Thursday 22 March 2018

It's a player's game, nothing will match the feeling of 1995 - Gavin

Gavin: Nothing beats ‘95 victory. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Gavin: Nothing beats ‘95 victory. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It's put to Jim Gavin that when the final whistle blew in the 1995 All-Ireland final, he sunk to his knees in the realisation that Dublin had finally got over the line.

He was a relative newcomer to the team. He hadn't soldiered without joy in the same way that maybe Paul Curran or Keith Barr had but in that moment, the win was no less significant.

As manager, his reaction to big wins is very different. Should his team be in front at the end on Sunday, Gavin's demeanour will barely change. There'll be handshakes and smiles but probably no sinking to the knees, no arms raised in victory.

Gavin's explanation is simple. Playing and winning trumps everything else that can be achieved in the game.

"Oh no (winning as a manager doesn't come close)," he said when asked to compare the elation with winning on the pitch with winning as a manager.

"It's a player's game. Absolutely. It's all about playing, yeah."

He's asked if the ice-cool demeanour is just an act. If the emotionless sideline routine is hiding something more frantic beneath the surface. For Gavin, remaining detached as a manager is easy and the best way to view a game as it unfolds.

"One is controlled so you can be your best for the players. So whatever influence you have on them at a tactical level during a game, you can make those right calls or replacements coming on," he explained.

"It's a player's game. The management group. . . we've been asked by the county board to do a job. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is to get those players to be the best they can be.

"And if I've done that and the management team have done that, we've done our job. And if we come up against a team that performs better than us, that's just sport."

If he feels any pressure this week as he prepares for a third All-Ireland final, he hasn't been showing it. As a player, though, there were times when he felt the squeeze.

"In '95, I had just joined the squad. It was fantastic for me," he recalled. "I think when you get towards the end of your career, when you've gone through such a barren spell. . . I went through '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, 2001 - and then 2002, in my last year, we won a Leinster.

"So certainly as the time begins to march on your career and you haven't won in a long time, I think most players would feel that pinch."

This Dublin team don't feel the same sort of pressure. Whether it's the confidence that comes from winning or Gavin's management, they seem removed from the 'hype' that was blamed for bringing down so many Dublin teams in the past.

History beckons but Gavin doesn't think his side will flinch this weekend.

"There has always been expectation in Dublin. There was expectation when I was involved. And I was involved in some barren years as a player," he said.

"That expectation is always there. Which is great, it means supporters have great belief.

"And it shows that Gaelic games are vibrant in the county of Dublin.

"But players now are probably accustomed to that bubble.

"And players see this game. . . they're excited about it. They don't see it as pressure. It's a fantastic opportunity.

"Supporters, because they don't see what's going on inside in training, they don't see the tactical element to it, so they might get a bit tense.

"But the players, they seem like they're having great fun. They're enjoying it."

Dublin hit a new level of performance against Kerry, but Gavin isn't happy to rest on his laurels. Mayo, he reckons, have benefited from their back door. And they will have to progress too.

"If we remain static, teams will simply pass us by. That's a given. Because every team is evolving," he said.

"We've seen that already with Mayo. First seven games in the league, concede seven goals. Last six games in the championship, conceded three.

"So something has changed. They're evolving and they're growing. So we've got to keep pace with every other team."

Irish Independent

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