High-risk high wire balancing acts

Such has been the revolutionary reconditioning of the mechanics of Donegal football by Jim McGuinness, even attempting to asterisk one engine part or the lubrication of the rig as being of particular significance, might appear futile. Yet, it’s beyond question that individual foot soldiers have – in vastly contrasting ways – been central to the functionality of the most compelling story ever seen in Irish sport.

Jim McGuinness
Jim McGuinness

Colm McFadden (Jim’s brother-in-law), speaking in the Jimmy’s Winnin’Matches documentary conceded “We thought he was mad” when, as newly installed boss, he insisted the greatest honours were within rapid reach. Given the dishevelled nature the county’s football fortunes were in when the Glenties man took over, doubting has assertions wasn’t difficult.

Their victory over Kildare on a Saturday evening in Croke Park was seminal in that it put meat on the bones of what the rest of the football world considered to be bluff coming from the hills. Still, they were derided, vilified and made little of for their part in that game against Dublin. That day also burgeoned supporters of the bluff notion.

Overtures of bluff turned to damnation as pure crazy when McGuinness defenestrated Kevin Cassidy from his ranks. How, it was reasoned, could he possibly succeed less one of the leaders of his troop? I still feel the treatment of Cassidy was harsh and unnecessary, but, the boss’s only interest was the collective greater good. He’s been fairly astute at delivering it too.

Too much was made of their lacklustre season in 2013. Natural order wasn’t going to allow them to replicate the previous year. Aside from the understandable and deserved excess that goes with being champions, other factors now leave it nigh on impossible to attain peaks two years running.

While, with respect, a draw against Meath – a game the visitors should’ve won – suggested Donegal were indeed a shadow of their former selves – a view seemingly endorsed as Monaghan eased past them in the Div. 2 final, taken from another angle, the campaign had been a success. Promotion achieved. Back where they belong. It’s about getting results, not how it’s done.

Mark McHugh was as much – if not more – of an influential figure as Cassidy. So, his decision – and that of others – to vacate the arena again led to prophesies of doom. We now know how they turned out. Jimmy’s been winning matches again. Goals achieved. And in so doing, the final derogatory notion – that they unearthed no new talent – dispelled. In the guise of McHugh’s brother, Ryan and Odhran Mac Niallais.

Comparisons between what McGuinness inherited and the situation confronting Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane when they united to take the Irish soccer team forward carry some credence. While it must be acknowledged that under the previous regime they had qualified for the European Championships, the insipid nature of the team’s efforts in those games – against the mercurial Spanish being excusable – was signpost enough that reform was required.

It could justifiably be argued that, regardless of who was taking over, too long was taken to replace those in situ. Thus rendering what was left of futile attempts to qualify for Brazil dead in the water. Meaning that, while the new duo did deploy the services of some players wrongly ignored before they assumed control, the need for further remedial work remains obvious.

As with the jettisoning of Cassidy and proceeding minus the elder McHugh, how the north/south alliance go about the restructuring of the talent at their disposal is nothing short of a high-risk, high wire balancing act. To that end, the recalling of Shay Given is slightly curious.

Adjudication on selection decisions should be tempered, though, by a realisation of prevailing circumstances. One is drawn to again refer to matters closer to home. When Sean Boylan’s first Meath team were fading from view, new stars such as Fay, Giles, Geraghty et al were establishing themselves.

Likewise with the Irish soccer team, there was a changing of the guard, the likes of Paul McGrath, Ray Houghton, Niall Quinn and Steve Staunton being succeeded by men such as Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and John O’Shea.

It’s worth remembering that some stellar performers of the past such as Houghton, Chris Hughton, Andy Townsend, John Aldridge, Tony Cascarino (ahem) and many others ended up wearing the green owing to family lineage. Matters are presently in another transitional period.

Surely, then, it’d be accepted that any talent available to and of interest to the management in terms of coming in should be at least given a chance. Infusing such newcomers never hurt before. Which is why it’s difficult to understand the furore surrounding the possibility of Mark Noble coming aboard.

That it’s deemed necessary to cast the net in new directions presumably signifies what the management perceive as a lack of likely lads putting their heads above the parapet. Selections always cause debate, but if desired results materialise, few will complain.


Leave a Reply