Belfast Telegraph

County Boards should be last people to find managers

By Declan Bogue

Want a Jim McGuinness as manager of your own county? Then don't trust the county board.

It has become a common theme in discussing Donegal to lose perspective of where they were as a footballing county at the fag-end of 2010.

They had been beaten by 10 points in a qualifier match by Armagh and in the imagination of many pundits and journalists, it was as if days like Crossmaglen were a regular occurrence instead of an outlier.

Bare statistics tell us that 12 starters and three subs on that team in Crossmaglen formed the core of the side that won an Ulster title 13 months later.

Back in 2007, eight of the side that won a National League would still be on duty for that breakthrough provincial title, with Michael Murphy just bubbling under the surface.

The footballers were there, but many other things weren't.

While the Armagh and Tyrone teams of the Noughties slaved away in gyms getting bigger and badder, it came as a massive culture shock to Donegal when Brian McIver introduced weights into their regime in 2006.

It didn't prevent Donegal from reaching an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2002, or a semi-final in 2003.

And it can be easily forgotten that it was Donegal who took down reigning All-Ireland champions Tyrone in 2004 in an Ulster semi-final ambush. They were back in the Ulster final in 2006.

In the list of contenders they were always shadowy figures, but operating as a dysfunctional bunch.

Jim McGuinness removed all of that, creating the type of environment he was exposed to in his wide-ranging education.

He already had a taste of the real world when he went back to re-sit his Leaving Certificate at 24, and so maturity would have come as a natural quality to him. But he has cited the commitment to excellence he experienced under Val Andrews and Pat Flanagan at IT Tralee as a big influence.

One of his first acts, you might recall, was an 'amnesty on slacking' conducted in a quiet Donegal hotel when they stood in front of a blank sheet of paper and bled all their hurts. What emerged was an admission that they had been cheating themselves.

With his charisma, Murphy as a dressing-room enforcer and their fragility, McGuinness was able to begin again and cast them in a new mould.

They desperately needed belief and confidence. That would only come from winning. Winning and success is a by-product of having the tools to win – namely physical and mental strength, fitness and organisation.

These are the tenets of McGuinness' approach. In turn, many positive by-products emerge from the atmosphere they have, such as the intolerance of disrespectful behaviour.

After four years of this these players have never felt so alive. No wonder.

Other counties must look at what Donegal have now and ask themselves, where is their Jim McGuinness?

Truth is, there are few out there. When it comes to delivering the message, he has his experience as a college lecturer.

When it comes to tactics, he is an innovator, working his day job in professional soccer.

And he is a Donegal man who played for his county too. That last point is lost on all these county boards who appoint outside men thinking they come with a lack of baggage. It was the baggage that McGuinness brought with him that has fuelled this project.

When county boards seek to make an appointment, they have a sliding scale of priorities. Up around the top, they have promptness.

This is because they do not want it levelled at them that it took too long to appoint a manager and therefore the team are already snookered by their lack of pre-season training.

Internal reviews or planning a way forward are never popular. They take patience and in any case, there will be someone else in the Chairman's job in no time at all. Then it will be their problem.

Years ago, McGuinness went for the Donegal manager's job. He had his presentation ready to be viewed on an overhead projector and had asked the board to supply this.

When he turned up, the selection committee looked dolefully at each other. Nobody had brought it. He didn't get the job. And he was turned down again after that.

In recent weeks, another inter-county manager has gone for a vacant job. He was told on a Thursday to meet the committee on a Monday.

He prepared his slideshow, only to find the technology was not there. All these years on, county boards are still approaching the appointment process with back-of-a-packet-of-fags logic.

Perhaps county boards are the last people that should source managers. Just a thought.

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