Cahair O’Kane: Jimmy, like Jurgen, is brave enough to change football again

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has changed football once before - can he do it again? Picture: Mark Marlow
Donegal manager Jim McGuinness has changed football once before - can he do it again? Picture: Mark Marlow

GLASSES removed, staring straight down the lens, Jurgen Klopp delivered the news that no Liverpool fan wanted to comprehend.

Truth be told, no football fan wanted it.

Klopp was the find of the century.

His footballing philosophy was one thing, but the way his personality meshed with the people of the city he’d inherited was a dynamic so rarely found.

The success he brought helped but the understanding he had of the people of Liverpool was the quality that really endeared him.

“A great human being, a great personality and a great humanitarian” was how Hillsborough campaigner Margaret Aspinall described him when he was awarded the freedom of the city two years ago.

There was a stage about 18 months ago when he began to look tired, as though his time was nearing its end, but he bounced back. Reshaped his team, rediscovered himself, go again.

Pep Guardiola built tiki-taka. Klopp was the man responsible for the dents put in it.

English football… nay, sport itself can scarcely afford to lose him.

It’s one thing to be bold in your approach but that undersells how technically brilliant Liverpool’s tactical approach has been.

Gegenpressing is so much more than just running around chasing the ball.

A lot off their back, average coaches have come to understand the concept of pressing triggers. Find the weak spot and go after it, hard.

“There is nothing worse for the opposition than when you play super counter-pressing, and many times it’s only about five metres forward,” said his assistant Pep Ljinders in his book, Intensity: Inside Liverpool FC.

Jurgen Klopp announced last week that he will step down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season. Picture: PA
Jurgen Klopp announced last week that he will step down as Liverpool manager at the end of the season. Picture: PA (Martin Rickett/PA)

We are always aping professional sports in the GAA. It was only a matter of time before somebody decided to try out what Donegal have been doing in January.

Jim McGuinness hasn’t redrawn the wheel the way he did in 2011. To go chasing the ball high up the pitch is to look back in time as much as forward, for that was always how it was until the 25 years.

There’s something about the reticence of others to attempt it that indicates a bit of a sheep mentality among inter-county managers.

Everyone else is dropping back, we’ll do that too so.

It’s safe and it’s pragmatic and it’s sensible but none of it disturbs the world order.

Dublin and Kerry still ended up in the All-Ireland final last year.

The closest anyone came was when Derry exposed themselves to the country in Croke Park, leaving 60 yards of space for the one man you don’t want to leave 60 yards of space for. In the end they paid but most people expected them to pay anyway, just in a different way.

But boldness has crept into the thinking.

You watch Spurs and sometimes you wonder how they’ve won as many games as they have under Ange Postecoglou.

They’ve been absolutely brilliant but every time you see them, you’re just waiting for that one ball in behind a back four glued that’s to the halfway line to end it all.

They probably won’t win the league but having lost Harry Kane, they weren’t even in the top four conversation at the start of it. And it’s all down to the bravery of their approach.

We’ve all been intrigued to see what McGuinness would bring in his return to Donegal.

With Klopp-esque levels of charisma, he has brought a county to life.

The deep understanding of his own people is central to it. Not just county, but club. Naomh Conaill, operating with his old Windows 7 system, have been the best club team in Donegal by a distance, but the county has never been able to maximise that. Not through fault, but McGuinness’s intimate relationship with the Glenties players is sure to help.

It’s easy to scoff at a brief career in soccer management that didn’t go particularly well but when it comes to going back in with Donegal, it’s about what ideas can migrate across.

I don’t believe Donegal will go to Celtic Park in April with a high press from day one.

It feels more like an experiment to ready them for the inevitable day comes that they’re five points down in a game with 20 minutes to go and need to rescue it. The league is a launchpad for some ideas and a graveyard for others. Some of what Donegal did on Sunday against Cork was really impressive and really brave.

With three minutes gone in Ballybofey on Sunday, Cork had the ball in their own full-back line.

Donegal had six players pushed up inside the Cork 45′.

Twenty-five seconds later, when Donegal won the ball back just outside it, they still had six players inside the Cork 45′.

The norm in that situation, particularly once the ball has gone back to the goalkeeper, is for the defending team to take their leave.

They’ll turn on their heels and start heading back towards their own goal, setting up a deeper defensive position.

The first time they dropped off a Cork kickout, even against the gale force wind, was after Patrick McBrearty had rattled home his 55th minute goal to make it 1-18 to 0-11.

Cork were poor. They scored just six points to go with two goals that both came against the run of play.

But on both occasions, Donegal were high up the pitch. On the first, Ruairi Deane broke one tackle 40 yards out and the goal opened up for him.

The second goal came when Eoghan Ban Gallagher’s loose pass fell the way of Deane and he launched it 70 yards without a glance, knowing instinctively that Donegal would be open. Brendan McCole misread the bounce and Chris Óg Jones tapped into an empty net.

Making sure the reward outweighs the risk is the hard bit.

We saw in Tralee that Derry got punished for one loose pass (with possibly an illegal hand on the shoulder of Brendan Rogers) when Odhran Lynch was out of his goal. It’s not the first time Derry have been caught out like that but the rewards they’ve had from having 15 players in their attack has consistently outweighed it.

Yet in last year’s Ulster final, Armagh brought a serious high press on the Oak Leafers. There’s no doubt that game is informing McGuinness’s thinking here.

It was one of the toughest games Derry have had in the last two years. Their usually slick running game struggled to function because of the sheer pressure Armagh were putting on the ball coming out.

In 2011, we all wondered how effective the defensive stuff could really be. Ultimately you still have to score, we all thought.

But by the following summer, they’d done enough to cover both ends of a curve that they’d redrawn themselves.

It feels more like this high pressing start is something to have in their locker rather than Plan A.

You hope not, though. The idea of them persisting with it, being successful with it, dragging a few sheep along with them and transforming the mindset of coaching is really tantalising.

Jimmy, like Jurgen, has the mentality and skillset to make it happen.