Monday 16 September 2019

Alan Brogan: 'He doesn't shout and he doesn't bang tables - what a Jim Gavin half-time team-talk is really like'

Dublin manager Jim Gavin, right, and Dublin forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin, right, and Dublin forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

IS there a more quintessential GAA question than ‘what was said in the dressing room at half-time?’

Particularly after a match like the two we had at the weekend, when the second half takes such a pronounced turn so quickly after it starts.

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Unfortunately, the days of players being fired up by a rousing motivational speech or a tirade from an irate manager are gone.

I don’t know what Jim Gavin said at half-time on Saturday. But I know that Jim is a process-driven manager.

And in every match that I played for Dublin, the exact same thing happened at half-time, regardless of how the first half had played out.

The backs have a chat about the first half. The forwards have a chat about the first half.

Then the defensive coach, Declan Darcy, has a chat with the squad and delivers any key messages he feels they need.

And then Jason Sherlock does the same from an attacking perspective.

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Then Jim speaks.

He doesn’t raise his voice and he doesn’t bang tables.

People might throw their eyes up to heaven when Jim says this Dublin team is ‘player-led’ but I can testify to the fact that it is. And if Jim is happy with what the players have come up with between themselves and the coaches, he’ll let them at it for the second half.

That Dublin dressing-room has a lot of experience and they’re aware that being analytical is much more beneficial than being emotional.

Game plans are defined by individual performance indicators and if anyone’s - or the entire team’s - statistics are below what’s required for a strategy to work, they’ll be made fully aware of that before the dressing-room door is opened.

Mayo coped really well in the first half on Saturday. They kept Dublin to two points from play.

Almost all of their defensive match-ups were working. They generated huge energy from repelling Dublin’s running game and turning them over.

But you would have noticed that in the first half, Dublin barely kicked a ball into their forward line for the whole 38 minutes. And when they changed tack in the second half, Mayo couldn’t cope.

I don’t know whether it was Dublin’s new-found directness that Mayo couldn’t handle or the fact that they weren’t expecting it.

From the very start, Michael Darragh Macauley punched the throw-in over Ciarán Kilkenny and Colm Boyle  towards Dean Rock and Chris Barrett.

Was it a set play? I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s the level of detail Dublin go to.

And they’d have known that a score so early in the second half would knock some of the wind out of Mayo after their first-half performance, just as Brian Howard’s point at the stroke of half time took some of the gloss away from it.

From there, it was a massacre. Dublin pressed so high up the pitch on Robbie Hennelly’s kick-outs that they only had one man at the back. Their energy levels increased with each of the five kick-outs they won in that passage of play.

All of sudden, Brian Fenton was bombing on from deep, making an overlap.

Ciarán Kilkenny, who simply directed the flow of the Dublin attack in the first half, was kicking long ball.

And Con O’Callaghan was prodding and pushing to see if there was a goal on every time he got possession.

Dublin changed the way they moved the ball with the flick of a switch and Mayo, delighted with how they’d handled their running game plan to that point, had no idea how to react.

In the first half, they stuck with the Dublin runners, ushered them into traffic and stripped them of the ball.

Now, all of a sudden, Lee Keegan was being left with Con O’Callaghan in 20 square yards of space.

Paul Mannion took up positions in little pocks of green on either wing, both well within his scoring range and Brendan Harrison hadn’t a chance.

That’s a lonely, lonely existence for a defender.

Mannion’s last point was immaculately struck but he nearly toyed with Harrison, shaping to kick twice before soloing the ball each time and then smashing it over the bar.

In the first half, he’d have been swarmed by the time he executed the second dummy.

You have to concentrate so hard on your role when you’re playing Dublin that when your task changes suddenly, like it did with Mayo on Saturday, it’s hard to adapt.

Predominantly, Dublin have been a running team for the last couple of years but as they showed on Saturday, they can be devastatingly direct too when they decide it’s the most effective way to play.

And that brings out the best in Con and Mannion and Dean Rock.

Mayo probably fell into the trap of thinking they had it sussed at half-time.

And to be fair, it looked like they did in the first half.

The press on Robbie Hennelly’s kick-outs was just devastating.

That’s the difference between Stephen Cluxton and every other goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.

Some make more saves and some kick the ball further but I’ve never seen a goalkeeper come up with a guaranteed possession at an intensely pressurised time the way Stephen does.

Whether that’s everyone going narrow or everyone spreading out or someone sprinting into the corner, he always has an ‘out’ kick and he never fails to execute.

And that’s going to be the biggest test for Kerry in two weeks time.

They have pace and they have experience and they have talented forwards and they have all the underage medals and footballing tradition in the world.

But can they stop an early second-half goal becoming 1-3 or 1-4 in the blink of an eyelid?

Do they have the ability to ease the pressure when Dublin launch their power play?

Because nothing is surer than it’s coming at some stage on September 1.

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