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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 25 October 2020

Learning from Jim - 'If it was a snooker player, he would still get him right! He’s that kind of man'

New Sligo boss Cathal Corey on working with Jim McGuinness and getting set for his first taste of the championship as a manager.

Cathal Corey was never in doubt of the managerial prowess of Jim McGuinness.
Cathal Corey was never in doubt of the managerial prowess of Jim McGuinness.
Image: INPHO

“I JUST WANTED even one go at it. A lot of my friends had done it, a lot of people I’d hung around with had done it.

“Men I had always managed teams with. You’re always looking to see what the difference was.”

Cathal Corey smiles at the chain of events in his GAA managerial journey that has prompted the personal breakthrough he will make tomorrow.

Ruislip will be the setting as he steps out as an inter-county boss in the championship arena for the first time. A Tyrone native and a man now entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding Sligo football.

He never kicked ball at county level himself as a player, his days on the pitch solely in the colours of his club Kildress in Tyrone. Yet he has done the rounds in club football, serving on the sidelines in Ulster and picking up plenty tips along the way.

Corey took over various teams in Kildress. He worked in Derry with Castledawson, Banagher and Slaughtneil, guiding the latter to a league title that was the springboard for a golden era with their club.

Slaughtneil during the parade of teams Slaughtneil players before last year's Derry county senior final. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

He was with Naomh Conaill when they lost a Donegal county final in 2009 and stuck around to guide them to silverware in 2010 along with an Ulster final appearance against the might of Crossmaglen.

Johnny McLoone celebrates at the end of the game Celebrations after Naomh Conaill's Ulster club semi-final against Coalisland. Source: Presseye/Andrew Paton/INPHO

There were spells with the Jordanstown Freshers and Truagh in Monaghan. He threw his hat into the ring for the Donegal job last winter but had no qualms when Declan Bonner got the nod.

“I was very close to getting that. Declan got it. I think it was the next night I got a phone call, asking would I be interested in Sligo.

“So at that stage my mind was kind of fixed on that type of management so I went and met Sligo and got it then and just started then.

“If you’re honest, Declan probably, he’d done the ground work, he did deserve the go at it. I had no complaints at all. I wouldn’t swap now, I’m delighted with where I’m at now.

“I’ve got to know all the fellas, the Sligo fellas are nice, there are no egos in the dressing room, everyone works hard. They’re a fantastic bunch of fellas to be managing and to be working with. I really, really am enjoying it.”

So now he’s wearing the Sligo bainisteoir bib, the realisation of a long-held ambition as he dips his toes into county waters.

The Corey CV may lack tales of playing riches but he’s worked at close quarters with enough celebrated figures. Take Jim McGuinness for example.

“Jim McGuinness came and trained Kildress for me then in 2003. He was down training Kildress minors in Grade 3 at that time.

“I just would have met up with Jim, just got (to) know him, and we always would have worked together with different teams. So, we would always have been talking football.

“I would have gone up to the Glenties then, Jim would have been playing and I would have been managing. Then he got the U21 job, and I would have stayed on in Glenties then whenever he went to the seniors.

“I always knew he was a fantastic coach, he’s a fantastic way of getting players to believe in him. No matter what he says, they believe in what he says.

“I always knew he would do fantastic work with Donegal. He’d good players too, like Murphy, McFadden, McGee, other players too but he got them all pulling together and going the right road.

“In 2012, Donegal beat everybody and it was because their players believed that they couldn’t be beaten more than anything.

“It actually scared other teams, you know. Teams thought they couldn’t play against this, they were choked, they couldn’t breathe.”

Jim McGuinness celebrates with players after winning the Sam Maguire Jim McGuinness celebrating Donegal's 2012 final win over Mayo. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It didn’t surprise Corey to see McGuinness move into soccer roles in Glasgow and Beijing.

“No, not at all. One time, your man Stephen Kenny had left Derry and McGuinness was in as their trainer, and the next day Kenny – he was over in Scotland and he came back and got the job the next day, and then Jim was out.

“He had got the job as their trainer but didn’t even do one session. He had been doing a bit of work over in Limavady with a soccer team as well. He had always been involved in soccer.

“He would have set his team up more like a soccer team. A lot of his tactics would have come from soccer, having men back, and sweepers back and not lining out 3-3-2 (in defence and midfield), he would have been lining out 2-4-2.”

In his mind Corey cannot envisage McGuinness patrolling the sidelines on sweltering GAA championship afternoons again. Soccer is the calling of the 2012 All-Ireland winning supremo now.

