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Gavin: It'll be nip and tuck all the way

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Dublin's Jim Gavin in action against Kildare's Brian Lacey. Picture:Damien Eagers/Sportsfile.

Dublin's Jim Gavin in action against Kildare's Brian Lacey. Picture:Damien Eagers/Sportsfile.

Dublin's Jim Gavin in action against Kildare's Brian Lacey. Picture:Damien Eagers/Sportsfile.

JIM GAVIN'S last championship start for Dublin is not the type of swansong that will fill your retirement with warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia.

It was the Leinster final replay of 2000, a surreal contest, a dreamlike day for the Lilywhites and the stuff of Sky Blue nightmares.

"Thanks for bringing that up!" quips the Dublin manager, when the subject was raised at his team's media conference promoting next Sunday's Leinster SFC semi-final against ... well, who else, but Kildare.

"It certainly was a game of two halves. We started strong in the first half and went in with a five or six-point lead. Kildare came out and did very well. Dermot Earley dominated midfield that day – I distinctly remember that.

"I think Sunday is going to be no different," he continues, switching tack. "This game will be nip-and-tuck all the way and, no matter what team gets dominance, the other team has the potential to get back into the game. So, I think it makes for a great occasion."

For Gavin's own sanity, one hopes it is actually different than 2000 because even his shorthand synopsis glosses over the gory details of that shock-horror day for the Dubs. And maybe that's an intentional ploy, for Dublin fans (let alone players) hardly want to be reminded of how they played with swash and buckle for 35 minutes, built up a commanding 0-11 to 0-5 lead ... and then leaked two goals within two minutes of the restart, scored by Earley and Tadhg Fennin.

Equally galling was Dublin's response: they managed one solitary second-half point as Kildare, doubtless to their own relief and maybe even disbelief, coasted home to win by five points, 2-11 to 0-12.

Different times.

Kildare lost their subsequent All-Ireland semi-final to Galway and haven't won another Leinster title. In fact, they've only reached three finals in the interim, defeats to Dublin (in '02 and '09) sandwiching a loss to Laois in '03.

 

PAR

And Dublin? Well, amassing provincial titles has become par for the summer course: they ended a seven-year drought in '02 and have added seven of the last eight since 2005.

Gavin's Dublin days weren't quite over after that pre-qualifier, no-second-chance calamity of 2000; he had a couple of brief substitute appearances in the summer of '01 and '02 before retirement beckoned and his GAA career took a new coaching and ultimately management direction.

After five years in charge of the Dublin U21s, yielding a brace of All-Ireland titles, he has made a seamless step-up into the senior role. His maiden campaign was crowned by the capital's first league title in two decades.

Kildare have always loomed as his most likely provincial challenge and he has already faced them twice in pre-championship preambles – losing an O'Byrne Cup extra-time thriller in January before reversing that result in emphatic fashion (2-20 to 2-7) in a March league mismatch.

The two rivals' recent championship encounters have tended to be a whole lot closer – the '09 Leinster final was a high-quality thriller, while their semi-final of two years ago went down to the wire before a hotly disputed free awarded to and converted by Bernard Brogan claimed a controversial victory at the death.

Does that perceived injustice offer valuable motivation for the losers now?

"I couldn't speak for Kildare," Gavin counters. "All I know from the Dublin perspective, any of the games that have been played – the pre-season tournament or the National League – are firmly in the rear-view mirror. We're just focussed on the next game and the challenge that Kildare do pose for us.

"Certainly, from my experience of the Dublin team, those players don't hark back on previous games or use them as motivational tools. Each game we'll take on its merits and, from my close observation of the Dublin team, they're mentally tough and they're focused on the next game."

The counter-argument theory is that Dublin could have one eye on the bigger All-Ireland picture whereas this is potentially a more pivotal game for Kildare, such is their desperation for provincial validation.

 

EXPECTATION

"Eh," Gavin demurs, "the expectation in Dublin is always there, be it as a player, a coach or a manager. You probably get accustomed to that expectation.

"The same exists in Kildare – there is a high level of expectation in that county, it's got a fabulous tradition. In terms of the pressure, I'm in my first term with the squad. I've dealt with them for six months now, a lot of good work has been done ... but both teams will want to go out and win, regardless of previous form and previous titles that they have."

Finally, to paraphrase his last Dublin senior boss, Tommy Lyons, Gavin has now spent half a year immersed in the biggest managerial gig in town – what has he found the most challenging aspects?

"This (media) is probably the most demanding bit on my time, to be honest!" he said. "I had my finger on the pulse of senior football in Dublin, and the inter-county set-up as well, so I was acutely aware of the demands that were being placed on managers.

"I had a very enjoyable time for the five years I was under-21 manager, and the other year in 2003 as the coach, so I had myself prepared well for it. So, nothing has caught me by surprise yet."

Therein lies the challenge for Kildare.


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