Monday 9 December 2019

Ciaran Whelan: 'It will be tough for anyone to follow Jim Gavin - but there is a natural candidate to give it a go'

Jim Gavin stepped down as Dublin manager after leading the team to six All-Ireland titles in seven seasons. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Jim Gavin stepped down as Dublin manager after leading the team to six All-Ireland titles in seven seasons. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Ciaran Whelan

Like most people on Saturday afternoon, it’s fair to say that I was shocked when news filtered through of Jim Gavin stepping down as Dublin manager.

His decision to finish up and the manner in which the news was relayed was in keeping with how he conducted himself since taking over from Pat Gilroy in the winter of 2012.

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It was totally understated and perhaps devoid of emotion but that is how Jim always approached matters as he brought untold joy to football followers across the county.

Ultimately, that will be his legacy as he played a pivotal role in putting a smile on the faces of so many people and as legacies go, you couldn’t wish for much more.

Of course, history will be very kind to him, and rightly so, as he delivered six All-Ireland titles in seven years, a record that will prove hugely difficult to match and by putting such strong structures in place, he has left a model that should stand the test of time.

Naturally, the media found him a frustrating figure for much of his time in charge as he refused to offer much in terms of soundbites and he managed all communications in almost a military manner.

As a result, he came across as quite a dour figure in terms of his public persona but having known him quite well as a teammate, he was a very different person to what is the common perception.

He was great craic around the place and is very good humoured but it appears he made a conscious decision to leave that side of his personality in the background once he became senior manager.

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I suppose the turning point for Jim came back in 2003 when he got involved with the Dublin Under-21 team alongside then senior manager Tommy Lyons and Declan Darcy.

It may not have felt it at the time but that All-Ireland victory in 2003 against Tyrone was hugely significant as Dublin were not used to winning titles at any age group and alongside Darcy, it was the start of their coaching journey that would bring untold riches to the county.

Two U21 All-Ireland titles arrived in 2010 and 2012. It was scant surprise when he was promoted to the senior role when Gilroy stepped down after Dublin’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Mayo in 2012.

When taking the baton from his former Dublin colleague, Gavin inherited a panel that had already fostered that winning culture from 2011 and were hungry for further success.

There was a nice blend of experience provided by senior players such as Stephen Cluxton, Cian O’Sullivan, Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan and the youthful promise and spark of lads such as Paul Mannion, Ciarán Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey.

It was evident from the outset that Gavin was more than happy to let the players express themselves on the pitch, in contrast to his more defensively-focussed predecessor and that decision was rewarded with some swashbuckling performances in the league and championship.

Beating Mayo in the 2013 final gave him the licence to continue in a similar vein but twelve months later, the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal was the significant turning point in his management life.

As unpalatable as that defeat was at the time, it made Gavin realise that his team had to have a defensive structure in place as he couldn’t stand over a team and allow them to suffer a sucker-punch like they did against Donegal.

That loss ended up being the making of the current Dublin team as they embarked on a run that would see them collect five All-Ireland crowns on the bounce and place themselves in the record books for posterity.

You have to remember that it wasn’t all plain sailing and they have had serious tests along the way when you consider some of their nerve-jangling matches with Mayo and this year’s drawn game with Kerry.

Those games showed that Dublin possessed not only the skill and flair that they have become renowned for but also a character and resilience that Jim Gavin instilled in his players.

In addition to those qualities, Jim also brought a humility to everyone involved with the panel and that culture of passing the jersey on in contrast to players owning the jersey help bring a level–headedness to the players and ensured they never got carried away with all their success.

That attitude will serve the new manager well, whomever that may be, but it’s fair to say that the new incumbent will have massive shoes to fill.

Dessie Farrell seems like the natural candidate and his credentials in terms of the excellent work done with Dublin minor and Under-21 teams in addition to his knowledge of and familiarity with a large number of players is an obvious advantage in terms of consistency.

Pat Gilroy would be another option but it may not suit him due to his work commitments or maybe a combination of the two might work but either way, I’m not sure that the list of potential candidates is too long.

It will be a huge task trying to emulate what Jim has achieved and that just highlights what a brilliant job he has done and he deserves every plaudit that comes his way, such was his influence over seven success-filled years in charge.

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