In 2016, Rhyl Football Club announced that Niall McGuinness would take over as first team manager of the club. Niall steered the club to safety that season, keeping them in the Welsh Premier League and becoming the youngest top flight manager in Europe in the process, at just 24 years old. Five years later, we talked to Niall about his journey in football so far.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you found a love for coaching at such a young age?
I started playing at quite a young age. My dad took me to a local football club when I was five years old and I just loved it. I was obsessed with it from a young age.
I played locally until I was about nine and then I went to Chester City Centre of Excellence, where I spent 12 months. Then, at ten years old I signed for Wrexham AFC Academy and was there until I was fifteen years old, before dropping back into local football.
I think I lost the passion for it after that for a bit. When you’re in an academy environment, it’s quite tough mentally, I think, to drop out of a set-up where you’re looked after and you’re playing at a high level. So, to go to park pitches was tough mentally and also physically because I was very small as a player. At sixteen, I still couldn’t compete as I had gone into a men’s environment, but was still tiny. It was a great experience to try but I just wasn’t ready so I fell out of love with the game for a while.
I started playing again at twenty years old but had a decision to make because I was running the academy at Rhyl FC at the time. I felt like I had to commit to one or the other. So I stopped playing at twenty one, which coincided with me pursuing my coaching career.
You became the youngest top flight manager in Europe at 24 years old. Can you tell us about that experience?
It was brilliant to be fair. I couldn’t believe I was given that opportunity. Obviously, the publicity side of it came with it and when you’re that age, I’d say you sort of enjoy it. It sounds a bit daft but when the limelight is on you and people are asking for interviews etc, you do embrace it. It was a great experience though and it’s one I probably won’t go through again and a lot of people never will go through so, as I say, I had to sort of embrace that side of it.
Going into the job, there were a number of high profile players in the squad that I inherited who had played Football League and even in the Premiership I think. Some of the decisions I made, I look back now and think I would do completely differently, but you learn so much from those experiences.
I don’t think I could ever have those 18 months again now, in terms of what I learnt and how it has helped me move forward as a manager now. So, even though people say I wasn’t successful in the job, as a manager myself, I think I was in terms of what I personally gained from the experience.
I was always confident, even at 24. I was confident that I was good at coaching and I knew what I was doing and how to set teams out and I’ve never really felt pressure in that way. Whenever I’ve gone into a team, I’ve said I don’t expect your respect straightaway but I know that I’ll 100% earn it.
People always ask, how did you manage the older players? They take care of themselves I think, because of the mould they’ve been through. They were probably easier to work with because they understand the game more. It was probably the younger ones that are actually harder to deal with in terms of modern day football because times have changed. In Wales, they come out of academies that are really well structured, so they get given a very good platform. And then they expect to just make the jump but that’s not always the case. So, as coaches we need to look into how to educate players in terms of that.
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