Sunday 8 December 2019

Joe Brolly: 'Amidst all the eulogising, the mistake would be to think that Jim Gavin has retired. He has done nothing of the sort'

Joe Brolly Jim Gavin
Joe Brolly Jim Gavin
Jim Gavin. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

In November 2016, Conor Moore (aka Conor’s Sketches) decided to take the plunge into live comedy. The venue was The Mean Fiddler in New York. It was a disaster.

His nerve deserted him, the audience turned on him, and half way through, when they began booing and throwing ice cubes at him, he fled from the stage.

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His suffering had only begun.

He had agreed to do another gig five days later for the Dublin squad, off Times Square. He prepared religiously for it. He practised in front of the mirror until he was word perfect.

He honed his material. When he went onstage, the Dublin team were there along with about 80 members of the public. Although they didn’t hurl missiles at him, it was another disaster for the young mimic from Mullingar.

Cringing in the safety of his dressing room afterwards, he looked at himself in the mirror and said aloud: "Conor. You are never getting on the stage again. Never."

Conor Moore mimicking Phil Mickelson

At that, there was a knock at his door. When he opened it, he was surprised to see Jim Gavin standing in front of him.

"Conor, I just wanted to thank you for your performance tonight. We all found it extremely funny. Very enjoyable gig. We were wondering if you would mind getting a photo with the squad when you’re ready. The players would love that," he said.

Moore was stunned. He said he would be out in a minute. He got his things together, composed himself, went out and went over to Jim, who explained that the players had gone on, but he would love to get a picture with him.

They posed together for photographs and Jim told him he had a big future. After Jim left, Moore went back into the dressing room, looked at himself in the mirror and said, “Jesus Conor. Maybe you’re being a bit harsh on yourself. You have to give it another go.”

Wind forward two years, to the night after Dublin had beaten Tyrone in the 2018 final.

I was in the Palace Bar on Fleet Street with Conor, when to our delight, Jim Gavin arrived in followed by the Dublin team.

Jim came over and sat beside us, shook Conor's hand and congratulated him warmly on "all your great success."

Pints were ordered and as Kevin McManamon struck up on his guitar, Jim sat with us, smiling and soaking it all up.

Then, it was Moore’s turn to perform. He did Jim ("Leitrim are a great team. I know their keeper is only 14 but he is a marvellous footballer and very big for his age. We certainly won’t be taking them for granted.")

He did Bernard, he did me (which I didn’t see as he had borrowed my glasses), and sat down to a huge ovation.

"You’ve come a long way Conor," said Jim. Conor thanked him. After a few moments, he said, "Jim, do you remember the gig I did in New York a few years ago?"

"I do Conor, yeah."

"Can I ask you a question?"

"Go ahead."

"Did the players really want a photo with me?" Jim paused, broke into a smile, and said "No, but I thought you needed to hear that at the time."

The rest is history. Conor is a renowned performer now, contracted to NBC in America, performing all over the world, filming TV ads with Tiger Woods, lunching with Nick Faldo and Jose Mourinho and Rory McIlroy.

Most importantly, drinking pints with Jim Gavin. Moore regularly tells the story, and says that Jim’s act of generosity and empathy might well have saved his career.

Ballybough local kids, Louis Shevlin, Billy Reid and Alfie Burke passing a mural of Dublin football manager Jim Gavin who announced his retirement. Pic:Mark Condren 30.11.2019

In 2013, when Dublin had beaten Mayo by a point in a very tense final, I got a phone call from an unknown number.

"Joe, it’s Jim Gavin here. Dave Hickey gave me your number. We would like to do something to help your organ donation work. Would it be ok if we played our exhibition match this week for optforlife?"

Jim used to pilot the organ donation flights on a voluntary basis. The Dubs wore optforlife on their shirts and it was a terrific night in Parnell Park. Afterwards, I ate with the group and was struck at how grown up the atmosphere was.

Quiet satisfaction, with Jim taking a back seat, the boys with their feet on the ground. It is this culture that is the crucial component in their success.

Or rather, this culture provides the platform for them to succeed.

Brian Cody recently described it to me this way: "It is about a sense of who you are and what you stand for. It is about being part of something bigger than yourself. Loyalty, spirit, humility, on and off the field.

"It is about unity, all striving together for something that is hard to explain. Something that cannot be infected by money."

We see this with Dublin. Unlike the Kerry Golden Years team (eight All-Irelands in 11 years) or the Kilkenny team (11 All-Irelands in 15 years), they are not good enough to go out and destroy their main opposition.

Three times they have gone on to win All-Irelands after draws and replays. In 2013, they beat Mayo by a point. In 2014, Donegal ambushed them with a perfect counter-attacking display, beating them comprehensively. In 2015 they beat Kerry by three.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin after victory over Kerry

In 2016 and 2017, it was one point wins over Mayo, both games they could easily have lost, only surviving the drawn 2016 final after Mayo had scored two own goals. Last year was their only comfortable win, beating a very limited Tyrone.

This year, it was back to the cliff edge, beating Kerry after almost losing the first day.

What we see with this team on the field is reflective of their culture off it. They win tight games because of their unity, humility, loyalty and because they have a very strong sense of the community they represent.

Jim's altruism is kept quiet, and I will respect his desire for it to be kept private. I will only say that he has made an enormous contribution off the field to the lives of people less fortunate than he. This is something that has permeated the Dublin squad.

On Thursday, I spent a day with men who are taking part in an intensive 12-week programme in Ballybough, in Dublin’s north inner-city.

The programme helps men of all ages with addiction, accommodation, isolation, health, fitness, cooking and nutrition. It was the last day, and the transformation has been stunning.

Some of the Dublin players have been key contributors, with the Dublin County Board throwing its weight behind it in all sorts of ways.

I would name them, but they asked me not to. Life first. Football second. Humility in everything.

Amidst all the eulogising, the mistake would be to think that Jim Gavin has retired. He has done nothing of the sort. He will continue to make a far more important contribution off the field than he ever did on it.

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