Master mind: 5 things Jimmy McGuinness will bring to Celtic

9 Nov

Published by, 9 November 2012

JIMMY WON THE matches that mattered.

Now Jim McGuinness is set for a brand new challenge when he joins SPL kingpins Celtic as a performance consultant with the club’s youth system.

The mastermind behind the most impressive GAA revolution and evolution in recent memory, McGuinness turned heads as he ripped up Donegal football and started again, managing the county to their first All-Ireland title in 20 years.

The Glenties native is used to total control but in his new part-time role in Scotland, he will go from being the undisputed top dog to a rather minor cog in a much larger sporting machine.

But what can McGuinness bring to Celtic’s youth system? And what can young guns at the Glasgow giants learn from his brilliant success in the north-west over the last two seasons?

1. #EVOLUTION When McGuinness stepped up from U21 boss to take charge at senior level in the summer of 2010, Donegal was in despair. Struggling in Division 2 and without success at either provincial or national level since 1992, football in the county seemed to be going nowhere despite the emergence of some bright young talent at underage level.

When he took the job, McGuinness described his project as a four-year plan and looking back now, it’s clear that he envisaged a step-by-step approach with very distinct stages. His first aim was to make Donegal competitive at any cost and he did that in 2011, despite howls of derision slamming their defensive style.

Many presumed that Donegal would stick to the same formula in 2012 but their greatest success — the success which won them an All-Ireland — was the manner in which the system evolved and improved, implementing tactics that turned his side into one of the most devastating attacking threats in the country. By phasing in his plan, McGuinness created a side and a system which can endure for many years to come.

2. #INDIVIDUAL The radical changes made to “The System”, as McGuinness’s tactical revolution has often been dubbed, tend to overshadow the seismic improvements made by many of Donegal’s players. The collective is crucial to any team, but it is the individual gains which give teams the edge in so many different areas of the game.

McGuinness knew this and stressed it to his Donegal players. Eight of his side deservedly won All-Star awards for their individual contributions in 2012. Six of these were first-time winners while centre-back Karl Lacey was named Player of the Year.

At Celtic, he won’t have much opportunity to influence Neil Lennon’s masterplan but he will have an impact on the mindset and mentality of the young recruits who will hope to soon be knocking on the door of the first team.

3. #DEDICATION No matter how brilliant his plan, a manager is only as good as the players he is working with and, in particular, their willingness to give themselves wholeheartedly to the cause.

Personalised strength and conditioning plans are hardly a unique innovation but the Donegal players reaped the benefits of McGuinness’s tailored approach because they were willing to follow it to the letter.

If that meant individual weight sessions at 7am before going to do a full day’s work, so be it. If that meant being told what to eat and when to eat it, so be it. Surrendering a daily routine to the mercy of trainers and dietitians isn’t easy but under the right men, it works. McGuinness will try to instill that sense of trust and total dedication in the young Celtic players he works with.

4. #UNITY At all levels, Gaelic footballers pride themselves on their team spirit. This is an amateur sport in which local heroes do what they do for the love of the club, the parish and — for a lucky few — the county. It’s a stark contrast to the dressing rooms at many professional football clubs, often dominated by high earners and overbearing personalities.

For those on the outside looking in, the unwavering bond between Donegal’s footballers is breathtaking. Siege mentality doesn’t begin to capture their “us against the world” approach, a point brought clearly into focus by Kevin Cassidy’s unceremonious dumping from the panel last winter.

Even in his finest hour minutes after lifting Sam Maguire, McGuinness was unwilling to break from the mindset. Sure it seemed petty to have journalist Declan Bogue excluded from the winners’ post-match press conference, but like everything in Donegal football, there are no half measures.

5. #BELIEF All of the above — the physical and the psychological — feed into the most impressive single aspect of McGuinness’s Donegal: their belief.

This was a side which, by McGuinness’s own admission, was demoralised when he took the reins in 2010. Talk is cheap but by implementing his detailed vision, the manager restored a self-confidence more powerful than any individual improvement.

For 20 seasons, Donegal were used to being buffeted and brushed aside by stronger footballing powers. On the brink of glory in 2011, they were trumped by eventual All-Ireland winners Dublin.

But their belief in their managerial mastermind, his plan, themselves, and each other never wavered. A county which once would have meekly stood aside when stared down by Kerry or Cork in the All-Ireland knockout rounds stood toe-to-toe with the game’s traditional superpowers, stared them down, and won.

For all of the individual and collective improvements made by Donegal under McGuinness, their belief is their strength.

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