It has been a great journey. Jim McGuinness gave us all four brilliant years. In fact we have been spoilt. From a personal viewpoint it was an honour and a privilege to work with Jim in my professional capacity as physical therapist for the Donegal team.
I received his text message on my way back from Medjugorje last week stating that he was stepping down. I wasn’t surprised. I know that he probably wanted to give one more year but, circumstances dictated otherwise. One must remember that his was a voluntary role where commitment and sacrifice was second to none.
As a member of the backroom team I often wondered how this man kept going. I witnessed first hand his devotion to his players and to his county. He prepared meticulously week in and week out. Everything he did was professionally presented with no stone left unturned.
Donegal’s successes in recent years did not happen by chance.
My first memory of Jim McGuinness was back in 1992. He was a young lad of 19 years with an affable nature and sported a full head of long curly black hair. He was nicknamed Cher.
We had our own positions on the bus. I was a back seat man. The back seat was reserved for blaggards. I had Anthony Molloy, Matt Gallagher, Tony Boyle, Declan Bonner, Charlie Mulgrew and Joyce McMullin for company. McGuinness wasn’t far away.
Even at a young age he was one of the lads, always prepared to tell a joke, sing a song and more importantly to speak his mind. After I retired from inter-county football I watched Jim flourish into a gifted inter-county player himself. As his retirement from the inter-county scene he obviously had his sights set on managing his county.
Brian McIver, from Tyrone, had a spell with Donegal. McIver stepped down thus initiating the process to elect a new manager. Names were put forward. Jim put himself forward as did I. In the meantime, McIver reconsidered his position. He wanted to stay in the post. We all went through the interviewing process as did McIver. We knew that there was only going to be one winner. McIver was reinstated.
I remember that time vividly. I understand that Jim’s presentation was high tech and his professional approach bemused the interviewing panel. He was basically ridiculed. Little did they know just what they had missed? But his time was imminent.
In the interim he was appointed Donegal U-21 manager. He brought his team to the All-Ireland final. It was a game that Donegal should have won.
When he eventually was appointed senior manager he immediately raised the standards in every respect and put his own imprint on his game strategy. Jim rang me around the Christmas period in 2011 to ask me if I would be prepared to work with him. I didn’t hesitate and answered in the affirmative.
Sometime in January we had a challenge match somewhere in Fermanagh. He gave his team talk. I hadn’t a clue what he was chatting about. He talked in numbers and zones. This was a far cry from what I was used to. As time evolved so too did his tactical astuteness. He knew where he was going and he knew how beat his opponents. I was very impressed.
He had two key approaches; respect and honesty. To sit in his squad meetings was an experience in itself. We were all included. Nobody was excluded from any aspect of team preparations. There was a fantastic harmony within his unit. Much was made in the national press of the few altercations that did arise. To be honest, there was never a mention of them within the set up and never did they in any way have any negative affect on the team.
I have to admire how Jim McGuinness carried himself all throughout his tenure. He had a kind and sincere word for everyone who approached him for a chat or an autograph.
The few defeats he did have, he was always gracious to his opponents. He was generous with his time to media and supporters alike. His players above all will miss him. He re-energised the mature players while at the same time nurtured his young talents.
He has left a massive legacy and has put Donegal right up there as one of the best teams in the country if not the best. The future looks bright for Donegal. He has left Donegal in a great place. On a very personal note, I would like to thank Jim for his hospitality, courtesy and trust he put in me. I believe that Jim is heading for a great future in whatever path he chooses. As they say, there is always a great woman behind a great man and we cannot forget his wife Yvonne. I would like to wish Jim, Yvonne and his family all the very best for their future.
Thank you Jim and keep the faith!