“I don’t think that he will you know. I just think at the minute that he’s just kind of more into soccer. I think the next time he’ll manage will be a soccer side, maybe around Scotland or somewhere.

“I’ve no doubt that it would work out for him, because the skills he has, his communication, getting players to buy into what he believes in… He’s smart. He’s intelligent.

“He knows how to get players going. If it was a snooker player he would still get him right! He’s that kind of man. No matter what he does, he’ll do well at it.”

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Jim McGuinness celebrates with Michael Murphy Jim McGuinness and Michael Murphy after the 2012 final win over Mayo. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

What about the concern that professional soccer players will not buy into the McGuinness approach?

“I think, no matter who it is, if they don’t show him that level of respect, they’ll be shipped out. He’ll demand that.”

There are others who have influenced Corey down through the years. Derry’s Tony Scullion, Tyrone’s Gavin Devlin and fellow Kildress man Martin McElkennon, who has worked with an array of inter-county sides.

And then there was the late Eamonn Coleman, the colourful and charismatic figure who steered Derry 25 years ago to Sam Maguire glory.

Eamonn Coleman 14/11/1999 Derry's All-Ireland winning manager Eamonn Coleman. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Eamonn Coleman would have managed Kildress in his time. He was a good character. He wouldn’t have been well into tactics or stuff like that, but he would have been a good character and ‘blood and guts’ kind of thing.

“But the big personality and a nice man to have around the place too. They had won the All-Ireland the year before, he was still managing Derry (in 1994) but he came in to help Kildress.

“He was actually in Kildress, the first team he maybe managed in 1977, he was working with a fella called Mickey Kane. It’s hard to believe he’s dead too. He was a nice man.”

That wide range of experiences has informed Corey’s approach. Sligo was not a glamorous posting to take on but they have put in the hard yards. They dug themselves out a relegation quagmire in late March, a pair of late goals condemning Derry to the drop from the third tier of the league.

Preparation has been tricky. Wretched weather conditions have tested their resolve in 2018. Sligo’s players are scattered around the country – 16 in Dublin, four in Galway, a few in Limerick and a couple in Athlone – and that means they largely convene in Newtownforbes in Longford for midweek training sessions.

“It would be four or five hours driving every day just to get there and home,” said Corey.

“It was a bad ould tough winter but every night we went down there we were fit to train, which was good. The pitch was good, great to get it. It’s a wee club ground. They are very good to us.”

The hours of painstaking effort culminate when the first shots are fired in the Connacht championship tomorrow. He doesn’t need to issue any warnings to his players. Sligo football people know about the pitfalls of heading over to London.

It’s five years since they crumbled at the first hurdle against the Exiles. Then manager Kevin Walsh was on the receiving end of stinging criticism that night on The Sunday Game from a Sligo marquee name in Eamonn O’Hara.

London celebrate victory at the end of the game London players celebrate their 2013 victory over Sligo. Source: Jim Keogh/INPHO

Charlie Harrison and Ross Donovan are some of the stalwarts still knocking around from that game in a squad shorn of experienced figures like Mark Breheny and Brendan Egan over the winter.

Corey has been over to London in recent weeks on a reconnaissance mission, seeking to nail down the finer details of their trip.

“I would have gone over  just to look at the hotel and make sure the food was right and make sure we’d somewhere to maybe go for a stretch.

“Have block a TVs in for the boys and (sort) bit of PlayStation. Just try to make sure everything’s right.

“When you’re over there it’s too late, you have to do them things in preparation when going.

“I think it’s giving 23 degrees which will be a factor in it too so we just have to make sure hydration and everything is right.

“You’re going into the unknown. You’re getting on to a plane to go and play a football match. You’ve London in London, it’s going to be tough, they’re well set up, they got to play all their National league matches at home.

“It’s a new pitch. So it’s kind of a carnival atmosphere with marquees and that going on as well. So it’s just going to be tough. We just need to keep our focus.”

And for Sligo’s manager, there is an excitement at being a central player in championship combat. He turned 51 this week and has been patient waiting for this opportunity to come around.

“I’d say the fact I never played inter county football, I was never a name out there, probably leaves it difficult. You probably have to serve your time that bit longer.

“My uncle, Brian McIver, would have been a county manager, managed Donegal and Derry. Brian and mammy would be brother and sister. He’s Director of Football now in Derry.

Brian McIver Former Derry manager Brian McIver. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I suppose, there’s always been a lot of football around our house. Everybody in the house was always GAA mad. I’m looking forward to this.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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