Sunday 16 December 2018

'They knew what happened and they stayed in control of the situation' - Gavin

Triumphant Dublin stick to manager’s ‘values’ to overcome their mini meltdown

Eoghan O'Gara kicks the point that put Dublin into the lead in injury time. Photo: Sportsfile
Eoghan O'Gara kicks the point that put Dublin into the lead in injury time. Photo: Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Truly, these Dublin men are the music makers and dreamers of dreams.

The delirium of melody that throbs within blue-clad breasts adequately mirrors the stunning sporting theatre that has just unfolded before us. The balmy night's streets dance with sing-song delight.

A game for the ages. A team for all-time. But there is work to be done still. Jim Gavin sweeps airily into the media room without seeming to realise that the big blue house inhabited by his wonderful side had, not short of an hour before, been thoroughly enveloped in flames.

The almost deadly calm military ease with which the emergency was subsequently quelled seems to have surprised every known witness except its most intimate.

"For me, half-time is just a break in play," says Gavin, from whom there drops not a bead of sweat. Although, to those who know him best, it appears as if his rate of words spoken per minute has risen, a tad.

A heart beats within, as much as many would have him cast as a collection of nuts and bolts.

His greatest form of eloquence lies upon the lush sward outside where his warriors have felled the Kingdom yet again, not within these cheerless, airless walls.

His team's expressionism was aided yesterday by a resolve that has been rarely called upon in recent weeks and months.

Read More: Eugene McGee: Dubs saved by the bell - and by their bench

Temporarily weakened and wounded by seeing their greatest strength dissolve into haphazard weakness before their very eyes, Stephen Cluxton's inexplicable second-quarter implosion would have softened the minds and hearts of sterner folk.

But this team is now also resourced with ceaseless grit and fortitude, an unbending commitment to the belief that anchors the self.

Seamus Heaney, who died three years ago tomorrow, put it well in 'Postscript'.

"As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways, And catch the heart off guard and blow it open."

Dublin allowed the storm to pass, planted their feet, and began again. And so, ignoring the scoreboard, they began again; as soon as a blink of an eye, the damage wrought by Cluxton's shocking and sudden vulnerability was reduced to nothing.

"All that matters is when the referee blows his final whistle," continues Gavin. "The team demonstrated great composure at half-time. "There was never anything but a great intent from them, they knew what they wanted.

"They knew what happened and they stayed in control of the situation. I thought they demonstrated that from the first minute right through to the very end."

You press him as to precisely how they manage the cartwheel that flung them off course in that 2-2 blizzard of confusion, how they can suddenly proceed as if nothing, at all, has happened.

"We just trust them and they trust each other, to figure things out, to work out, to stick to the process."

Cluxton, the captain of the ship, is not gurgling as the listing vessel threatens to rise up and swallow all; at half-time, the unflappable teacher is already plotting a course towards calmer waters.

"We are sometimes open and vulnerable," admits Gavin. He is referencing Dublin's expansive style which of its nature allows the opposition, if as willing and talented as Kerry, to respond in kind.

He could simply be referring to the simplicity of amateur players suffering amidst the cauldron of such heat. They are merely human.

Read More: Eugene McGee: Dubs saved by the bell - and by their bench

"We accept they may score but we stick to our values."

Gavin is pressed to deliver emotionally a deeper and more meaningful response that others feel is demanded of him; as if the dazzling colour he splashes upon the canvas is not eloquence enough? Were he to don tap shoes and tutu to deliver his best Fred Astaire might not be enough for some of the grumbling ensemble.

"To demonstrate that level of control is the most satisfying thing," he adds, referencing his team's commitment to process, not his reluctance to issue a necklace of meaningless clichés to the audience.

Jonny Cooper, a lighthouse of defensive defiance, reminds us that the players' view is as prosaic as his manager's.

Their beauty truly is in the eyes of its beholders; Dublin may be too busy playing ball but that doesn't stop them sniffing the flowers.

"We were under a little bit of pressure, we stuck to the process, stuck to the plan. The boys up front got us over the line and especially some of the lads from the bench.

"They were fortunate goals from a Kerry point of view, you expect that, you roll with the punches, you re-focus, re-frame and stick to what you know.

"We're only a cog in the wheel, when we do our job, the resilience looks after itself."

Names and numbers are meaningless; Diarmuid Connolly may have finished with a decorative flourish but his influence had dimmed after a first-half tour de force; new leaders, like Davy Byrne, emerged in the second half as his side's comeback sagged.

This team is so engaging precisely because of its vulnerability and, as yesterday once more proved, the increasing resilience with which they have been armed to combat it.

This is a golden age for the sport and for Dublin's place in it and yet still Gavin is pressed to assess his role.

"I've the privilege of looking after this team and preparing them to be the best they can be," comes the answer that everybody expects and nobody wants.

Read More: Tomás Ó Sé: There's no shame going down to best Dublin team of all time 

Which begs one to wonder why ask it in the first place?

Does anyone really care that Da Vinci never explained why Mona Lisa smiled so?

"Two sets of players, amateur players, putting bodies on the line.

"It's a great testament to the great spirit in our games and I think we have one of the great field sports."

And, to think, not a ticket tout in sight.

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