Monday 21 October 2019

Personal tragedies drove McGuinness to great triumphs

'Until Victory Always - A Memoir'
'Until Victory Always - A Memoir'

Alan Aherne: Book review

What makes a sports book stand apart from the vast majority of run-of-the-mill offerings that land on the bookshelves around this time of year with high hopes of making a few shillings on the Christmas market?

The somewhat stark, but unarguable, reality is a bit of human tragedy because readers tend to empathise with this more than anything else.

In this regard, 'Until Victory Always - A Memoir' is out on its own because its subject, Jim McGuinness, endured two unbearably painful losses in his personal life before he became the manager with the midas touch by guiding Donegal to a first All-Ireland Senior football title for 20 years in 2012.

McGuinness was about to embrace his teenage years when his brother, Charles, died suddenly and unexpectedly from an undetected heart condition.

And the family was dealt another incredibly cruel blow in 1998 when a second brother, Mark, was killed in a traffic accident. That was particularly traumatic for Jim as the collision with an out of control lorry occurred while he was being driven by his sibling to the airport.

Only minutes earlier he had offered to swap seats and go behind the wheel himself, a stark reminder of the sheer randomness of life's major events and the fragile nature of our existence.

The tragic death occured six years after Jim had won an All-Ireland Senior medal as a teenage unused substitute with his beloved Donegal.

His dream of representing the county had been inspired by Charles, and a comment made by one of his brother's friends shortly after his death to the effect that the late McGuinness would have definitely been picked as a county Minor.

There and then Jim vowed to do just that to honour Charles' memory, and he was true to his word. And selection at that level started a long association with Donegal which carried on all the way up to last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry.

The book rattles along at a brisk pace, moving chronologically from 2011 to 2014 but looking back regularly along the way at those seminal moments from the past which shaped the subject's life.

The ghost writer, Keith Duggan of 'The Irish Times', is in my humble opinion the best sports writer of his generation, and as a fellow Donegal man he also brings considerable local knowledge to the task.

It will be recalled that McGuinness dropped Kevin Cassidy from the squad for 2012 after the long-serving defender contributed to a book written by journalist Declan Bogue.

The manager felt he was left with no option as all of his squad had signed a confidentiality agreement, and he wasn't happy seeing details of happenings within the camp in print.

In that regard, there's a certain irony in the fact that McGuinness divulges a lot more himself in this book. I guess he sees it differently as he is no longer part of the group, but it did cause me to chuckle nonetheless given the furore that surrounded Cassidy at the time.

McGuinness is now father to five young children after the arrival of twins in 2013, and he is a valued member of the Celtic Football Club staff in Glasgow.

His book is a compelling account of the life of one of the most fascinating figures to achieve success both on and off the G.A.A. fields. Read it and you won't be disappointed.

Visit The Book Centre on Wexford's Main Street for the very best selection of sports books.

Wexford People

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