Celtic’s tiger McGuinness on the prowl
Whether he's at Lennoxtown or Letterkenny, Jim McGuinness is at his happiest when he's on a training pitch — passing on what he has gained from many years of preparing for what he feels is his destiny.
The once scraggy-haired perennial college student is now box office in gaelic games, and the head-hunting of the Donegal manager by Celtic FC following his All-Ireland win in September was a pointer to his talents.
His journey has not been a seamless one: from re-sitting his Leaving Cert at 23, to those years of studying at Tralee, Jordanstown and Liverpool, McGuinness has climbed the ladder the hard way.
Now, though, when he holds court in Jackson's Hotel in Ballybofey, a posse of journalists is taking in his every word.
Accepting a role as a performance consultant with Celtic in Glasgow raised eyebrows initially, with sceptics suggesting that double jobbing was impossible. McGuinness (40), however, has insisted that he could have the best of both worlds and has vowed that his new role would not impinge on involvement with a side that now stands as one of gaelic football's great puzzles.
“I don't think Jim could have walked away,” says Mark McHugh. “He stuck with us through so much and Celtic obviously saw what he was doing and recognised it. But we have something special in Donegal and it wasn't something he could have left when he felt he wasn't finished.”
He is now in his third year as manager of Donegal and the hectic schedule of the commute from Glasgow to Glenties has not drained any of his enthusiasm.
“It has been a fishbowl situation, but that is when I am most comfortable in life — when I am managing teams and coaching,” says McGuinness.
“In one sense I haven't been living in reality for the last four years. It's training, working with people, trying to develop people, trying to win games and grow as a group, building fitness, strength, strategy, everything.
“We love it and that's why we do it. It is a very privileged position to be in, managing a team. It is an unbelievable privilege to be managing your county. The icing on the cake is if you're successful.”
McGuinness talks of the development of his knowledge of sports science, injury recovery, training and coaching by working with a club that reached the last 16 of the Champions League this season.
His attention to detail in these areas will surely have rubbed off on his players at Donegal.
He says: “I've been watching their training and watching the coaches and how they coach. It has been very good for my own development to sit back and watch all of that unfold.”
McGuinness has a portfolio of around 10 players in Glasgow and he holds his own top players in Donegal as dearly as Neil Lennon does his Celtic stars.
He says: “When you're working with people who want to be there and who want to be the best they can be, improve all the time and have this attitude of ‘I still have weaknesses and want to improve', it makes the experience very enjoyable. To be working with your Michael Murphys, your Colm McFaddens and now the Patrick McBreartys, watching them developing and maturing... it's a great moment in your life.”
The Championship looms large for McGuinness this weekend, following six days of preparation at a training camp in Johnstown House from Tuesday to Sunday.
A home draw against Tyrone, the side whose mantle as kings of Ulster Donegal have taken of late, is a challenge McGuinness relishes.