Tuesday 20 August 2019

'It's the players that lead it. Our role is to empower them to be the best' - manager Jim Gavin on what drives Dublin

Mayo manager James Horan, left, shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin following the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Mayo manager James Horan, left, shakes hands with Dublin manager Jim Gavin following the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

So Jim, whaddya say, huh?

The temptation to conjure up an image of Jim Gavin delivering a half-time speech of inches in that neutral accent is almost as fanciful as believing that his team would need to hear one in the first place.

For one of his greatest gifts - which has subsequently been bequeathed to each and every one of his players - is the capacity to ignore absolutely everything that is going on around him.

That is not to say Dublin remain utterly unaffected by what happens; and the images of a jarringly uncertain opening half in the face of a Mayo storm revealed as much.

It is just that they possess the magnificently self-assured reliance that the storm will pass. And that, soon, they will unleash theirs.

But it would not be prompted by something remarkable that was said or presented during the 12 minutes at half-time, rather what the entire country witnessed in the 12 minutes after it.

Sometimes it's not why. Sometimes it just is.

Gavin has landed planes for a living for more than 20 years now and we're sure he was never forced to do a "Sully" and guide his bird safely upon a river; some can imagine him doing so on the Liffey, though.

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And then, having carefully removed his seat-belt and switched off the engine, politely shaking hands with his co-pilot, stepping out of the plane and walking on the very water itself.

As Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger prepared for his Hudson River landing, the calm he summoned was utterly simplistic.

Do the things that needed to be done and ignore everything else. Apply the very basics. He knew what needed to be done. He just needed to get it done.

And so we ask Gavin about the mid-air turbulence of 5.30 on a Saturday evening, the ominous storm clouds gathering above, with key men, Fenton, Kilkenny, McCaffrey gasping for oxygen.

Experts

What did he do to change? What did the players do? Did a County Board official slink in and slip wads of fifties in the players' kit bags because, as the experts know, only money talks?

Within the inner sanctum of a presumably gold-plated dressing-room, what magnificent words or deeds were unfurled to propel them to the most wondrous spell of football of this entire era?

Crowded out: Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey and Jonny Cooper do their best to keep Patrick Durcan away from the ball. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Crowded out: Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey and Jonny Cooper do their best to keep Patrick Durcan away from the ball. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Well, nothing, really. They were just a better version of themselves.

And when you're the best there is - perhaps the best there ever was - sometimes it really is that simple. And so, nothing changed, but everything changed.

Gavin laughs at the imputation of our question, the baseball hat shadowing his face betraying the sense that he has added some mysterious alchemy to the half-time oranges.

"The half-time message was just keep doing what you're doing," a chuckle almost riling at the suggestion that he and his side would so hastily have to script a game-plan.

"It's an All-Ireland semi-final against an outstanding team and both defences were on top in the first half.

"It's natural enough that it opens up and we asked the guys to back themselves and the skills they have and be true to that. That second-half performance came from the learnings of the first half.

"Their game intelligence is really high - we can't play as a coach or a management team.

"We just give them the framework and they execute the skill set. This is very much a player-driven team.

"We are very much on their coattails. It's the players that lead it. Our role is to enable and empower them to be the best."

If they did anything at half-time, then, it may have simply been to look in the mirror.

Then again, Gavin bristles at another of our suggestions - that Dublin were inhibited in the first-half, manifested by being stand-offish in defence and unstructured in attack.

"I thought it was nip-and-tuck," Gavin demurs. "You can say they were more battle-hardened, but that's an excuse.

"Mayo are a good team. People might be searching for something that wasn't there. I put it down to the class of Mayo.

"They performed well in those opening exchanges. Then our guys adapted really well and showed really good game composure to push on.

"The players are humble and they prepared well for the opposition, we know Mayo well and understand what an outstanding team they are.

"That shone through in how we adapted through the game. At the start of the second half we got a couple of scores on the run, which was pleasing.

"The spotlight shines on the player that gets the score, but they were great team scores, great execution."

Gavin may be the pilot but he can't control every moment; the sideline serenity transmits itself to his players.

Their second-half blitz didn't require an outrageous quest for high art; the beauty was its stunning simplicity; error free, each moment a studied application to individual responsibility and good decision-making on every ball.

And skills learned long ago. "Great passing. High fielding. Kick passing. Hand passing." Gavin reels it off as if it were a shopping list.

Sometimes the greatness we seek to explain is not shrouded in myth.

As the hymns echoed from Dublin bars deep into the night - "A Drive for Five, Oh!" - it seemed just as if being present was all that mattered in the moment.

If Gavin or his team needed a half-time rant in Croke Park to remember that much, they wouldn't be returning there next month.

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