Sunday 25 February 2018

Jim Gavin offers informative glimpse of Dublin's cold-eyed dedication to winning

Dublin players, from left, Michael Fitzsimons, John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Cormac Costello, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin players, from left, Michael Fitzsimons, John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Cormac Costello, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Great teams don't answer history's love letters, they write their own. Great teams will begrudge you the time of day, it's how they roll.

Great teams tend to be almost blandly sure of themselves. They will stand over your fallen form, feeling absolutely nothing, and the smart thing is to get over it. Because great teams mean nothing personal. They don't even see you.

It was well after 6.0 yesterday when Jim Gavin was asked if he had sympathy for a Mayo team so close, yet again, to bridging the gap to '51. His answer was remarkable.

"We've been there," said Jim, seemingly skipping jauntily by the sorrow and rage now eating through men down the corridor.

"We were there ourselves this year in a national final and we lost by a point and it is tough!"

So Jim sat in the little media auditorium, likening the emotional toll of Dublin's failure to win a fifth League title in a row last spring with Mayo's great hunger now stretching back over 66 hexed years. It was an informative glimpse in a winners' press-conference that, frankly, bore precious few of them.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Lee Keegan of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Lee Keegan of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

As long as football is spoken about, these Mayo players will mean something.

But Dublin aren't in the business of compassion, of seeing this world through any context other than their own. Somebody else's accumulation of pain is immaterial to them. Maybe they are three-in-a-row champions because of that coldness. Because other people's circumstance never interests them, let alone preys on them.

Yesterday's win was primarily a triumph of obstinacy.

The champions simply refused to bend against a team that certainly won't have to draw the curtains across the windows of the bus for this evening's homecoming. Mayo should travel west comfortable in the knowledge that they left nothing behind. They were simply beaten by great champions.

And somebody has to lose in sport - it's a law as inviolable as gravity.

So Dublin become the first three-in-a-row team since Kerry in '86 and have won Sam four out of five years now on Gavin's watch.

Paul Mannion and Cian O’Sullivan at the All Ireland Senior Football Final in Croke Park Pic: Kyran O'Brien
Paul Mannion and Cian O’Sullivan at the All Ireland Senior Football Final in Croke Park Pic: Kyran O'Brien
Diarmuid Connolly celebrates Pic: Kyran O'Brien
Dublin celebrate at the All Ireland Senior Football Final in Croke Park Pic: Kyran O'Brien
Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Paddy Andrews and Diarmuid Connolly Pic: Kyran O'Brien
17 September 2017; Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton is congratuled by John McCarthy following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin players, from left, Michael Fitzsimons, John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Cormac Costello, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Paul Mannion and his Dublin team-mates celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Philly McMahon of Dublin celebrates with the Sam Maguire Cup following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Con O'Callaghan, left, and Eoghan O'Gara celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Cormac Costello, left, and Jonny Cooper celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Con O'Callaghan, left, and Eoghan O'Gara celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dean Rock of Dublin celebrates following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly, left, and Brian Fenton celebrate after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; An emotional Jack McCaffrey of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Eoghan O'Gara of Dublin and Colm Boyle of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly, left, and Brian Fenton celebrate after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Cormac Costello, left, and Jonny Cooper celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin players, from left, Philip McMahon, Dean Rock and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate following their side's victory the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin players, from left, Michael Fitzsimons, John Small, Ciarán Kilkenny, Niall Scully, Cormac Costello, Con O'Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Diarmuid Connolly celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Stephen Cluxton, left, and Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin celebrates at the final whistle following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; An emotional Jack McCaffrey of Dublin after the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
17 September 2017; Dublin's Cormac Costello, left, and Jonny Cooper celebrate following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

How close were they to submission yesterday? Impossible to say, but they certainly looked in a tricky predicament half-way through, having been outscored 0-9 to 0-5 from Con O'Callaghan's Hill end goal to the break.

Stephen Cluxton's kick-outs were in apparent meltdown, and every time Dublin's attack reached the first roadblock, they ran out of ideas. Mayo's green and red phalanxes met them with a ferocity that began to suggest so many old assumptions were beginning to shift and twitch here.

