Saturday 25 November 2017

Comment: Jim Gavin has concluded that he needs to say little and keep saying it

Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

FOR a time, Tommy Lyons was one of the most-loved characters in the GAA.

Dublin manager for three seasons from 2002, he was open and charming with the media. He made everyone's jobs a little easier by coining phrases such as 'arseboxing', comparing the gig to that of managing Manchester United, and saying after a Leinster final win over Kildare; "Ah sure. We'll get drunk."

Pure box-office. But in the years after reaching the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final, he failed to win a Leinster title or offer any progress. He became a target for the media who still had to write about Tommy, poor Tommy who wasn't winning anymore.

Jim Gavin was one of his most senior players. He observed the process from within. He was also a selector with Lyons when Dublin won the under-21 All-Ireland in 2003.

When Pat Gilroy became Dublin senior manager, he met with the media and discussed their needs, before coming up with a novel suggestion - the red-eye media briefing held at 8am.

Gilroy was and is a busy man with business interests. He couldn't afford to interrupt crucial meetings to answer the mobile and engage in casual chat about injuries and his views on the latest rule changes. 

Nowadays, this is standard practise across the GAA. The chances of getting players and managers outside these media 'opportunities' are getting less likely.

For the Dublin senior football team, as their current manager Jim Gavin likes to refer to them as, it is impossible, unless they are promoting a corporate partner. In his four seasons in charge, he has only sat down for a single one-to-one, and that was for the former Irish Government pilot to promote the Bray Air Show last month, where he was flying a Boeing Stearman E75.

The only time he grew comfortable talking was when discussing the aircraft.

"It’s a robust aircraft, solid performance, beautiful lines," he oozed.

"The interesting thing about it is that it was built in 1944 and the wings are made from Canadian spruce that was planted in the 1880s. Lloyd Stearman designed aircraft in the 1920s and ’30s to service postal routes. When World War II came along, they were looking for aircraft that were robust enough to use in the primary training of fighter pilots for the US military effort."

He went on to say so much more, all good stuff. Engaging and entertaining.

The rest of the time, Gavin is sterile and rather likes it that way. He leaves interviews enquiries in the hands of Seamus McCormack, a flying colleague, who details their press briefings at the Gibson Hotel for '0800 hours.'

While Tommy Lyons once encouraged his players to 'embrace the hype', Gavin takes hype and shoves its' head into a bucket of cold water. For him, it's all about the players.

Ask him about, say, Championship structures, and he will politely refuse to comment until the season is over.

On Sunday last, he was asked his impressions of All-Ireland final opponents Mayo and their win over Tipperary.

"Didn't see it," he answered.

"I was focused on the Kerry challenge. I had absolutely no business but to be focussed on the game today."

Somewhere along the way, the military strategist part of Gavin has concluded that he needs to say little and keep saying it.

Last Sunday after beating Kerry in an epic, he sat in the post-match briefing looking for all the world a man contemplating the greater mysteries. He spoke for eleven and a half minutes, but there was barely a hook to hang a story on.

The celebrated journalist Paul Kimmage - who is certainly one who has earned his stripes for asking awkward questions, put it to Gavin that, "You look almost pleased." It was part-question, but he also tried to get Gavin out of his comfort zone, to maybe lighten the mood a little.

But this is the same Jim Gavin who said immediately after winning the 2013 All-Ireland title that they were "already behind" other teams in the race for Sam in 2014.

He answered Kimmage; "To demonstrate that level of control, for me, is the most satisfying thing. To play against such a great team like Kerry and for them to ask so many questions of the team and for them to demonstrate that level of control for the full game, that is the satisfying thing from the management group’s perspective."

Boilerplate, nothing to do with me Guv, answers. Giving the glory entirely to the players. But when asked to name any one player that stood out for him, he refused, instead talking about the "strength of the group."

In a top-table or group discussion, Jim Gavin hides his personality and his emotions like no other manager we have seen in Gaelic Games. His Inner Chimp knows who's boss. 

As a result, Dublin are living through their most successful period ever in Gaelic football. He has set a template for all future managers.

Everyone else is just playing catch-up. j

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