Joe Kernan: How Jim turned Donegal zeroes to heroes
IT has often been said that a team must learn how to lose before it can fully derive the benefits which can accrue from winning.
If this is the case, then Donegal must surely be a prime example of such a side.
Over the course of a number of years the north-west county did more than lose just Ulster championship and All-Ireland qualifier matches.
They surrendered their integrity, became the butt of criticism and ridicule because of their penchant for partying, and caused deep embarrassment to themselves and to their supporters.
It seemed that the Donegal psyche was parked in a space where non-commitment, a lack of responsibility and a taste for good living were par for the course.
Several managers, among them highly respected individuals such as Brian McIver (right) and Mickey Moran, came and went as Donegal continued to flounder in a championship context.
They did enjoy a brief helping of league success under McIver and reached the Ulster finals in 2002, 2004 and 2006 but lost to Armagh on each occasion. Indeed, Donegal have never able to make a real impact in either the provincial or All-Ireland championships since they captured ‘Sam’ in 1992.
Until now, that is. No one is more familiar with the excuses, misbehaviour and indiscipline that blighted the Donegal narrative for several years than current manager Jim McGuinness.
As a player in the county colours he did not give 100% — rather, he went through the pain barrier more often than not to give 110%.
And I firmly believe that it is what he observed that was wrong at first hand for so long which really helped to form McGuinness’s management mantra.
As a qualified sports psycholo
gist and passionate coach, he knows better than anyone exactly what it takes to deliver success in today’s demanding sporting environment.
When he set about trying to revitalise Donegal’s fortunes he might well have ruffled a few feathers along the way but does that really matter?
Look where Donegal are today — 70 minutes away from an All-Ireland final appearance against the might of Kerry. Who would have thought a few months ago that they would be in this position!
One of the main reasons for Donegal’s progress is that McGuinness inculcated into his players right from the start of his reign the necessity to view the next match, irrespective of who it might be against and notwithstanding the status of the competition, as their All-Ireland final.
There might well be an element of mind games in this given McGuinness’s academic qualifications, but it is certainly proving an excellent philosophy from Donegal’s perspective.
He refused to allow his players to look beyond an upcoming game to ensure that they gave this maximum concentration.
McGuinness is constantly aware of the accumulation of hurt that has been stored in the squad’s psyche and set out to lessen this burden by attempting to achieve a winning formula.
This he has done, although perhaps not in the most stylish manner.
His playing philosophy is based largely on defence and it is not unusual to see as many as 13 players back behind the ball when the opposition is attacking — or trying to attack.
This is not particularly easy on the eye nor does it normally encourage followers to part with their hard-earned cash at the turnstiles.
Yet the results speak for themselves. On Sunday many of the Donegal followers who were at best sceptical and at worst abusive when McGuinness took over will be garbed in green and gold and occupying prime seats in a Croke Park crowd that is expected to be in the region of 70,000-80,000.
Football fever is currently rampant in Donegal, the mistakes and downright bad behaviour of the past have been largely erased and pride has been restored to such an extent that even people with the merest hint of Donegal blood in their veins are proclaiming the virtues of a reinvigorated side.
And it’s all down to two words — Jim McGuinness.