Sunday 4 December 2016

Jim Gavin sets a record in Dublin's title surge

Six trophies from seven puts him ahead of pack

Published 28/04/2015 | 02:30

Jim Gavin's record as Dublin manager has been outstanding since he took over from Pat Gilroy (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)
Jim Gavin's record as Dublin manager has been outstanding since he took over from Pat Gilroy (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE)

Jim Gavin has broken new records for a manager at the halfway point of his third season, surpassing even such famous figures as Mick O'Dwyer, Brian Cody, Kevin Heffernan and Mickey Harte.

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Dublin's treble Allianz League triumph, accompanied by a double Leinster success and an All-Ireland win in 2013, gives him a six-from-seven return of major prizes. The exception is last year's All-Ireland championship.

O'Dwyer and Heffernan had each won one All-Ireland, two provincials and one league up to this stage of their third season; Cody's haul was one All-Ireland and two Leinster titles, while Harte had steered Tyrone to one All-Ireland, one Ulster and one league crown.

Domination

Dublin have won 29, drawn three and lost six of 38 league and championship games under Gavin. That's precisely the number of games in one season in the English Premier League so, on a comparative rating, Dublin have taken 90 points under Gavin.

That would have been enough to win the last eight Premier League titles. It provides an interesting context for Gavin's stewardship so far which, as well as including the All-Ireland win and continued Leinster domination, has taken Dublin into historic territory with three successive Division 1 titles.

While playing down the importance of the league has long been the trend among winners and losers, the fact remains that it takes real stability to win one title, let alone the treble.

Dublin have lost only five of 27 league games over three seasons, a consistency level which is rarely achieved. Four of the defeats were against Cork (twice), Tyrone and Derry, setbacks they later redressed in the semi-finals and finals. In the case of Cork and Derry, Dublin didn't just avenge the losses, they severely punished the startled opposition.

This year's league success is probably the best of the three for Dublin. Gavin targeted the 2013 league as an early priority for the new regime and they put down a solid early base last year, which sustained them later on when they lost two games. However, they had an indifferent start this year, picking up only three of a possible eight points which left them in seventh place after Round 4, with only Derry behind them.

Also, two of their remaining three games were 'away'. It presented Dublin with a genuine challenge, but their response was impressive, winning against Mayo, Derry and Monaghan.

They followed up with a second win over Monaghan in the semi-final and a thrashing of Cork last Sunday.

Some others - including Mayo and Cork - had a greater need to win the league this year but once Dublin settled down around mid-March they were the best team in the group.

Gavin has refused to engage in speculation on whether Dublin are better placed now than a year ago.

"We have never, ever, referenced the past with this football team. We stay in the present and look just slightly beyond the hedge at what's ahead of us, " he said on Sunday.

Now, while that may be the general principle, it's difficult to believe that the defeat by Donegal last August hasn't informed at least part of the strategy for this season. Even allowing for the fact that Dublin had enough chances to have a place in the final all but totally secured after 30 minutes, they had to reflect on what happened subsequently, not least the concession of 3-14.

It drew criticisms of their defensive set-up, in particular the failure to block the channels and limit the damage before re-booting their own system. It's fair to assume that if Dublin encounter a similar challenge this year, they will be much better prepared for it.

While Gavin wasn't inclined to indulge in comparisons with last year, he knows that one area of similarity over which he has no control concerns the view among Dublin supporters.

Retaining the league for a third successive year in such spectacular circumstances will again power up the hype bandwagon. And with no obvious signs that Dublin will encounter any great scares in the Leinster Championship, they will head into August on a tidal wave of blue euphoria. Already backed down to 6/4 for the All-Ireland and 1/6 for the Leinster title, Dublin's odds make it difficult for the squad to avoid getting sucked into the optimism vortex.

Gavin and his cohorts will do everything possible to prevent that from happening but it won't be easy, especially after last Sunday's triumph against a Cork side that's still ranked fifth favourites to win the All-Ireland.

Of course, that's all in the future and, for now, Dublin can enjoy the fruits of a season which has shaped up much better than looked likely after they took three points from their first four league games.

The injury to Eoghan O'Gara, which rules him out for the summer, is about the only setback and with so many alternatives to choose from, it's not as serious as would have been the case if Dublin lost a top attacker some years ago.

"Today just marks the finish of our second phase, the first phase being the pre-season tournament (Dublin won the O'Byrne Cup too) and we've given players a chance. One or two players have taken the opportunity and are really pushing hard for a place in the championship 21.

"It's a good way to finish this phase of our campaign for the year. We have learned a lot, some things have worked for us, some haven't," said Gavin.

It's a process which leaves Dublin looking very comfortable as they plan ahead for their Leinster Championship opener against Longford or Offaly on May 31.

Irish Independent

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