Sunday 16 December 2018

Comment: Jim Gavin doesn't need to provide final whistle jigs or artificial soundbites to show his class

Jim Gavin addresses Dublin fans and (inset) with Mayo's Lee Keegan after the 2017 All Ireland final
Jim Gavin addresses Dublin fans and (inset) with Mayo's Lee Keegan after the 2017 All Ireland final
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

If you enjoy reading articles where the hook is that pundit X has blasted/slammed/eviscerated player or manager Y, then you probably got much more literary pleasure from perusing publications after the All-Ireland football final rather than following the hurling equivalent.

Galway's ending of a 29-year-wait for Liam MacCarthy at the expense of Waterford, a county starved of All-Ireland success since 1959, sparked the sort of pure emotion that epitomises what most people love about sport.

You had Joe Canning poignantly standing with Tony Keady's daughter during the trophy presentation, and a few days later we were treated to Michéal Donoghue greeting his father Miko with the Liam MacCarthy cup, in a photo that will be remembered for as long as that game is spoken about.

It was the feel-good final.

The fallout to Dublin vs Mayo was significantly different.

Firstly, the cynical scenes that marred the end of the football decider were rightly criticised as detracting from one of the finest finals we've seen.

Then, however, attention shifted to Jim Gavin and his team, with some media members showing a preternatural ability to compile thorough and apparently unimpeachable psychological profiles of both manager and players: Beneath the humble, one-game-at-time facade lurks an arrogance and an aloofness that will prevent Dublin from ever being truly loved.

One vocal critic was Sunday Independent journalist Paul Kimmage, who in a column and radio appearance on Newstalk, was particularly scathing of Gavin's reaction to winning the game.

The Dublin manager's reluctance to share even a morsel of insight at press conferences has produced eye-rolls for his entire tenure, but Kimmage felt that Gavin had crossed a line after beating Mayo, allegedly showing a 'lack of empathy' for the westerners.

Gavin's delay in arriving at the press conference auditorium was characterised by Kimmage as showing disrespect for the media. It subsequently emerged that one reason for his tardiness was that the Dublin team and their manager were meeting 12-year-old Anton Campbell, a Derry fan with Down's Syndrome, in the dressing room.

In another personal criticism, Kimmage read a lot into Gavin's response to an opening question when he did meet the press:

Journalist: How's the heart?

JG: Fine, how's yours?

Kimmage branded Gavin's response as 'hostile' while many people on social media drew similarly stark conclusions when a clip emerged of Gavin at the final whistle.

Gavin is the most unique manager Irish sport has ever seen - and not just because he has amassed trophies at an unprecedented rate.

In the sporting field, Irish people are known to be furiously passionate and emotional, almost to a fault. With Gavin, we've never seen a manager so stoic and poker-faced on the sideline in the face of such high drama, excitement and achievement.

The clip of Jim Gavin wildly celebrating Dublin's three in-a-row by removing his ear-piece was hilarious in how Jim Gavin-esque it was and despite what many people said, it was actually quite telling.

Rather than see the moment as a symbol of Gavin's detached demeanor in the heat of battle, a strength which his players have regularly shown by not panicking when behind late on in games, his lack of fist-pumping and celebratory grinning was thrown up as a character defect and almost as a sign of mental imbalance.

Instead of rushing to judge a man by an answer at an artificial press event or his lack of a final whistle jig, people would be better served in watching Gavin address an audience at his local club, Round Towers Clondalkin, a few weeks later.

The speech shows a warm, engaging Gavin give due deference to the defeated Mayo while he also shares details of his personal life, including the role his parents played in shaping the man he became.

Similarly, while the ear-piece clip was rigorously scrutinised, not many people noticed than when the camera cut to Gavin as Dean Rock lined up the match-winning free, he was staring at the ground in what could easily be interpreted as a human example of Gavin, for once, exhibiting signs of nervoursness.

He isn't immune to making mistakes as Dublin manager, and the way he played down his side's cynicism in the final moments of the final can be questioned, but those insightful few minutes among close friends in Round Towers go a long way to rubbishing the descriptions of his character and attitude that followed his latest All-Ireland final triumph, most of which was based on people affixing meaning to Gavin's body language and unpunctuality.

The Dublin players came in for similarly robust criticism - some of it fair, some of it not.

Off-the-field gestures shouldn't excuse on-pitch misdeeds, and charity work done by Dublin players or the nice dressing room gesture with the Derry fan shouldn't - and didn't - spare them criticism when it is justified, like when some Mayo players were pulled to ground in the dying moments of the final.

But for Eamon Dunphy to tar the group as arrogant, conceited dullards based on an alleged encounter or two was grossly unfair.

Dunphy made a slew of remarks on 2FM's Game On where he said the Dublin team 'really fancy themselves'.

"They fancy themselves a bit more than they should do, I've met some of those Dublin players," he said.

"They are acting like superstars, like Tiger Woods.

"I won't name them but there are a few of the Dublin players who really fancy themselves. They don't give candid interviews.

"I met a Dublin player recently and this guy thinks he's Lionel Messi and Messi would have a bit more charm. It's unbelievable.

"I just thought, 'You big-headed pr**k'. It didn't bother me.

"I love Gaelic sport and I admire what Dublin have done but being admired and respected is one thing. They will never be loved, this team. I don't think."

Is it possible that one or two members of a large and successful squad are a bit too fond of themselves? Possibly.

But to say the team will 'never be loved' based on a handful of alleged encounters is as spurious as saying Gavin is joyless because he doesn't jump up and down on the sideline.

It is fair to criticise Gavin for sideline errors or the Dublin players for how they sealed the 2017 All-Ireland, but personal attacks based on body language and press conference demeanor shines more of a light on the person criticising than it does on the intended recipient.

There was a bigger story here. A team of champions, record breakers who secured three-in-a-row All Ireland titles, led by one of the greatest managers Ireland has ever produced.

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