home in the hills

Jim McGuinness 'waiting on the right opportunity' with focus on soccer after US stint

Donegal’s All-Ireland winning boss wants to continue his coaching journey in the soccer world despite piquing interest in GAA circles again.

“NOT A LOT since,” Jim McGuinness begins, when asked to reflect on the aftermath of the most recent chapter of his colourful coaching career.

“Just waiting on the right opportunity, more than anything else.” 

jim-mcguinness-returns-to-sky-sports-as-an-expert-analyst-on-the-2020-gaa-senior-football-championship Former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness returns to Sky Sports as an expert analyst on the 2020 GAA SFC. SPORTSFILE SPORTSFILE

The mastermind behind Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland success — and the only manager to win a championship game against Dublin’s five-in-a-row boss Jim Gavin — is back on home soil, though not exactly plotting his next big move. He’s taking things as they come, and open to pretty much anything, but soccer is his main focus at the minute.

McGuinness’ name has been uttered more in GAA circles over the past few weeks than it has in a long, long time, after the Glenties man was spotted at a Galway football training session alongside Pádraig Joyce, an old college friend. 

It’s since been made clear that this was a once-off, and that McGuinness is not formally involved in the Tribe set-up. While he’s enjoyed dipping his toes back into Gaelic football coaching since returning to these shores — he quietly helped a Louth club team win their first-ever county championship — it’s not something that’s on his immediate radar. 

He’s hoping that the next chapter follows on from the last, where he spent a stint in charge of Charlotte Independence, a North Carolina club who compete in the US’ second tier.

“My focus is definitely on soccer,” McGuinness says. “When you are back in Ireland and you are asked to go in, it whets the appetite for you. There’s no doubt about that but my focus is on soccer and the journey that I’ve been on development-wise and trying to fulfil that.”

That sparks the question: would be be open to a job in the League of Ireland or the Irish League? There’s no shortage of opportunities both sides of the border, that’s for sure.

“I’m open to anything that makes sense for me professionally and in terms of my own development. That’s the bottom line. That would be it in a nutshell.

“I’ve had a very good journey up to this point and have been learning a huge amount along the way. Obviously when you are in management on a professional level, you learn a lot.

“I mentioned this on a number of occasions in regards to your first year, even with Donegal, there’s a lot to it and a lot going on and it’s not easy. It’s a bit like Dessie Farrell now, he’s with a team that’s going for six-in-a-row and in your first year at senior level, there’s a lot going on.

“That experience I’m sure will stand to me and the opportunity to grow and develop myself professionally.”

The last time McGuinness fronted up to the GAA media was just before he headed Stateside and took a giant leap into the unknown in December 2018. It was his first managerial position in his adopted sport, after spells on the coaching staff at Celtic and Beijing Sinobo Guoan.

While the three-year contract ultimately came to an end just six short months in after leading Charlotte to just one win in 14 games, McGuinness and his family stayed put on the East Coast, before Covid-19 prompted the move back to home soil.

mcguinn McGuinness in the Charlotte Independence colours. Charlotte Independence. Charlotte Independence.

Before the pandemic took hold of the world earlier this year however, the 47-year-old was waiting on that next golden opportunity. 

“If it was a situation where I was going to go back into that environment again, a lot of things would need to be right for me,” he explains. “I wanted to make sure that if that is the case that I give myself the best chance.

“We were sort of happy in the States as well. There’s a number of professional leagues out there and a number of opportunities out there in that regard. So we were sort of planning on staying for the amount of time that we originally planned for. Then the Covid sort of kicked in and where we were it was fairly significantly on the rise.”

With everything turned upside down and his kids out of school, returning to the greener Hills of Donegal seemed like the better option.

“We were looking at home and it was in single digits, and on the rise out there, and we thought, ‘You know what, maybe we’re better going home’ with the way the world was.

“Everything had come to a standstill anyway. There was no football going on anywhere in the world so it didn’t really make a difference where you were at that stage. At the end of the day we made a decision fairly quickly even though it was on our minds for a while.

“We only really arrived 10 days or two weeks before the schools started here. We’re glad we did now. Everybody settled really well and they’re in education so from that point of view, it’s been good.”

Overall, his time at the Charlotte helm was “a steep learning curve” and while there’s much more he’d like to discuss but his hands are tied contractually, he’ll take those learnings forward.

In fact, he did so out there after the disappointing exit and continued his coaching journey in an informal capacity. He was kept busy “doing bits and pieces”.

“People would call you up and because of my background and my experience they would ask you do a night here or a night there, or a talk. I was active in that regard, I was in with UNC, the university, and I was up with Atlanta United for a day and stuff like that.

“It was more just professionally staying active more than a job, while I was still trying to get my contract sorted.”

The same, he says, is the case with his native Donegal.

A throwaway comment on Sky Sports’ Inside The Game this week — “I’ve been in and out with Donegal any chance I’ve had” — left Tír Chonaill fans excited to hear more, but McGuinness clarified yesterday that he didn’t mean this year.

“It would have been a couple of times since Declan [Bonner] came in before the Ulster final one of the years and stuff,” he said of the casual contact.

jim-mcguinness-with-his-children-toni-marie-michael-anthony-and-jim-jr-after-the-game With his children, Toni-Marie, Michael Anthony and Jim Jr after the 2012 All-Ireland win. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“I’m supposed to be doing something with the Donegal minors in the next couple of weeks and the Fermanagh minors. Obviously their competitions have been postponed so maybe I’ll do a wee Zoom call with those guys.

“I did a Zoom call when I was in the States a couple of months back too with some of the Donegal lads. They had broken them into groups and gave them all a task and one of the groups was looking at the history of Donegal football.

“I spent a couple of hours with them and it’s just one of those things where if you’ve got the time and you feel you can add something to it, you are happy to do it. That’s really what it was more than anything else.”

The bottom line is the GAA legend is still hellbent on pursuing a coaching path, wherever and whatever that may be. He’s learned plenty through his varied career so far, and there’s no doubt that there’s much more to come. 

It’s pretty much just a case of wait and see, he concludes.

“My intention is to keep on going and to keep on coaching and to hopefully move forward in that regard. So that’s what I’ve been doing.

“At the moment I’m working with a very high-profile team at U11 level, with my son! That’s what I’m at, apart from being spotted down in Galway.

“But things are wrapping up now in Ireland so let’s see what happens there and other leagues finish at this time of the year. We’re happy that we’re home now and that we have a base and sure I can move then from there if it’s right.”

- Jim McGuinness returns to Sky Sports as an expert analyst on the 2020 senior football championship, starting with Monaghan-Cavan in the Ulster SFC this Saturday.

The42 GAA Weekly is here! Join hosts Shane Dowling and Marc Ó Sé as they preview Tipperary v Limerick, Donegal v Tyrone, and the rest of the weekend’s action:

The42 Podcasts / SoundCloud

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