Tuesday 24 April 2018

Gavin's decorated Dubs still ravenous for glory

Dublin boss Jim Gavin starts yesterday’s press conference with a cup of tea at the Gibson Hotel. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Dublin boss Jim Gavin starts yesterday’s press conference with a cup of tea at the Gibson Hotel. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Sam Wheeler

Listening to Jim Gavin, you'd think he was preparing for a time-travelling showdown with Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry team of the 1970s/'80s, rather than a Leinster final in which Dublin are 1/14 to complete an unprecedented provincial seven-in-a-row.

The Dublin manager's words would have you believing that Sunday's match is the biggest game of his players' lives, against the mightiest foes, with the grandest prize at stake.

It's not just the words; it's his tone, his body language, his eyes. He clearly believes it himself. There is no hint of insincerity, no suggestion that he is going through the manager-speak motions - which is perhaps why you never see his Dublin teams going through the motions in games that to the rest of the nation are foregone conclusions.

The message drummed home is that there will be no let-up in the Dubs' hunger, regardless of the circumstances. Any suggestion to the contrary is dismissed, albeit with disarming politeness.


Dublin are going for a 12th title in 13 years? "I've felt those barren years being in the Dublin dressing-room as a player - we didn't win the title from 1995 to 2002 - and that's why you can take nothing for granted; these things can come in cycles."

His team have won their last 11 Leinster championship matches by double-digit margins? "One point or more will do me this week. Kildare are not just a coming team, they are an impressive side, very fit, very mobile."

You think he's singling out a Kildare player for praise, but then he 'singles out' the entire line-up, plus most of the subs - as he tends to with every opponent.

Gavin is eager to stress that Dublin's appetite remains undiminished. He resents the notion that provincial titles are something barely worth celebrating on the drive for a fifth All-Ireland in seven years.

Asked if he was "mindful of what a Leinster might mean to Kildare" - a county starved of summer silverware since 2000 - he replied: "I'm mindful of what it might mean to Dublin. We're very passionate about the provincial championship, we always have been.

"This game will mean an awful lot to the players; they've grown up with Leinster championships being a big deal at underage."

On the other hand, he plays down the significance of the 'magnificent seven'. That, he says, is "something for players to look back on when they hang up their inter-county boots, a bit like all the other bits and bobs we've met along the way over the last number of years".

Bits and bobs? No wonder there's no resting on their laurels, if that's how they think of their vast medal haul.

In keeping complacency at bay, it helps that there is such rabid competition for places in this side. This week, Gavin's hand is strengthened by the return from injury of Philly McMahon, Michael Darragh Macauley and John Small.

The manager is delighted to have "a full panel" to pick from. Well, not quite. The ghost at the feast of any Dublin media event is Diarmuid Connolly, and the banned forward is again discussed more than any available player, with Gavin resolutely standing by his belligerent defence of the St Vincent's man after the semi-final demolition of Westmeath.

"I hope that the lessons have been learned," he said, clearly alluding to 'The Sunday Game' pundits who were heavily critical of Connolly.

"If I believe that a player is being disrespected and that Croke Park don't step in and protect the player and his good name, I've no option but to react as I did the last day.

"Everyone is entitled to their opinion and to express that freely but it's not absolute. Unlike other sports, inter-county players have to go out on a Monday morning and seek out a living. If their name has been damaged, I just feel that that's above and beyond what Gaelic games is about."

Connolly has been given his own programme and is "working away in the background as best he can". His ban ends just in time for the All-Ireland semi-finals, and Gavin, it seems, would have few qualms about pitching him in.

"He's a very determined man, and if we are fortunate enough get to that stage, I know he'll be there for us," he says. "It would be a tough ask, but he's a tough man."


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