WASN’T it refreshing to hear on Friday that despite landing a job befitting of his qualifications and achievements, Jim McGuinness insisted he would embark on a third season with Donegal’s footballers?
McGuinness was unable to give his annual report at the November monthly meeting of the Donegal County Committee on Monday, passing on his apologies for family commitments. The night afterwards, he met with executive members and the possibility of job-sharing with Celtic was discussed.
McGuinness left for Glasgow on Wednesday morning, flying out of City of Derry airport and onto Prestwick, where he was a guest of honour of Celtic for their Champions League match against Barcelona.
As the respective Celtic and Barcelona teams took to the pitch that night, there was magic in the air, as there so often is on European nights at Parkhead.
The Group C clash took place the day after the Glasgow club’s 125th anniversary, remembering when Brother Walfrid, a Marist Brother from Ballymote, Co Sligo, founded the club to raise money for the poor and impoverished Irish immigrants in the East End.
News of Celtic’s interest in securing the services of Glenties native McGuinness, who turns 40 today, ultimately as a performance director with the club’s underage and U-20 academy players, has been drip fed for over two months.
The romanticists that saw Neil Lennon’s side defeat Barcelona 2-1 on Wednesday were not surprised to learn McGuinness was in Glasgow.
Maybe that’s reading too much between the lines but was there not a stark similarity between Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s tactics and those employed by McGuinness and Donegal over the course of the memorable championship season?
Sit in, defend the scoring zone and break at pace?
All day on Thursday, news filtered back and forth the Irish Sea over McGuinness’s future.
By cock’s crow on Friday, there still hadn’t been an official announcement, either from Celtic or from the Donegal County Board, before, shortly after 11am, Celtic’s official website lead story read: Highly-rated Jim McGuinness joins Celtic.
“It´s a fantastic opportunity for me on an individual level and I’m very thankful to Neil Lennon for giving me this chance and bringing me into the club,” McGuinness said. “Obviously I work in amateur sport and the opportunity to work in professional sport in any capacity is a wonderful chance for me and one I’m very mich looking forward to.
“I suppose the bottom line is that it has been through my work with Donegal. We started off at Donegal at a very low base, a low level but we have worked very hard in moving the thing forward and getting people to up a level and ultimately getting success on the pitch.”
Figures concerning McGuinness’s wages fluctuate but whatever it is, it would’ve been an impossible package to turn down.
McGuinness holds an MSc in Sport Psychology from John Moore’s University, Liverpool; an Honours Degree in Sport, Exercise and Leisure from UUJ, and a Higher Cert in Health Leisure Studies from Tralee.
He has just moved onto a new home and he and his wife Yvonne have three children under the age of five.
And like so many more from this county, he’s of Celtic persuasion having supported the club since his boyhood days when he played both soccer and Gaelic football on the green back in Ardpatrick in Glenties.
The financial composition of Scottish football compared with its English or European counterparts might’ve been the reason Lennon and Celtic’s major shareholder, Dermot Desmond, plumped for McGuinness.
Traditionally, Celtic didn’t have to look much further than the Glasgow tenements for their talent.
The Lisbon Lions, Celtic’s 1967 variety who became the first British team to win the European Cup, were famously drawn from a 15-mile radius of Glasgow. Their successors, who reached three European Cup semi-finals in the seventies, were dubbed ‘the Quality Street Gang.’
But football has changed considerably and if Celtic want to continue to bridge the financial gulf and rub shoulders at any sort of level with Europe’s elite they need to make the most of their indigenous manufacturing processes, something McGuinness will be employed to assist in.
Closer to home, whilst many had pride in that one of our own could land such a lucrative position at one of the biggest football clubs in the world, others feared for the future of Donegal football.
McGuinness will always pass credit to his players and staff, expressing his gratitude for their willingness to buy into his ideals over the last two years.
But it was him who guided Donegal from the ashes of Crossmaglen, when they were hammered in a first round qualifier against Armagh in 2010, to successive Ulster final wins and, of course, a second ever All-Ireland championship in September.
There was no solid evidence on Friday afternoon as to McGuinness’s continuation with Donegal, sending shudders through the spines of the county’s followers, fearing an instantaneous return to the dark days.
But when McGuinness took to the airwaves, those fears were thankfully allayed. He would be staying on.
“I have to be very, very thankful to Celtic Football Club for that, giving me the opportunity to do that,” he told Highland Radio.
“They have been very fair with me in terms of my own role with Donegal and they’ve given me the opportunity to participate and be at home for the Donegal training sessions.
“That flexibility has made the decision a lot easier and from that point of view I have to be very thankful to the football club and Neil Lennon, the manager.”
McGuinness, famed for his thoroughness, assured he has already worked out the logistics of commuting to and from his new home at Kilkenny, Mass, overlooking the Gweebarra between Glenties and Lettermacaward to Glasgow with Lennon stating he will be in Glasgow initially two days a week.
Donegal, with every day being a school day and McGuinness eager to learn, can benefit from his new position.
“There’ll be no drop off in terms of my own attendance at training and the input I’ll be putting into the team,” he assured of Donegal. “It’s a great opportunity for Donegal, on a level, because I’m working in a professional environment a number of days a week and that’s going to be a great environment for me to be in terms of the skills I’m going to learn at Celtic to bring back to Donegal.”
McGuinness’s workload at Celtic might increase the further down the road he goes and that might be a cause for concern for Donegal if and when that happens.
For now, though, McGuinness and the huge amount of Celtic supporters on the county can, as he said himself, “enjoy the best of both worlds.”