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Conor McKeon: 'It shouldn't come as a surprise that Gavin kept Dublin exit a secret until now, even if the signs were there all along'

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Jim Gavin with Jack McCaffrey. Photo: Sportsfile

Jim Gavin with Jack McCaffrey. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Jim Gavin with Jack McCaffrey. Photo: Sportsfile

The distinction of being the last journalist to interview Jim Gavin as Dublin manager fell to Sharon Lynch of RTÉ News at an event hosted yesterday by the Irish Aviation Authority as part of their Christmas 2019 drone safety campaign.

"Drones are not like any other toy," Gavin, an assistant director at the IAA warned.

"They can have very serious consequences if they collide with a person, an animal, an aircraft or many other objects.

"Therefore, if you do get a drone this Christmas, you need to know the rules so that you can fly it safely."

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Ballybough local kids, Louis Shevlin, Billy Reid and Alfie Burke passing a mural of Dublin football manager Jim Gavin who announced his retirement.
Pic:Mark Condren
30.11.2019

Ballybough local kids, Louis Shevlin, Billy Reid and Alfie Burke passing a mural of Dublin football manager Jim Gavin who announced his retirement. Pic:Mark Condren 30.11.2019

Ballybough local kids, Louis Shevlin, Billy Reid and Alfie Burke passing a mural of Dublin football manager Jim Gavin who announced his retirement. Pic:Mark Condren 30.11.2019

When asked about his profession in interviews, Gavin has always expressed his "passion for aviation safety," and he was as polished and forthright speaking about drones as he has been for the past seven years responding to questions about the Dublin football team.

At the beginning of this month, a flurry of newspaper stories attempted to solve the growing mystery around Gavin’s managerial future, which, despite reports and near universal presumption, hadn’t been confirmed either by him or the Dublin county board in the 11 weeks since the All-Ireland final replay.

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin with selector Declan Darcy, left, and Jason Sherlock, right, forwards coach, after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin manager Jim Gavin with selector Declan Darcy, left, and Jason Sherlock, right, forwards coach, after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Dublin manager Jim Gavin with selector Declan Darcy, left, and Jason Sherlock, right, forwards coach, after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Most were triggered by talk that clubs in Dublin had been contacted by members of Gavin’s management team to enquire about potential recruits for next year’s O’Byrne Cup.

They had.

And it stood to reason that no manager would begin preparations for another season he wasn't going to be around for.

"He hasn't indicated that he's going," Dublin chairman Seán Shanley told the Irish Independent in what was considered an effective confirmation.

"The way he's inquiring and talking about fixtures for the league and that, I'd say he is definitely staying on."

At the IAA event yesterday, Lynch also asked Gavin about his future with Dublin.

"We've been visiting all the schools and clubs and it's been a fantastic experience," he said.

"We're looking forward to it and we've got eight weeks to go to the National Football League."

***

There are few places in Croke Park where you can escape the colour and emotion of All-Ireland final day but the post-match media interview room under the Hogan Stand is one of them.

Everyone in that boxy, atmosphere vacuum on September 14 agreed that there had been something strikingly different about Jim Gavin's demeanour that day.

You can't do seven years of post-match press conferences without some recurring trends being detected.

With Jim Gavin, there was plenty of them.

The deliberately evasive language. The use of the phrase 'soft tissue injury' to describe any and all ailments that might have struck one of his players.

The unwillingness to discuss the preceding game on any analytical level.

These were the stock answers Gavin went to in such situations.

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Killian Spillane of Kerry scores his side's first goal despite the efforts of Brian Howard of Dublin during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Killian Spillane of Kerry scores his side's first goal despite the efforts of Brian Howard of Dublin during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Killian Spillane of Kerry scores his side's first goal despite the efforts of Brian Howard of Dublin during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

And yet here, after guiding Dublin to a fifth All-Ireland in a row, Gavin relayed an anecdote about Stephen Cluxton and his reaction to conceding a goal nobody expected him to save in the drawn game two weeks previous.

"I saw it the day after the (drawn game), him spending two hours on the pitch with Evan Comerford and Michael Shiels from Sylvester’s, the goalkeeping coach," he recalled.

"The three of them working on trying to rectify his positioning for Killian Spillane’s goal in the first game. He had a bloody laptop, trying to replay in slow motion what way his feet and positioning were."

This from a man who, sitting in the same seat in his press conference after the 2013 All-Ireland final, observed that Dublin were already behind the other contenders for the 2014 All-Ireland in their preparation by dint of having played all the way to mid-September.

At the end of his last press conference press conference, Gavin was asked whether the achievement of five-in-a-row had a feeling of finality about it.

"I can't say it does for me," he said.

"I haven't had those conversations (with backroom support) yet for obvious reasons. I will over the next couple of weeks and then scope it out," he said.

"You sit down with the county board and you always review it.

"I have a profession outside of this role I've been asked to do for Dublin and I have family commitment too. It all goes into the mix. But it's not the time (to talk about it).

"I have committed to next year so we'll reflect on it."

***

The first indication that this year felt a little different to the others was the brief furore over Jason Sherlock’s role in the Dublin management team back in early February.

Sherlock, who has been Dublin's attacking coach since 2015, hadn’t been at the squad's training sessions in the earliest weeks of the season and wasn't part of the match-day management team for either of their first two League matches against Monaghan and Galway.

Duly, a story in the Irish Daily Mirror indicating that he had either left, or been cut from, Gavin’s backroom ran the day before the team played Kerry in Tralee.

A couple of hours before throw-in, word darted around Dublin that Sherlock was, in fact, on the team bus, a story confirmed by RTÉ’s cameras upon its arrival in Austin Stack park and the 1995 All-Ireland winner disembarked.

