How Tír Chonaill hit new heights

Ask Brian McEniff if a Jim McGuinness-style contract would have worked 10 years ago and he digests the question.

“It’s possible, but who’s to say (it would have worked)? Jim required that, he had qualifications in sports science and psychology, so he felt it was a good thing to sign up to. It has worked very well for him.”

That confidentiality agreement signed by all of Donegal’s players at the start of last season and the new faces (even Cork’s Conor McManus) this year would have had strict rules on alcohol. Why else would Adrian Hanlon have been dropped from the panel for disciplinary reasons last year?

In Australia last November, one player told this writer that he had not drank any alcohol for six months earlier that year. McGuinness has everyone buying into his way. Such conditions as signing agreements were necessary. Trust had to be earned.

He had been that soldier, that player propped up against the bar after games. But he had seen the light. It had to be his way.

“He’s got a bunch of lads there that are realising their potential but weren’t realising it before he took them over,” says McEniff.

Donegal for so many years had been the Keith Moon of Gaelic football — oozing class but ultimately finding their time cut short by excess.

Shortly after Mickey Moran discovered the over-exuberance of youth in 2002, his successor McEniff realised it wasn’t going to be a once-off.

In 2003, he bumped Kevin Cassidy off the panel for a breach of discipline before doing the same to Eamon McGee and Brian McLaughlin for similar incidents a year later.

“They were college students at the time,” the Bundoran man says of the panel. “At one stage, we had 28 lads in the squad and 18 were third level students. They were in colleges from Belfast to Dublin to Maynooth, to Galway and Sligo provided a lot of them. It was difficult to manage them in that respect.

“In Sligo, a lot of them won two Sigerson medals, which was unheard of in that college before. So there was potential there but Jim has brought it to such a huge level.”

Going back to the 1960s, McEniff can remember Donegal players always being able to enjoy themselves.

But it got to him when the mud began to stick and stories about their famed drinking exploits were exaggerated.

“I was very upset because there was a lot more made out of it than was factual. They were students and no doubt they did party. But nothing like what was alleged.

“Third level students are third level students; I reared 10 children myself so I know what they’re like, especially when they get to go to college. They were always a good set of lads, very likeable. They were always very talented. But they were going through a stage of life when it wasn’t easy to contain them.

“Before myself, Mickey Moran left because of a situation after the drawn match with Dublin after 2002. He was very upset with what took place and I’d have had ups and downs with them and had disciplinary issues with some lads.

“Brian McIver came in and he’d have had difficulties. I don’t know if John Joe (Doherty) had difficulties but I’m sure he had.”

Doherty, McGuinness’s predecessor, did indeed having omitted Neil Gallagher and Ciarán Bonner from the panel in 2009. It took somebody of the older players’ own drinking generation to steer them off that long beaten path to nowhere.

McEniff, in fact, attempted to bring McGuinness on board as his coach in 2005 but he was completing his masters in sports psychology in Liverpool at the time.

Five years later, he eventually got the manager’s position at the third time of asking and the only man to lead Donegal to All-Ireland success has been grateful for his appointment ever since.

“Colm McFadden is a brother-of-law of Jim’s and what he’s done with that fella this year has to be seen to be believed. He always had the skills but he’s worked so well under Jim. Jim has brought in a new level to Donegal football. It’s very professional. His time is very valuable so there is no point in him putting so much in if it’s going to cost him.”

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