Wednesday 21 March 2018

'It's not even a close second': Jim Gavin's surprising view of his coaching success vs his playing days

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

One moment above any other perfectly sums up the calm and businesslike approach Jim Gavin has adopted in the role of Dublin manager, and it highlights just how focused he is on maintaining their unbelievably high standards.

In his first campaign in 2013, Dublin were tied with rivals Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final when Kevin McManamon found the net with a spectacular goal to win the game for the boys in blue. It was arguably the most exciting moment of one of the most exciting games of all time, but when the camera cut to Gavin, he was sitting in Zen-like concentration, not betraying any emotion that would indicate the huge stakes on the line.

Since taking charge, the Dublin manager has won four league titles out of four, three Leinster championships out of three and two All-Ireland titles out of three, with a shock loss to Donegal in 2014 the only blemish during his tenure. That sensational winning record has been to compared to Kerry under Mick O'Dwyer and while Gavin's Dublin haven't yet come close to matching the eight All-Irelands won by that legendary outfit, they certainly seem on course to be the dominant team of this era.

Yet despite enjoying so much success, Gavin point blank refuses to take much credit for all the trophies garnered on his watch. The Dubliner is almost the complete opposite to Jose Mourinho, consistently deferring to the players and insisting he is there to facilitate them.

In fact, Gavin downplays his own role in masterminding Dublin's wins to such an extent that you just have to ask him outright, does he derive any satisfaction from winning with Ireland's most dominant team?

"You do, of course you do," he told at the launch of the Leinster championship.

"The satisfaction is in seeing players become the best they can be and develop along the way. That is where we get our joy from. And if we can do that in every competition we play then we know we have done the job set out for us by the county board."

Despite Gavin's insistence that he enjoys the wins, it isn't long before he is back to his mantra of a 'player-centric approach'. Perhaps it is this viewpoint that led to one of Gavin's more interesting admissions - how little he rates his managerial achievements compared to what he did on the field with Dublin.

He played wing forward on the county's 1995 All-Ireland-winning team and ranks that memory far higher than delivering a Sam Maguire from the sideline.

"It doesn't compare," Gavin said.

"It is all about the players and it is all about playing. There is no comparison. It's not even a close second. It is all about playing there and as a manger you are just there to facilitate the players."

The time-consuming sacrifice that is inter-county football can put a strain on both your personal and professional life as the quest for an All-Ireland eats into almost every minute of every day. Gavin spoke about having a healthy balance in his life by separating the things that are of most importance to him, and also acknowledged that the players are required to give up far more than a manager.

"I have three spheres in my life," he says.

"My family, first and foremost. My professional career with the Irish Aviation Authority and my hobby, which is sport. I have as much fun with my son's underage football teams as I would with the Dublin team.

"The players are the guys who have put in the self-sacrifice and paid the price career-wise or academically to play inter-county football and it is our job to get that balance right for them."

Given the rigorous grind of inter-county management, it will be interesting to see how long Gavin remains in charge of Dublin. With so many top-class players available to him - with more coming through - and resources that are the envy of every team in the country, he probably has little reason to step away.

Gavin says he reassesses at the end of every season while also said it was up to the county board to decide whether Dublin will follow the same elevation path that saw Gavin get the job with current U21 manager Dessie Farrell, who has led Dublin to an All-Ireland title both at that age grade and at minor, and would seem to be a natural replacement for Gavin whenever he decides to step down.

"Each year that I'm managing the team, I sit down at the end of the year with the management team and the county board and we reflect on the season and where we are at," he says.

"We have always taken it one year at a time.

"From my perspective I would have conversations with the minor manager Paddy Christie and the U21 manager Dessie Farrell but it is all about the players they have at present. As a senior manager you are always looking 3-5 years down the track to see what players are developing. The longer-term strategy is for the county board to discuss, we just take it one year at a time."

Gavin doesn't give much away on the sidelines or in his media appearances but he did reveal the reason he wasn't celebrating wildly after McManamon hit the net against Kerry back in 2013.

"During those games it is about staying in the moment so you can do the right thing for the players," he says.

"It is about doing the right thing for the players. It is not about me or the management team. Obviously behind closed doors in the dressing rooms we celebrate with the team."

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