Saturday 24 March 2018

Alan Brogan: Jim Gavin believes by being a better person you will be a better player

‘We have seen Dublin win games where Diarmuid Connolly has been a peripheral figure’. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
‘We have seen Dublin win games where Diarmuid Connolly has been a peripheral figure’. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Alan Brogan

A lot has been made recently of the language that Jim Gavin and some of his players have used in interviews. The process is a term that keeps coming from the Dublin camp. People are talking as if it is some sort of magic spell Jim puts his players under to go out to perform and win matches.

But behind it all its meaning is really quite simple - it is the actions and roles the players are asked to fulfil in order to deliver a performance that will win football matches. It is the psychology of focusing on the actions rather than the results. If the correct actions are carried out to a certain level, the result will look after itself.

Indeed, Jim very rarely mentions the result, final scores, winning or losing because he knows these terms can lead to pressure building on players and adversely affect performance. The process is a mindset to forget about what has happened in the past, and only focus on the next ball, the next play, the next tackle, the next run you need to make, not to burden your mind with the point you just scored or the wide you kicked or the turnover you conceded. It is a concept that has been around high-performing sports teams for a long time.

Jim is a student of his sport and I'm sure he has studied many other sports, picking the bits he can apply to our own game. He encourages his players to express themselves once they have their team duties fulfilled. The team is always before the individual.

All great sports teams are like this. Dublin have a number of players who can do extraordinary things: most notably Diarmuid Connolly whose outrageous talent we are all aware of. However, Dublin are not reliant on Diarmuid's talent or anybody's talent to win games for them. We have seen Dublin win games where Diarmuid has been a peripheral figure, unlike in years gone by when Ciarán Whelan or Bernard Brogan being nullified meant you were a long way towards beating the Dubs.

Indeed, in the mid-2000s, coming into an All-Ireland semi-final, then Kerry manager Jack O'Connor said that if you stopped me scoring, you'd stop Dublin. Whether that was true or not is irrelevant in my eyes but the perception was that Dublin were over-reliant on certain individuals. This is not the case today.

Since day one, Jim has never built the team around any individuals. The game plan is most important and Jim wants players who can fit into a game plan and perform the tasks they are asked to do. If one guy gets injured, there is another to slot in who knows exactly what's required of him. There are no blurred lines. Task-focused rather than results-focused, the result will always look after itself.

I recently read a book about the great All Blacks team and I'm sure this is a template that many managers have borrowed. The senior All Black players like Richie McCaw preach a culture of humility; one example of this is to always "sweep the sheds" - clean a dressing room after you use it. It's a very basic thought but one which keeps players grounded and humble. No job is above these guys and they never expect somebody to clean their dressing room after them. Groundsmen all over Ireland will thank me if this catches on.

Another simple philosophy is "no dickheads"; by this they mean players or individuals who put the culture of the team in jeopardy will not be tolerated. The book is called Legacy and it contains many other great principles of the All Blacks. It is well worth a read and the lessons can be applied to all walks of life - sport or business.

Whilst not quite in the same bracket of internationally renowned sportsmen like Dan Carter and Co, this current Dublin side, by accident or design, possess many of the qualities that it takes to turn a group of highly talented individuals into a special team. Jim Gavin, bit by bit, has moulded this team and one of the things he spoke about in his first meeting with the players back in December 2012 was culture and humility.

I don't agree with everything Jim has done, but I can't find fault with his belief that by being a better person you will be a better player.

The most obvious example of this in my eyes is Philly McMahon. Born in the heart of Ballymun, an area with many social problems involving crime, drugs and unemployment, Philly has often been the centre of controversy on the field, but his work in Ballymun and in raising awareness around issues very close to his heart, and indeed his family, is a credit to him and to everybody who played a small part in his upbringing in Ballymun.

Philly is a tough competitor as I'm sure many inter-county and club footballers in Dublin can testify to, but he is an inspiring fella on and off the field and a credit to his family and home town. His willingness to use his profile as a Dublin footballer to help others is wonderful to see.

Spending so much time around intercounty set-ups in your 20s means players are really exposed to the culture in that particular squad. The culture is the job of the management team to foster and nurture.

Jim Gavin and his management team have done a great job in ensuring the culture is healthy and positive so players can express themselves to the best of their abilities. Players are not afraid to speak about their own or the team's weaknesses; indeed they are viewed as areas for development, not weaknesses.

I see many of the same traits in the Mayo team they face next Sunday. They basically ousted their management team last year having reached an All-Ireland semi-final. You can agree or disagree with that but believe me it takes remarkable courage and leadership to see that through. Under Stephen Rochford, despite losing to Galway, I can see a new willingness to learn, to sacrifice for the greater good, and a phenomenal work ethic. I think we will see a shrewder, more mature Mayo next Sunday than the version we have seen in recent years. Their talismanic duo, Aidan O'Shea and Andy Moran, are leading by example and the win against Tyrone will again elevate the sense of camaraderie and togetherness in the group.

Croke Park on All-Ireland final day is a place for the mentally tough. There is no hiding place in games of such magnitude, there will be ups and downs throughout and the team that responds best to these may go on to win.

Strange as it may seem, I'm sure neither Jim Gavin nor Stephen Rochford will focus much this week on the result, instead it will be about the process of getting your performance right and fulfilling those tasks that management have identified will be required to deliver a performance. This is how high-achieving teams now prepare for big games or competitions. The psychology and mindset of players and management this week is paramount, a lot more important than any training that will be done between now and next Sunday.

Saying that, and all things being equal, it may well require that moment of pure talent from a Connolly or an O'Connor to separate these two great teams. And at 5.30 next Sunday all that matters will be the result.

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