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We need to strike balance - Jim Gavin

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and his back-room team ahead of Dublin's All-Ireland Semi-Final defeat to Donegal

Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and his back-room team ahead of Dublin's All-Ireland Semi-Final defeat to Donegal

SPORTSFILE

Dublin manager Jim Gavin was at Parnell Park to launch AIG's discounted insurance offer for GAA club members

Dublin manager Jim Gavin was at Parnell Park to launch AIG's discounted insurance offer for GAA club members

SPORTSFILE

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Dublin manager Jim Gavin, left, and his back-room team ahead of Dublin's All-Ireland Semi-Final defeat to Donegal

IT seems an unusual enquiry of a man who has steered his side to victory in five of the six competitions he has entered but Jim Gavin is ready for the question.

Was he out-coached in the All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal?

The question needs context. Gavin hadn't just won every piece of silverware going to that point but his team had done it in style. Dublin swashbuckled their way through league and Leinster campaigns without so much as feeling the wind of a swipe across their chin.

Anyone who had the temerity to put up a road block was dealt with ruthlessly. Derry beat them in Celtic Park but were hopelessly outclassed in the League final. Cork bloodied Dublin's nose too and despite starting their League semi-final clash well, they were the ones who needed the smelling salts at the end of the 70 minutes.

In the Championship, the rest of Leinster couldn't get to within single figures of them while last year's Ulster champions managed 20 competitive minutes.

Every puzzle they had been presented with, Gavin and Dublin found a solution. That only adds to the almost surreal nature of the semi-final where a flat Dublin and a superb Donegal clashed for an inevitable outcome.

The images of that day are still seared into the brain - Ryan McHugh winning breaks and having half of Croke Park to scuttle into.

Donegal couldn't have dreamt that Dublin would leave a full-back line so hopelessly exposed even in pursuit of a philosophy that had served them so well to that point but also proved to be their undoing.

Gavin didn't go to the All-Ireland final, preferring to watch in discomfort from his own home. There were 'learnings' in the game, watching as Kerry adapted to unpick Donegal, but he insists there'll be no sea change in how Dublin play their football in 2015.

"I accept full responsibility for that performance," said Gavin, at the launch of AIG's GAA club promotion, which offers members up to 15pc off insurance policies.

"And I accept full responsibility for the philosophy and for the way Dublin play their football, for the attacking style we play and sometimes for the vulnerability that it brings and the unpredictability of it.

"I've managed Dublin teams for eight years now and I've lost more than I've won. And with this particular group, the senior squad, they've done pretty well. We look at it by competition so if you go through the National Leagues, the Leinster competition and the All-Ireland competition, they've won five out of six.

"So one result doesn't affect my resolve or the players' resolve. One result won't change the core philosophy of how Dublin play football. It's been a learning experience.

"It's about trying to get that balanced approach in the future. The performance wasn't balanced in relation to the game and we got ruthlessly punished by a very good team who exploited it. That's for me to go away and learn from."

They tried to change things on the hoof but little stuck. Dublin missed too much and conceded too many scores to survive against Donegal.

"Whatever plan any manager has going into a game, he has to be adaptable with it. It wasn't a matter of Plan A and Plan B, your strategy has to be adaptable as the game evolves. There are certain matches you can dictate and certain ones you can't.

"We changed things in the game. We brought certain players on, we created chances in both halves but they weren't taken. That's just sport."

The Dublin panel and management met the week after that game for a debrief.

Various players stood up and accepted they could and should have done things differently when the squeeze came on in the final quarter. And Gavin admitted he didn't communicate the right messages to his players.

Debrief

"We got some breaks of the ball last year, didn't get them this year. When you win, victory can look so easy and defeat can look so confounding at times. The game is about margins, as we saw (in the All-Ireland final).

"Certainly there have been lessons to be learned from it and it's been a big learning experience for me. As with every game in past and with any teams we've managed, no matter whether we win or lose, we'll always learn.

"I would get a better balance between defence and attack (if the game was played again). We have a core strategy of attacking football. I accept the responsibility that the vulnerability that that expression brings was exploited.

"But I certainly wouldn't stray away from that philosophy. It's about getting the balance between defence and attack."

And he insisted he expected Kerry to set up the way they did against Donegal in the All-Ireland final.

"I suppose they've come across Ulster teams before in All-Ireland finals and they've experienced that.

"They also played Donegal in 2012 and they'd seen the potent counter-attacking style that Donegal had against us.

"But I would have seen it in the Munster final against Cork, they played that system with a blanket or a screen set up.

"In the quarter-final against Galway, I thought they played a lot like that. I wasn't surprised, I suspected that's how they would set themselves up. They'll say the end justified the means and we congratulate them."

Irish Independent