Review of Until Victory Always

December 15th, 2015
by Weeshie Fogarty

I have just finished reading former Donegal football manager Jim McGuiness's memoir, Until Victory Always. It's a powerful book, emotional, revealing and indeed at times infuriating because throughout the readers can pick up on the persecution complex of the author which stands him apart from most others. Jim McGuiness is a very complex character, I have always been fascinated by him, he is different to all other managers I have known and I base my observations having met him on a few occasions. First when he played Sigerson Cup football here in Kerry with Tralee ITT and also I spoke to him on a few occasions following league games with Kerry. Having read the book I now understand far more about the man and the family tragedy's that touched his life and made him the person he is.

The total honesty of the man is for me the most revealing aspect of the book especially dealing with the personal and football crises which touched his life. The whole story is woven around the Donegal GAA events of the years 2011-2014, winning and losing All Ireland finals, and in between there are lots of boyhood memories and especial how he struggled with his journey through adult education, which took him to postgraduate level. Pity he did not deal with his time in Tralee ITT.  But of course for Kerry people it is particular interesting as he deals in a very honest and emotional manner with the defeat in last years All Ireland football final.

The heart stopping closing moments of that game and the managers feelings are exposed in the most brutally honest and fascinating detail and while he always gives the impression of a man, cool, calm and collected on the side line his emotions especially as the game entered its final stages and the aftermath are plain and glaring as he writes.

"So it is sometime after five o clock in the evening now on the 21st September 2014 and there are 84,000 people in Croke Park and Lord knows how many watching on television around the world. And the boys work the ball up under the Cusack stand. It is in the square and it is loose, and Colm is diving for it. And then a moment comes when I am standing in Croke Park on my own. The stadium falls away. There is no crowd. There is no All Ireland final. That second felt like an hour. Everything-your football life, all those decades, can be compressed into that second. Colm is my brother-in-law and my former team mate. He was stretching for a goal and I felt very far removed from it for that second". 

And then the manager goes on to describes his most innermost feelings in the most candid and sincere manner imaginable, as he says.. "I don't want the goal", he writes, "I didn't want it because it would have felt shallow. Nothing we stood for was in our performance; we would have been sneaking something out of it. Kerry deserved it because they came with a plan and made it happen. Colm dives and he is stretching and he bats the ball with his right hand, it hits the post. The Kerry players scramble the ball clear and the whistle goes. Over". He walks onto the pitch, Eamon Fitzmaurice walked over to him hand extended and McGuiness says to Eamon: "Youse did more than us in the game, so fair play to you, enjoy the week". 

Jim was the youngest of five children and grew up in a council house in Glenties, his brother Charles died suddenly in 1985, it turned out that he had an enlarged heart and nobody knew of this. He was consumed by grief and describes how he became totally obsessed by football determined to get on the Donegal minor team which he felt would keep him close to his dead brother. He trained continuously on his own winter and summer. "The wind and rain were like a protection", he recalled. "a disguise because you know the whole town is hunkered away indoors; this is where I got to be with Charles".

McGuiness also experienced terrible tragedy in 1998 when his brother Mark, affectionately known as "Giant", was driving Jim to Dublin airport and the car was hit by a lorry. Mark was killed and the account of the crash is moving, graphic and heartbreaking, as Jim begged Mark not to die. The shock was "just a huge wave pounding down and down on me. My brother. My best friend. Giant. I was fragile and I was broken from that moment. I will have that vulnerability inside me until the day I die."  What hit him most of all was the fact that before the crash he had asked his brother to change places saying he would drive the remainder of the journey. "It should have been me that died, not Mark", he says.

The book bring you behind the scenes of the Donegal team in their quest to win the All-Ireland, the demands Jim made on them, the savage training, the planning for the games and the hours of video analysis he did especially before the Dublin All Ireland semi-final last year when the Donegal victory stunned the football world. But he was never in any doubt and he tells how all the players had money on the game, backing themselves against the so called unbeatable Dublin team. It's fascinating stuff.

McGuiness took over as manager of the Donegal senior football team in the summer of 2010. When he stepped down just over four years later, the same group of players had won three Ulster championships, the All-Ireland title of 2012 and succeeded in overturning a century-old perception of how Gaelic football should be played.  McGuiness also has a strong worded cut at the county board who he felt sabotaged Donegal's 2013 season when they chose to go ahead with club championship fixtures during the summer. Because of injuries picked up in club matches felt the odds were stacked against him: "To my mind, there were people on the county board who wanted me to fail, and if that meant that the Donegal team failed in the process, so be it." Until Victory Always won the Bord Gais Energy Sports book Of The year 2014, and it's very easy to understand why. I for one found it a brilliant read. 

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