You'd certainly imagine any other side spilling down the tunnel might have been headed for some kind of crisis summit, but not Dublin. Not this Dublin. They resumed with Diarmuid Connolly and Kevin McManamon on the field, and drew level within 19 seconds. And the half of football that followed was like an out-of-control opera.

It was all heat and anger, grunt and clutter, bodies tobogganing off one another with absolute abandon. It's true, the field was never going to be a health-spa, but the intensity, the almost maniacal desire palpable in both sides took this to another altitude again in a rivalry that now dominates the game.

Trouble is, the recent copyright doesn't change. In their 12 meetings since 2012, Mayo have won none.

Had Dublin doubted their capacity to survive?

"No never," said James McCarthy. "We're so tight as a group, we've been together for so long and we really back each other up to the hilt. If I don't step up one day, someone else will step up. That's the biggest strength of our team, the collective. We've a really special team."

This was a day they had to be. There was a remarkable sequence between the 43rd and 45th minutes where first Cluxton had to save from Jason Doherty at the Hill end after Andy Moran's sublime flick and then Paul Mannion went torqueing towards the Canal end goal only for David Clarke to make the stop.

Seconds later, the red cards arrived for John Small and Donal Vaughan, the sense building of a contest almost on the edge of control.

Dublin were two points up when Lee Keegan goaled in the 54th minute and Mayo would get three of the next five scores to take a two-point advantage of their own with just seven minutes of normal time remaining.

If Mayo were ever going to get a jackboot on Dublin's throats, now was the opportunity.

"They had the crowd behind them, there was a perception that they had the momentum," acknowledged Gavin. "But it just shows how present the players were in the game to turn that around. Composure has been the hallmark of this team."

And it was again now, Mannion, McCarthy and Dean Rock necklacing three points between the 64th and 67th minutes before Cillian O'Connor immediately tied it up again.

On the stroke of time, the Ballintubber man then bounced a free off a Hill end post before Rock, with the clock reading 75.55, sent over a wonderful winner.

Gavin was asked after to explore the hidden nuances of the victory and it felt the equivalent of seeking humour from a hanging-judge.

When he comes to that little auditorium beneath the Hogan Stand, we tend to take the view that his real opinions are, maybe, kept in a case somewhere, swaddled in soft flannel or cushions.

So as the words "every game on its merits" came rolling out, we knew the gig was done.

More interestingly, he'd been asked a little earlier about the scene as Clarke prepared to take that final Mayo kick-out, three of his back men wrestling on the ground with Dublin forwards. A scenario unlikely to have been instigated by a team trailing by a point.

"I think it was like that from the start," Gavin impassively. "It was a very physical game, a lot on the line. Both teams going hard at it. I wouldn't expect anything else from either team."

But three forwards wrestling their opposite numbers to the floor, an accident of circumstance?

"Yeah, I mean there's a lot on the line, a lot at stake. It was happening at both ends, that's just the way it is when you've two really well matched and physical teams going hard at it."

Is winning the only thing?

"We're always trying to do the right thing. Do we do the right thing always? Absolutely not."

He told us they'd never referenced the three-in-a-row before this game and wouldn't be doing it now. "We'll enjoy the celebrations for 2017 and that's all," said Gavin.

Sitting next to him, Cluxton proved equally distant, responding to a question about his kick-out woes by telling us that he wasn't in the habit of catching his own deliveries. It was that kind of press-conference.

Outside, you could hear The Rare Auld Times thunder up into the city skies, and you could marvel at how a team of a such unarguable greatness (they only leaked five wides during 78 minutes of broad chaos) seems so programmed and robotic and, frankly, low in personality in how it is coached to communicate with the outside world.

To be fair, Philly McMahon did offer a glimpse of something more than text-book evasion, remarking: "The three-in-a-row wasn't on our agenda but, Jesus, we can talk about it now!"

Great teams fashion their own narrative and these Dublin players clearly keep honouring the one and only contract that truly counts.

They might yet prove the best we've seen. And Jim Gavin the best football manager nobody ever knew.

Irish Independent

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