Jason McGuinness: 'Stephen Kenny handed me my debut against UCD - I made my debut with my best friend, Gareth Cooney'

Sun, Mar 31 2019

Jason McGuinness Credit: Jason O'Callaghan (ETPhotos)

Perceived wisdom suggests against returning to a former club, but with silverware to prove otherwise, Jason McGuinness not only did the aforementioned twice, but did so with Dublin's biggest rivals.

Following a youth career with Tolka Rovers, Sheriff Y.C. and Bohemians, Jason debuted in the Gypsies’ first team and Republic of Ireland under-21s within five days of each other in August 2002.

“I played for Bohs at under-18s and grew up not too far from Dalymount, so I would be really familiar with the club and had taken a liking to them,” said McGuinness when extratime.ie caught up with the current Shelbourne assistant manager recently to reflect on his career beginning with his time at Bohs.

“I did a course and was training with the first team, which was great. Stephen Kenny gave me my first contract and then handed me my debut against UCD. It was a great day because I made my debut with my best friend, Gareth Cooney. The both of us came on at the same time.

"Previous to that, I had played in a League of Ireland selection team that went up to Ballybofey to play against Celtic. I did well in the game, scored and Don Givens and Billy Young were in the crowd. They drafted me into the under-21s because John O'Shea had gone into the senior team, so there was an opening at centre-half. It was a proud moment for me and my family.”

With playing time restricted, the young defender spent two seasons at Shamrock Rovers before returning to Dalymount Park in 2006. This second stint coincided with back-to-back Premier Division titles and aSetanta Sports Cup success.

However, an infamous incident involving McGuinness and Sligo Rovers’ Benin international Romuald Boco in 2009, saw the Dubliner suspended for using rascist abuse, struggle for form and not get selected for the League of Ireland Cup final win over Waterford United.

“It really disrupted me. It was a massive mistake and has been well documented. It's not something I want to go into too deeply, but it really affected me at the time. I'll put my hand up and say I made an honest error, got punished for it and moved on. It was one of those things. I was young and foolish.”

2010 will be remembered for Bohemians relinquishing the league on goal difference to Shamrock Rovers, but it was also a year when they failed to advance in Europe past unfancied Welsh outfit The New Saints.

“We played Rhyl from the Welsh league before that and won convincingly. I don't think we underestimated TNS, as they were a good team. They had just got a new chairman, who was putting a lot of money into the club, so they were signing a lot of really good players from League One.

"We got what we deserved because they beat us well and outplayed us. They put us to the test and it just goes to show that if you take anyone lightly in football, you get punished for it and that's what happened.”

At the end of that season, Bohemians were unable to offer their players new contracts because of financial troubles. “It was a great club. The way they were running it, with Pat Fenlon as manager, who is one of the top professionals you will ever work with. You wouldn't want to leave, but with that there was a price to pay. 

“When Bohs went into financial difficulties, I had a few options. I went up to Derry and spoke to Stephen Kenny, but going to Sligo with my family, including our one-year old girl, was a better fit for me. I met Paul Cook, who showed me around the club and town, so it was a great opportunity.”

During his two years at the Showgrounds, Jason won the FAI Cup and Premier Division, but then re-joined Shamrock Rovers for a second time, in 2013. “Rovers had become a completely different club then. I looked at it from a professional point of view.

"The first time I was with them, they were in trouble, but when I went back, they had Tallaght Stadium up and going, fantastic crowds and fine people running it in the background ... It was a no-brainer.

"Also, getting back to Dublin after two years in Sligo, meant we could put our daughter into school there and set up camp. Shamrock Rovers are one of the greatest teams in the country, so I don't have any regrets going back there.”

A Setanta Sports Cup and EA Sports cup wins in McGuinness’ first season back with the Hoops preceded a two-year stay at St Patrick's Athletic, where he contributed to 2015’s EA Sports Cup victory. Then retirement arrived in 2017 after turning out for his final club, Cliftonville.

Subsequently, he became Dave Mackey's assistant manager at Bray Wanderers early last year, a post Jason vacated a mere two months in.

“There was my work as FAI Assistant Coordinator and some things weren't going right at Bray … Promises made and not kept. I thought it was best to step away because it was getting messy and just wasn't for me at the time. Looking back, I think I made the right decision. I look to have things right and if they're not, it's hard to work in those conditions. It didn't suit me, my work, so it was time to step aside.”

In addition to being a first-team coach at Shelbourne, McGuinness concludes by explaining what's involved in his other current position, as FAI Assistant Coordinator.

“It's really set up for lads coming back from England, with no education and looking to rebuild their careers. We also get lads that aren't too sure what they want after leaving school. We provide them with an opportunity to get educated and maybe look at some colleges.

"They get full-time training and pay, so it's a great opportunity for young lads to take a year out after school. Harry Kenny, who’s now St Patrick's Athletic manager, used to be involved and some of the players who’ve come through, include Matt Doherty, a current Irish international.”