Jim McGuinness has always had his own way of doing things. Instead of announcing through social media or releasing a statement to the national media, Jim sent a text to the players to tell them first of his intention to walk away; then the county board got the news.
As an ex- player Jim realised that without the players getting on board and backing him in everything he wanted to do he would not have been the success that he has been.
Jim has been the most successful manager in this county’s history and has raised the profile of the GAA in Donegal to a new high. It has by no means been a straight forward journey. We don’t seem to do that in Donegal but Jim set his stall out early on making sure that the players were going to be looked after.
Jim knew if he and the team were going to be a success the players had to be treated better and in a more professional manner than what they had been. He wanted them to behave and treat their sport as if it was were their full-time job and if they did they were to be rewarded.
Jim was about to raise the bar, both on and off the field, for a group of players that promised so much more than they were producing. He asked them to buy into his way of playing; he asked them to train three, maybe four times a week; he asked them to study their opposition by watching endless dvds and most of all he asked them to be honest to one another and to believe that if they did all that they would reach the top.
Now that is easily said but you need leaders for that; you need to be able to lead but also to get people to follow and believe in what your are doing. Jim did that both on and off the field and as time went on persuaded people to back the team financially in a way that never happened before.
As I said he didn’t do it the easy way but he always held true to what he believed. When Donegal played Antrim in his first championship game in Ballybofey, it was a poor game that didn’t produce that much excitement or many outstanding displays but when those on the Sunday Game had a go at Ryan Bradley and the man of the match award Jim took exception to it and wasn’t afraid to say what he felt was a insult not only to Ryan Bradley but also to the rest of the squad and all those involved with the team.
He set his stall out. It didn’t matter that he knew that he could be ridiculed over it; he was standing up for his players and that was that. They got to the All-Ireland semi-final in 2011 only to be beaten by Dublin in a match that presented the entire country with a new sort of defensive system. The purists, of which there seems to be a lof of them when their own county were not involved, had a real go at both Jim and the team.
Jim kept his court. Deep down I think he knew after reflecting on the Dublin semi-final it was one that could easily have been won but regardless of the national criticism that followed, he didn’t react. Then the Kevin Cassidy affair could have derailed Jim’s plan and whether or not you thought it was right or wrong, Jim was not for turning and when Donegal reached and won the All-Ireland final of 2012 Jim was proven right in his decision.
Not for one minute do I think it was something that motivated him. He, like many other county players, would have only had the greatest respect for Kevin Cassidy and all he did for the county.
Even on the day of the All-Ireland final victory Jim, for whatever reason, would not continue with the after-match press conference without having a certain journalist leave. Some would say brave, others might even suggest getting on the wrong side of the press to be stupid, but Jim kept to his guns and whatever the outcome he would meet that head on and he did.
While 2013 was not one to remember, what many might not know is that a good number of the players were carrying injuries into many of the championship games.They were unable to train at the level that was required but no excuses were made; they accepted it wasn’t good enough and went about making sure they would be prepared for 2014. That took some persuading. Players had got their All-Ireland; he was asking players to go back to the well one more time. They did it not because Jim asked them but because they believed in him and he had backed them to the hilt.
Then the change of management, not a simple parting. A number of his established players, for one reason or another, left the squad. With his new management team he set out to win Ulster for the third time in four years and but for the width of a post could have forced a replay in the All-Ireland final.
Jim and his family have sacrificed a huge amount since he replaced John Joe Doherty. He never at any time relented in his quest to be the best and make Donegal as successful as he could. He did it by taking everyone along with him. He did it by backing those who helped him and he seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
Just like Jose Mourinho changed the Premiership, Jim has changed Gaelic football and certainly did it his own way.