ON HIS Friday morning run, Jim McGuinness’s mind began to wander back.
McGuinness was on Tramore beach, at the foot of Horn Head with the Lurgabrack sand dunes trigging the thoughts.
All of a sudden, McGuinness was in the bleak winters of 2010 and 2011.
It was here, on the caramel sand of Tramore where McGuinness put the Donegal squad through the rigorous training sessions that laid the foundations for a golden age. An All-Ireland and three Ulster Championships were won during his four years as the Donegal manager.
“That’s where we won the All-Ireland,” McGuinness told Ryan Tubridy.
“That’s where the team won it. We won it there in the winter months. We would train for maybe two hours, we would leave the pitch and head for the dunes. It’s probably a 3k jog across the dunes to the beach and the beach opens up. it’s absolutely beautiful.
“From the foot of the beach, there is about a 400m incline. At the end of a two-hour session, you could end up potentially doing maybe six, eight, ten 400s – a sprint up and a jog back.
“I was thinking about those fellas, what they did and what they sacrificed. They pushed everything down the line, their own social life, getting out in the world, what they ate.
“They delayed everything in the hope that they could be successful for something bigger than themselves, something more meaningful. It creates this connectedness and this identity. The GAA is great for that anyway because you have the place for identity as a bedrock of it anyway.”
Connectedness was a recurring theme during McGuinness’s slot.
He told of the close connection he holds with his late brothers, Charles and Mark, and recalled how a finding a point of connection – an ‘emotional attachment’, as he put it – helped sew the seeds when he succeeded John Joe Doherty as Donegal’s manager almost 11 years ago.
He said: “That was one of the first questions we asked them: ‘Why are you here? Are you here because you’re a really good footballer and you ended up being here? Or are you here because this is the only thing in your life and you want to achieve the ultimate in your life?’
“We were coming from a very low base. We hadn’t won anything for 19 years. We were also doing it for the people of Donegal. We were trying to connect with that in relation to the group. You start to merge all those things in a culture that’s honest. There is a purity to that. Even if you fail, you have given it your best.”
A young McGuinness was a member of the Donegal squad that won the All-Ireland in 1992, his first year on Brian McEniff’s panel.
Just six years beforehand, when McGuinness was only 12, his brother Charles passed away from a heart defect, aged just 16,
Charles McGuinness was tipped to wear Donegal’s colours. He was flagged as one to watch for the county minors.
Jim McGuinness was struck by a conversation and made a promise.
He said: “I think on reflection there was a paradox there. On one level, I was completely lost. On another level, I was completely connected with making it as a football player.
“That, for me, was how I was going to enshrine the memory and be the best I could be.
“I made that decision on the back of a conversation that we had in the house after Charles passed away. He was expected to be a county minor and they were speaking about that in the room, his friends.
“I remember this searing moment in my mind where I was saying: “i’m going to do that’. Over the period of a couple of years, it consumed me.
“I could find myself getting better, developing, which is a weird feeling in a sporting context; that sense of stepping, stepping, stepping. To be a county minor was the number one thing on my mind.”
In 1998, another brother, Mark, died following a road traffic accident. The car in which he and Jim were travelling collided with a lorry. Mark, aged 27, was killed.
The memories of Charles and Mark live on for Jim.
He said: “That connection, as I went on in my life, that lostness and that vulnerability have never left me. But that connection has got bigger and stronger. For Mark and Charles, I try to walk in their steps, Everything I do, they see. I live my life through them.”
Tonight’s Late Late Show was a special to raise funds for Pieta House ahead of Darkness Into Light.
McGuinness has recently returned to live in Donegal after spells working in soccer with Celtic, Beijing Sinobo Guoan and Charlotte Independence.
His experiences have taught him a lot about the difficulties facing today;s young generation.
The Glenties man said: “Everything at the moment is about instant gratification, about people following you, about likes, dislikes, about no interest. That’s before you even go into the darker side of it, with bullying and trolling and all these things.
“There is a perception out there that their life is perfect. Having worked in that environment in one-to-one situations, they’re not. They have a lot of issues going on and a lot of things that they’re working through.
“For years and years and years, it has been taboo and people didn’t want to speak about it, myself included. Times are changing, even how we conceptualise young people and the challenges they face.
“It’s a different world now and we need to get our head around that and figure out what’s the best way to support young people moving forward for the next generation coming through.”Tags: