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jim'll fix it After a seven-year itch Jim McGuinness may be tempted by Down challenge


Down time? Derry City U-19 coach Jim McGuinness before the EA Sports U19 Enda McGuill Cup Final against Bohemians in August. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Down time? Derry City U-19 coach Jim McGuinness before the EA Sports U19 Enda McGuill Cup Final against Bohemians in August. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Down time? Derry City U-19 coach Jim McGuinness before the EA Sports U19 Enda McGuill Cup Final against Bohemians in August. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

In 2018 the prospect of a return to inter-county management for Jim McGuinness was floated when he was linked to the Mayo management job that wasn’t even vacant at that stage. The basis of the speculation was that if Stephen Rochford wasn’t to continue, McGuinness would top the list of those who Mayo would want to succeed him.

That vacancy did arise a few weeks later when Rochford stepped down after three years in charge but Mayo and McGuinness never materialised, McGuinness distancing himself from interest in it shortly afterwards just as cold water was poured over suggestions he had delivered a talk to the Mayo team in Limerick in advance of their 2016 All-Ireland final with Dublin.

He’s had his name linked to a couple of managerial jobs with League of Ireland soccer clubs too, Galway United in 2018 and Dundalk earlier this year when both he and Dundalk’s sporting director Jim Magilton had “conversations” before the job eventually went to a previous incumbent, Vinny Perth.

One team he did have a direct involvement with was the Galway footballers prior to the resumption of the 2020 season when a training session he was overseeing in Tuam was filmed from an adjacent house.

Naturally, it prompted some speculation that he would be part of their set-up for the imminent championship but his involvement was brief.

“I’m a good friend of Pádraic (Joyce), we spent a couple of years together down in Tralee. He’s a really good fella, he’s a really good football guy. We’ve always stayed in contact. He asked me to come down and do a session. I was delighted to do that for him, and that really was it. I’ve been in and out with Donegal any chance I’ve had as well,” McGuinness would later tell Sky Sports’ ‘Inside The Line.’

In the last couple of seasons he has also been a regular ‘guest’ coach to Naomh Máirtín in Monasterboice, a club that has taken the last two senior titles in Louth.

It’s a measure of his status in a game that these links and stories still travel far and carry this weight in a game that he has effectively left seven years now though his TV and newspaper commitments do keep his hand in.

The latest link to a McGuinness return to county football is with Down, reports suggesting a team of Conor Laverty, the outgoing U-20 manager, and Martin Clarke, who assisted that U-20 team in a coaching capacity as they won an Ulster title in July, is close to being appointed.

Laverty and Clarke would be an ambitious managerial axis for their native county in their own right, two of the classiest forwards Down has produced in recent times. In 2020 Laverty teamed up as a coach with Seamus McEnaney in Monaghan and was considered progressive in his coaching.

But even now it’s hard to see McGuinness being fully immersed in an inter-county job with them, if they are to take it on, in anything more than a remote capacity, or advisory role.

That said, McGuinness’s soccer ambitions may not be as locked on as they once were. He’s chased it hard for seven years but more doors appear to be shutting than opening up and at 49, time isn’t on his side on any more.

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If he were to make an inter-county return in a more meaningful capacity, his native Donegal or even somewhere like Galway where, despite their indifferent form in late 2020 and 2021, a lot of potential still exists are surely more likely ports of call.

McGuinness has made no secret of his desire to ‘crack’ soccer, having built up experience on three different continents since 2012 when he made an audacious move to Celtic.

Back in Ireland since 2020, an involvement with Derry City U-19s has filled that gap as he pursues other opportunities. But those opportunities appear few and are far between now.

Down have been without a manager since Paddy Tally departed less than two weeks after their Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal, one of only two current vacancies in football.

They’ve been active in their search but it was always likely to come back to Laverty and Clarke after their summer progress with the U-20s when they had former Meath manager Seán Boylan in tow. Persuading McGuinness to get involved would be an extraordinary coup, as much as it would be against the grain of the path he has been on. But according to the local grapevine, the lack of opportunity in soccer could see him form an unlikely alliance with Down.

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