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Easy Ryder Paul is sitting pretty and being witty

McGinley in demand after captaincy masterclass

By Kevin Garside

Paul McGinley is propped on the sofa with his left leg in a pot, courtesy of operation No 7 on the knee cap he shattered as a teenager. He is used to the inconvenience but perhaps not the demand placed on him by the football club he supports.

The come-from-behind victory at home to Swansea last Sunday propelled West Ham briefly into the third spot in the Premier League, an ungodly height for a club that has never won the title.

There is delight in that, of course, but not in the involuntary movements that engage the trauma site when Andy Carroll bulges the net with a header and then repeats the stunt to put a different complexion on the Ryder Cup captain's afternoon. Diafra Sakho's bullet strike? Don't go there.

McGinley hopes, doctor's orders pending, to be in Glasgow tomorrow night to attend the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony where the group he led to victory at Gleneagles in September are sure to be commended.

He might even collect a gong himself since there cannot be many coaching performances more persuasive than the one that guided Europe to a victory so commanding it left the opposition crushed and squabbling bitterly.

It tickles McGinley that, in all the subsequent American introspection and cant, the one element the vanquished have failed to acknowledge, as they seek a way out of a sequence that has seen them win only twice in 20 years, is the quality of the opposition.

"I find it quite amusing that I have not seen or heard any recognition of what a strong opponent Europe has become, not only the golf we played, but our strength as a unit. That amazes me.

"We were playing at home at Gleneagles, we had four of the world's top-six players, we had guys like Jamie Donaldson and Stevie Gallacher playing great to make the team. We had a lot of odds stacked in our favour, plus a back-room team with a lot of experience, and a lot of planning in place."

McGinley is not one for looking back. True to his word he has shed the emotional attachment to his leadership role and looks forward post-injury to hitting balls in his own cause.

"I'm not a guy who hangs on to things. I like to move on, but as a captain winning is not something you can get away from. Not that you would want to. Everybody has been so nice, whether I'm in Ireland, the UK or China, wherever I go people are so caught up in how great that Ryder Cup was."

The witty McGinley - who was, not surprisinly, chosen this week to lead Ireland's Olympic golf team - loves a stat, pays attention to patterns, discerns advantage in numbers, but not at the expense of the human being.

His attempts to understand the character and chemistry that bind us are a central feature of his coaching philosophy. So obvious was his eminence in this area, contrasting markedly with his opposite number, Tom Watson, who displayed none of his passion for detail, that approaches have been made to expound in a book the central tenets of his captain's code.

"I'm not going to write a book on the Ryder Cup but there are other things I may do. There are a lot of people who have come to me with a view to putting down my ideas in a formal way. I might do that. It is very easy to be overcomplicated about things, to overanalyse.

"When I look back, the biggest thing I would change would be not to be so analytical about my golf. There has to be space to let it breathe.

"When it comes to captaincy it has to be about the players and putting structures in place that allow them to breathe, not laden with too much information. You can over-captain and suffocate.

"I was very much aware of that and determined I would not fall into that trap. I wanted the players to go out with a smile, not be burdened."

By the time the players pitched up at Gleneagles, they had all felt McGinley's embrace. They were not so much coming together for the first time as coming home. Getting the atmosphere and setting bang-on did not happen by accident.

"I made it my business to get to know the players, I don't just mean as golfers. I have played with them all. I was much more interested in getting to know them as human beings, as people.

"At no stage did I feel out of sync or disconnected. I knew the job inside out. I knew what was required. The two vice-captaincy roles, the two Seve Trophies as captain had prepared me for the role.

"In some ways I took it to a new level, for example I had a professional statistics team for two years analysing players and looking at performances over 10 years at the Johnnie Walker, who played well, how they attacked the course. All that helped with the tactics and pairings."

McGinley is as relentlessly precise in the detailing of how the cup was won as he was in the planning. "You can get right down into the tactics of it if you want.

"There were four par-fives, three of them even numbers. Then you had a drivable par-four, also an even number. So it made a lot of sense to have a bigger hitter with a shorter hitter, that kind of thing, though it went deeper than that. I knew what the examination paper was. I just had to make the pairings that would sit the exam best.

"The first challenge is to get the players engaged. I did that through communication, through videos, through images.

"The second part is the nitty-gritty of tactics, how are we going to execute this plan, how are we going to go about it on an hourly basis to win this Ryder Cup?"

And then there is the ultimate arbiter, the quality of the team. "Over the last four or five years, as the guys have started to dominate the top of the world rankings we have evolved into favourites going into these events.

A lot of the credit for that goes to the European Tour for producing top players that are able to become great Ryder Cup players."

And coaches. He wouldn't say that. But I will.

Belfast Telegraph

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