Sherlock later admitted that he was conscious the documentary about his sporting life that aired last December "mightn't fit with what Dublin expected."

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Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin with forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 3 match between Tyrone and Dublin at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin with forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 3 match between Tyrone and Dublin at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin with forwards coach Jason Sherlock during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final Group 2 Phase 3 match between Tyrone and Dublin at Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

But Gavin later denied that there had been any issue between the two.

The ensuing League campaign was remarkable only for the fact that Dublin failed to make the competition's final for the first time in Gavin's reign.

Given what was at stake later in the year, most eyelids went un-batted at Dublin's inconsistency through spring.

Then there was the pursuit of Diarmuid Connolly, despite his initial unwillingness to come back into the squad, and the subsequent faith invested in the St Vincent’s man by way of significant game time in the All-Ireland final and replay.

It became an open secret that the saga hadn't sat well with everyone else in the squad.

Former players who had been part of Gavin’s earliest years and successes all noted how uncharacteristic it was of him – and what a deviation it had been from his ethos – to persist in attempting to bring Connolly back into the squad after his intended summer in Boston was scuppered only by a visa technicality.

How, some asked, could Gavin preach the principles of dedication and commitment at the start of another year after making such allowances for a player who had initially declined to make that commitment?

It bore all the hallmarks of a manager throwing every available resource, utilising every single player with any potential contribution to make, at winning one more, history-making All-Ireland title, regardless of the consequences.

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Diarmuid Connolly, right, and Jonny Cooper of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Diarmuid Connolly, right, and Jonny Cooper of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Diarmuid Connolly, right, and Jonny Cooper of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

On the Monday after the All-Ireland final replay, when Connolly came on as a substitute at half-time, Declan Darcy explained the situation from a different angle.

"I think first and foremost it was really important for us, the care of Diarmuid," he outlined.

"Things weren't going really well for him probably outside of football and I think he needed football, he needed structure and whatever about whether he was to function within our group or not, to bring him back into the group was the right thing to do.”

And in sport, all's well that ends well.

***

So why now?

Maybe it was the commitment, the ‘real life’ influences of a time-consuming job and a young family.

In seasons past, Gavin has had to persuade Darcy, his most trusted and longest-serving managerial ally, to devote another year of his life to Dublin football.

Maybe he, or Sherlock or Paul Clarke or Shane O’Hanlon or some combination of the above, decided they had given as much as they could possibly give, and Gavin decided they'd either go on as a group or not at all.

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Bernard Brogan

Bernard Brogan

SPORTSFILE

Bernard Brogan

Or maybe, like Alexander the Great, Gavin simply surveyed the GAA landscape and realised he had no more kingdoms left to conquer.

There was no doubt that lots of aspects about the fifth All-Ireland in a row felt different.

A project, one with deep historic significance, had been completed.

If Gavin was staying on, the likelihood was it would be a new undertaking, with a medium-to-long term timescale and significant changes, rather than simply attempting to stretch Dublin's run of All-Irelands from five to six with much the same group.

Despite the expectation of a raft of retirements, only Bernard Brogan and Eoghan O'Gara have left, fuelling a feeling of continuity.

And if his visibility since the All-Ireland final was noted for its contrast to previous years, Gavin had kept largely schtum to those in his tightly-knitted circle.

On the way into that All-Ireland final replay press conference, a member of his backroom enquired if their work was now done.

Gavin simply laughed and told him they’d talk in due course.

There were, however subtle signs in recent weeks.

It has become something of an urban myth that there are no pictures of Gavin holding Sam Maguire as Dublin manager.

There are. But not many.

Mostly, that’s because he has avoided having himself pictured with the cup, preferring his players to perform that duty.

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Dublin manager, Jim Gavin waves to the supporters at the homecoming. Picture: Damien Eagers

Dublin manager, Jim Gavin waves to the supporters at the homecoming. Picture: Damien Eagers

Damien Eagers / INM

Dublin manager, Jim Gavin waves to the supporters at the homecoming. Picture: Damien Eagers

Last Tuesday in the Shelbourne Hotel at a fundraiser for the team, Sam Maguire made an early exit to another event in Clontarf.

After the formalities had concluded and Gavin mingled, he stood in for photos with various guests but noticed the absence of Sam and requested it be returned to the Shelbourne.

He had one taken with Damien Dempsey, who has been a regular performer for the squad under Gavin in recent years, and the actor Colm Meaney alongside the cup he won six times in seven years as Dublin manager.

Then last Saturday at a night in St Jude’s to honour Kevin McManamon’s achievement in winning a seventh All-Ireland medal, Gavin turned up at around 10 o’clock, straight from another function and surprised the attendees with anecdotes and stories from his playing days, praise for McManamon and rich advice for coaches in the room.

Such was his relaxed, effusive demeanour, he was the talk of the club the following morning and all through the week.

People who were in the packed clubhouse that night saw a different Jim Gavin from the intensely-guarded character he cut in interviews.

That guard was down.

The real Jim; easy-going and highly-personable, had revealed himself.

But everyone, including the Dublin players who were only informed of his decision this morning at a meeting, assumed the managerial facade would be re-erected in the New Year, when Gavin would preside over the first team to go in pursuit of a sixth All-Ireland title in a row.

If there is shock at the decision or its timing, there is none about the manner in which it became public knowledge.

The county board statement revealing the news this morning contained no quote from the outgoing manager himself.

He is as unlikely to pop up as a pundit on The Sunday Game in the near future as he is to take up a role as a columnist in any newspaper.

Due to his military background, Gavin has always placed a high value on confidentiality in all aspects of his management of the Dublin football team.

It shouldn't come as any sort of surprise that he managed to keep his biggest decision a secret until the moment it was publicly revealed, even if the signs were there all along.

Online Editors


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