Monday 14 October 2019

A sense of an ending as Dubliners ponder life after history

Gavin and Cluxton may leave but team’s legacy of success will linger for a lifetime

Stephen Cluxton makes a crucial save in the second half from Stephen O’Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Cluxton makes a crucial save in the second half from Stephen O’Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

So this is what the end of history sounds like. A dressing-room, falling eerily quiet.

The wordless silence. The merest glance between lifelong friends, for that is all it takes.

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The acknowledgement now, and for ever, that they are truly part of something special. And that they made the journey with each other. They've got everything now.

"It's just an incredible feeling," says Dean Rock, one of those who has taken every step. "That's why we train, that's what gets us through the long, dark winters."

Like a warm cocoon, they never want to leave here. For when they do, the feelings leave with them and are gone on the wind.

"They're the moments you really treasure," says Jim Gavin, "because you won't be back there again."

"All the sacrifices," adds Rock. "Makes it all worth it. It's just an incredible feeling. You're playing with your best friends, guys you've grown up with, and developed significant bonds with it. So they're special moments, unique moments."

After the inner solitude of reflective, momentary stillness, the explosion of noise, as tumultuous as that which thundered down from the stands once the clock ticked from 69:59 into 70:00; a five-point lead, five minutes left. Five alive-oh.

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"There's a trophy in the middle of the floor," smiles Rock; John Small is the mobile phone DJ. "And then you're dancing and singing after the quiet time. Incredible stuff."

"They're special moments," reflects Philly McMahon, who has known life and loss and all in between.

Beside us, in the tunnel, children in wheelchairs are meeting their heroes; McMahon knows it is the other way around.

"We'll really look back on all this with fondness. You can't take it for granted.

"You come out and see all these kids with all their problems and that grounds you. There are plenty of people who are sick or struggling, who need a bit of happiness."

So this is what the end of history looks like. A never-ending thing.

Jim Gavin greets Saturday morning like so many others; the Hermitage in Ballyboden, where his son Jude plays, a sea of activity, as the greatest manager in football history takes his place alongside the other mentors and parents.

History can wait, forever perhaps; for after all it is only created in the present. By being.

From the dawning of the day to its ending, another father and son. Jimmy Gavin slips into the auditorium as Jim Jnr delivers what seems like a valedictory salute to all who have helped along the way.

Privileged

His phone rings; son eyes father and smiles; they leave us arm in arm.

"You're just in a privileged position to work with players that are so dedicated to their sport," he says.

"I have it easy. Club managers have it difficult sending texts around to training. Inter-county managers don't do that.

"People turn up and you have a full complement for every training. You're excited today and excited to look on the horizon but that's probably for another day, I'm not going to get into it now.

"I'll sit down with the county board and obviously review it. I've a profession outside of this role that I've been asked to do for Dublin GAA. And then obviously I've family commitments as well. It all goes into the mix."

But in the mix for six? It seems very doubtful; including his U-21 tenure, he has spent ten years at the coalface. What is left?

His victory salute at full-time betrayed the sign of a punctuation mark; there is only one Everest and now that he has pinned his flag there, the final debt he can pay to his beloved Dublin is to make them see they don't need him any more.

For if the edifice he has created should immediately crumble, it would undermine the very sense of the collective he has sought to inspire.

For sure, there will be such a deep breath following this triumph that, perhaps, a hiatus may be inevitable next summer. But the legacy will endure for all of time.

"Jim is a great leader," says McMahon. "His cause is for Dublin GAA not for Jim Gavin. I'm sure he has everything in place if he ever did step away, it would be passed down to the next man. No different from us passing down to the next player."

There is an elegiac element to the reflections of the night and day after.

"It's a funny dynamic," notes Rock.

"There are so many talented players coming through and you'd hope we've set a standard for them. Success doesn't last forever.

"There are some guys out there who are just incredible players and you won't see them ever. I'm sure there will be barren spells. It's just about reflecting well now and enjoying the moment.

"Jim is just an incredible man. I've worked with him since 2009. The amount of work and effort he puts in is phenomenal.

"He sets the standards and the players try to go above and beyond. He puts the structures in place. He oversees everything. We have the responsibility and trust to bring it on and we have players who can lead and be tactically aware.

"The template is there, you need to keep evolving all the time. The values and culture is strong and you're trying to leave the jersey in a better place when you leave it. There's no long-term success in just relying on one or two people."

Stephen Cluxton, too, parades as if taking his leave from the faithful. Others, Brogan, O'Gara, McMahon, Macauley, remain undecided.

"I don't know," says McMahon. "It's up to the management who make the choices whether they need your experience. I had two years away from it really when I had added stress away from the sport. This year, although I didn't play as much, my head was in a much better place than it was before.

"If you think you can go again, you go again. But I'm sure there'll be a few changes."

Where will history end?

"You have to respect it," says McMahon. "People are going to talk about it. It's funny. Sometimes people will come up to you and say 'five in a row!' And you're wondering is it a question? How do you respond to it? We haven't been saying lies when we said we couldn't have been looking ahead. Because we couldn't afford to slip up.

"Now we can say we've done it. And nobody can take that away from us."

"Every street you walked down you'd hear it," smiles Michael Darragh Macauley. "FIVE!" It was as much an exhortation as it was a demand as it was a despairing plea.

"It's gone now," he adds, simply, just as the fifth lamp is lit up the road from the big blue house. "It's done. Relief is the main feeling."

Rock reminds us that not every player won five in a row; hence the focus on the collective, so mocked by many. "It's not fair for them if we're blabbing on about it."

So this is what the end of history feels like. A living, breathing thing. A manager and goalkeeper may go but this team will push on. They will all meet again, for the homecoming and, later, the medal presentations.

"It's the last time we'll be together," says Gavin. "Being able to reach out and connect with each other, just us and the management team and backroom together.

"So they are special times and I can without hesitation remember each and every one of the probably six times we've been with them after an All-Ireland final.

"They are special moments. Looking forward to it."

His last time? Who can say.

As the songs we sing tell us, Dublin keeps on changing and nothing stays the same.

Irish Independent

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