge outlay. For us, if we can give them a few tickets for one of the matches, they are happy to be associated with a group of players who are trying to be the best that they can be.”
Asked about the strength in depth of the Donegal squad, the positivity continues in McGuinness’s answer:
“We haven’t lost a game yet based on the strength of our squad, so it’s not an issue for me at the moment. If we were minus four or five players and we end up losing that game, we would say we don’t have the depth to cover that.
“We lost Neil McGee before the Tyrone match last year and Declan Walsh came in and did a brilliant job. For us, from that point of view, we are happy that anyone that in or around the periphery are at a level that they are able to do a good job for the team.”
In recent weeks the Donegal boss has been seen at different intercounty games but he does not leave any hostages to fortune when commenting on other counties.
“For me, it’s very hard to comment on other teams, because I’m an intercounty manager. You don’t know what’s going on behind any dressing room door. You are not privy to that information. We just go to the games to see anything that we can pick up that if we meet them down the track, that maybe we could use. And you’ll see things off camera that you won’t see on camera and that’s the reason we go to the games. The big focus has been on Dublin and they have been that way since the O’Byrne Cup.
“For me, being pragmatic about the whole situation and that’s why we never think of the All-Ireland series until the Ulster final is over, I firmly believe that any of the teams that are in the last eight can win the competition.
“For me we just focus on Ulster and if we get to the last eight, then that’s a new championship and we just focus and we would take it from there. You are talking about odds earlier. If we win (Ulster) and we go into the quarter-finals we will be red hot favourites; if we lose and we go in the back door and meet Dublin, Dublin will be red hot favourites. It’s not important.
“What’s important is for us to focus and put in a performance to win the Ulster final and if we get through that then there is a new championship.
“The other teams are not on our radar until they are our immediate opposition!”