As you get older, you start to realise there will always be people who are more concerned with pulling you down rather than raising you up. That’s life. If they themselves aren’t courageous enough to reach for their potential, it’s like they want to make sure nobody else strives for more either.
Remember as a kid when you’d couldn’t wait to show your friends your pristine new trainers you got for your birthday? Within a couple of hours of taking them out of the box, some joker would stomp on them and scuff them up. Your friends would all laugh, delighted with themselves for ‘breaking them in’ for you.
I can tell you, I very rarely fought as a youngster, but I vividly remember going to blows with a kid who deliberately messed up my first ever brand-new pair of Jordans. You grow to realise that it’s one of the first steps in the beginners’ guide to displaying the kind of jealousy and begrudgery we Irish are such masters of. The ‘who does he think he is’ mentality.
The reaction to Jim McGuinness’s sacking by the Charlotte Independence soccer club last week after winning just one of their opening 14 USL Eastern Conference games brought back those same feelings after they broke in my new Jordans all those years ago.
For the record, I don’t know McGuinness. I’ve never met or spoke to the guy. He left Tralee IT after winning the Sigerson Cup a couple of years before I arrived, so our paths never crossed. Like many others, I admire what he helped to create in Donegal with the U21s and obviously the senior side.
While his over emphasis on defensive structure changed the game in a negative way, he found something that worked for his team and maximised it, and that’s right there in the job description of every good coach or manager.
He got that Donegal senior gig not because of just being a former player, but because he’d put in some graft to get where he was going. There was a degree in sports and exercise science from Jordanstown, and later a Master’s degree in Sports Psychology from Liverpool’s John Moores University.
Perhaps it was the shift in codes that ignited the ill-will towards the Glenties man, but you couldn’t deny he invested in himself and gained greater knowledge in something he was passionate about. That educational pursuit and Donegal experience yielded a part-time role as performance consultant with Celtic, before he started to work towards his Uefa B coaching badge about five years ago.
He went on to have a coaching role with Celtic’s U18s and 20s before he left Celtic in 2017 to take a punt on Chinese Superleague side Beijing Guoan as an assistant coach. That lasted less than a year.
It all led him to Charlotte where he signed a three-year contract in late December 2018 as their new head coach. When the early results didn’t match the expectation of ownership, that arrangement was quickly terminated last week.
Such is professional sport. Ruthless. Then came the somewhat weird reaction to the news of his sacking, some almost celebrating that it hadn’t worked out for him.
It stuck me on Sunday evening again after watching Roscommon claim a famous victory over a toothless Galway side, as I was trying to appreciate the incredible job Anthony Cunningham has done in his first year in charge.
Obviously, Damien Comer was a significant loss to the Tribesmen, but a forward division containing the likes of Ian Burke, Shane Walsh, and Michael Daly, should be capable of much more than producing just two points in a 43-minute second half.
Of course, Roscommon deserve the lion’s share credit for making Galway look so feeble up front, while displaying such resilience to dig themselves out of a five-point half-time hole to win with a swashbuckling second-half display. Like a dog and its owner, a football team often inherits the characterstics of their gaffer, and in Anthony Cunningham, the Rossies have found themselves a special one.
Having guided Galway’s U21s to an All-Ireland hurling title at the start of this decade, he took on their senior hurlers and led them to their first ever Leinster championship title and eventually to the All-Ireland final appearance in 2012. His pedigree as a hurling manager was solidified, but this season’s successful switch to inter-county football must mark him out as one of the most truly remarkable managers in this or any other era.
I find it fascinating that Cunningham can make the jump from hurling from Gaelic football without too much fuss, but McGuinness gets buried for being ballsy enough to step outside the safety blanket of the GAA and take on the soccer world. Switching lanes from inter-county hurling to Gaelic football is every bit as seismic as going from Gaelic football to professional soccer.
Somehow, one is viewed as an honest to goodness GAA man only doing his best for his adopted county, and the other guy is seen as a self-anointed guru who got his inevitable comeuppance in Charlotte after getting too big for his boots. I suppose it’s a question of perspective, which all depends on the lens through which you view any situation.
For me, I see similarities between Jim McGuinness and Anthony Cunningham; trailblazers of sorts. Both have displayed huge courage to step into somewhat of the unknown and accept a challenge they really didn’t need to take on.
Would it not have been easier for McGuinness to tip away with Sky Sports and the rest of the media work and keep living off that Donegal success? Or for Cunningham to not bother jeopardising his managerial legacy?
There are commonalities of course, but tactically, the games are night and day. I have huge respect for anybody with the cojones to take on a managerial role at any level. It’s a different level of pressure when it’s your name above the door, let alone when that door opens up into another sport entirely.
U2’s Bono once told a story; “In the US, you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on top of the hill, and you think, ‘you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion’. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, ‘one day, I’m going to get that bastard’.”
Whether McGuinness rises or falls again in the future, there is a real glory in having the bravery and belief to at least have a go. Fearlessness is a common personality trait of the few clawing their way up the hill to get to the mansion, while too many cowards stay standing at the bottom only hoping for them to fall back down.