Donegal Daily GAA columnist Cathal MacSuibhne reflects on last night’s decision by Jim McGuinness to step down as Donegal manager.
Jimmy won the matches, Jimmy won the games, Jimmy brought Sam back to Donegal again.
The news nobody wanted to hear but that we were half expecting arrived late last night. Jim McGuinness had led us all on an incredible journey since 2010 but now it has reached its conclusion. His stint as U21 manager followed by the four year plan with the seniors has been the most successful period in our county’s history. He took over a group that had been described, somewhat accurately, as half football team half stag party; what followed is one of the greatest sporting stories ever told.
Breffni Park and that damn crossbar got things rolling as Jim led Michael and his team to an All Ireland U21 Final. Within a few months, the senior job was his.
It all started on a wet Saturday night in Ballybofey against University of Ulster Jordanstown in a McKenna Cup tie and finished two weeks ago on the biggest stage of all. Could the few hundred of us that were in MacCumhaill Park that night have dared to dream that such days lay ahead? Jim turned all our dreams into reality.
In between there have been significant milestones – a trophy captured in Croke Park, three months later 19 years of hurt were annexed with an Ulster title; then that unforgettable night with Kildare, ‘real living’ as Jim described it as. Football was supposedly close to Armageddon the next time Donegal rolled onto Jones Road as the game with Dublin became the most talked about match of all time.
One year later and we were top of the pile, 2012 will forever hold the most special place in our hearts as Jim took us to the Promised Land.
It looked like it would all end in a perfect fairytale after trouncing the unbeatable Dubs before going down in the final – it wasn’t to be. It doesn’t in any way dilute what Jim achieved with this team and his legacy is untouchable.
Will there now be a number of players that will follow? It is safe to assume that some will certainly call time on their careers having served the green and gold jersey with distinction but with the underage talent looking quite healthy this hopefully won’t have a terminal effect on the squad. Donegal will retreat back into pack in the coming years as this team breaks up but that inevitable slide can be halted if the team and its resources are managed correctly. All successful senior teams must have some sort of underage traction however a good underage team does not guarantee a quality senior team.
The big question now is who can replace the irreplaceable? Despite losing a legendary figure, an All-Ireland winning panel remains and with the right appointment our glory days can continue.
Declan Bonner will most likely be the front runner after leading the minor team to an All Ireland Final. Ideally you’d like to see Declan take the group onto the U21 stage before having a second crack at the senior job but with circumstances as they are now, he is sure to be in the frame.
What about a joint ticket of Jim’s former background team, Rory Gallagher and Maxi Curran? Both men are leading clubs in this weekend’s Championship action but their ears will have pricked at hearing the news last night. There may be some lingering animosity over their departure from Jim’s setup last year but for the good of Donegal football, any differences need to be put aside if they are deemed the best candidate(s).
Could Jim’s outgoing backroom team be interested? Damian Diver, John Duffy and Paul McGonigle played their part in this year’s Ulster success and subsequent passage to the All-Ireland final and must surely be considered.
Elsewhere in the club scene, Gary McDaid led his Glenswilly team to an Ulster Final last December. It would be a big step up from club to county but his record may be enough to put him in with a shout.
Other names such as Martin McHugh and Tony McEntee will also be linked but it would be a surprise if the successor didn’t come from the first two options above.
As we’ve seen with Mayo in the last fortnight, county boards have an unfortunate habit of making a mess of such appointment processes – it took Jim himself three attempts to get the post – so this has to be done right. Jim may well have a say himself.
His greatest achievement is not the titles, the cups or the system. His most important gift was really highlighted in the aftermath of the defeat a fortnight ago. Despite a devastating day, Donegal supporters, one and all, were proud of their team. That was Jim’s first goal – for the team to be loved again, for everyone to have pride in their county and their jersey. Mission accomplished Jim.
These thoughts have only scratched on the surface of the genius that is Jim McGuinness; a million words wouldn’t do justice to the greatest of great men.
His family and his work commitments in Glasgow will obviously have had a huge bearing on his decision to stand aside. He may even have a chance to devote more time to Celtic in the months and years ahead. The words of Scotland’s most famous hero, William Wallace, (slightly altered!) might best describe our journey with Jim…
In the years of our Messiah, 2011-2014, patriots of Donegal, hungry and written off, charged the fields of Clones and Drumcondra. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Tir Conaill men. And won their destiny.
Our Chief. Our Leader. Our Legend. Our Messiah. Our Jimmy.
Míle Buíochas agus Ádh Mór leat Jim.Tags: