In­side the mind of the Dubs’ mes­siah

In a re­mark­able speech to a sports con­fer­ence, Jim Gavin al­lowed a glimpse at the philoso­phies that have shaped him ‘YOU DON’T LEAD BY HIT­TING PEO­PLE OVER THE HEAD’

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - THE TITLE - By Mark Gal­lagher

WHAT do the Ir­ish De­fence Forces, emi­nent psy­chol­o­gist Abra­ham Maslow, leg­endary Amer­i­can col­lege bas­ket­ball coach John Wooden and the Avi­a­tion In­dus­try have in com­mon? They have all played some part in cre­at­ing the man­age­ment phi­los­o­phy that has seen Dublin take the last three All-Ire­land foot­ball ti­tles.

Over the course of his five ex­traor­di­nar­ily suc­cess­ful sea­sons at the helm, it is pos­si­ble to count on one hand the gen­uine in­sights that Jim Gavin has given to what moulded him, or in­deed mo­ti­vates him, as a foot­ball man­ager. So, it was no sur­prise that his pres­ence as the head­line act in Sport Ire­land’s High Per­for­mance X con­fer­ence yes­ter­day brought a big crowd to the Na­tional In­door Arena with some fa­mil­iar faces present.

Ja­son Sher­lock, the high­lyre­garded for­wards coach in Gavin’s back­room, was seen milling around with for­mer Dublin cap­tain Co­man Gog­gins. Clare hurl­ing man­ager Donal Maloney was in the au­di­ence, as too for­mer Mayo man­ager James Ho­ran, a one-time side­line ad­ver­sary of Gavin.

In a talk that lasted more than 20 min­utes and was in­ter­spersed with some in­spir­ing quotes from the likes of Nel­son Man­dela and Dwight D Eisen­hower, Gavin took us from his early days as a De­fence Forces cadet and in­side a dress­in­groom lis­ten­ing to the leg­endary Der­mot Ear­ley snr, to his time sta­tioned in Chad a decade ago. He also gave an in­sight into how busy the skies above Ire­land are and what the Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity does to keep the planes mov­ing.

Given that Gavin has been crit­i­cised for not be­ing happy-clappy enough af­ter his team won last month’s All-Ire­land fi­nal, it was in­ter­est­ing that the Dublin man­ager was an en­gag­ing pres­ence through­out, crack­ing the odd smile and even quip­ping about the gen­eral pub­lic’s blasé at­ti­tude to­wards fly­ing.

There were no se­crets re­vealed but per­haps that is be­cause there are no se­crets to Dublin’s re­mark­able suc­cess. Gavin’s phi­los­o­phy seems rooted in some­thing told him by Ear­ley, the late Roscom­mon leg­end, in­side a dress­ing-room in Mary Im­mac­u­late Col­lege in Lim­er­ick more than 20 years ago.

‘He said that the great­est sat­is­fac­tion that you will get in your life is by do­ing some­thing well, and do­ing some­thing to the best of your abil­ity,’ Gavin re­called, say­ing that he has never for­got­ten those words. ‘And that is what we are try­ing to do with Dublin, to make the play­ers the very best that they can be.’

Gavin has spo­ken be­fore about how he is in­flu­enced by Maslow’s Hi­er­ar­chy of Needs, a the­ory of psy­cho­log­i­cal health pred­i­cated on ful­fill­ing in­nate hu­man needs such as se­cu­rity and which cul­mi­nate in self-ac­tu­al­i­sa­tion. How­ever, Gavin drew on his Chad ex­pe­ri­ences where he saw how the Hi­er­ar­chy of Needs works in a prac­ti­cal sense.

In an en­vi­ron­ment where three out of five chil­dren die be­fore they are five years of age, Gavin says that he saw peo­ple mak­ing the most of them­selves and self-ac­tu­al­is­ing.

It taught him a firm les­son. ‘I have seen how works in that, one of the harsh­est en­vi­ron­ments in the world, and I have seen it work in the Dublin foot­ball panel,’ he said.

Gavin did point out that there were two dif­fer­ent man­age­ment styles, us­ing the X and Y the­ory de­vel­oped by MIT pro­fes­sor Dou­glas McGre­gor, a con­tem­po­rary of Maslow − the au­to­cratic style and trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship.

‘Dwight D Eisen­hower said that you don’t lead by hit­ting peo­ple over the head, that’s as­sault, not lead­er­ship,’ Gavin ex­plained, say­ing trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship was about em­pow­er­ment, hu­mil­ity and hon­esty, cul­mi­nat­ing in the latin phrase Re­spice Finum, which means that you have an end-goal,

Cit­ing the suc­cess that he had at Old Traf­ford over 26 years, Gavin says that was based in hu­mil­ity on Alex Fer­gu­son’s part. ‘Af­ter ev­ery Premier­ship ti­tle, he told his play­ers that they would have to work even harder next year.

‘And it is the same for ev­ery team and ev­ery coach. What worked for you this sea­son won’t work for you next sea­son. You have to keep chal­leng­ing your­self,’ Gavin said.

‘But there is no magic bul­let. I am just giv­ing you the­o­ries and prin­ci­ples which work for me in my en­vi­ron­ment but they may not work for any­one else in any other en­vi­ron­ment,’ the Dublin man­ager says.

There was the oc­ca­sional nugget, though, in the 20 min­utes. Gavin’s work at the Ir­ish Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity in­cludes in­ves­ti­gat­ing any in­ci­dents. His in­box might have a thou­sand re­ports from pi­lots, en­gi­neers and air traf­fic con­trollers. But over the course of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he can­not ap­por­tion blame. It is ac­cepted that mis­takes will hap­pen. It is some­thing which has been brought in­side the Dublin dress­in­groom. Play­ers aren’t blamed.

How­ever, if any­one came to the Sports Cam­pus yes­ter­day, look­ing for an in­sight into how Gavin has main­tained the hunger lev­els in play­ers such as Stephen Clux­ton and Paul Flynn, how he is able to have tal­ented foot­ballers like Kevin McMana­mon and Diar­muid Con­nolly ac­cept their roles as sub­sti­tutes to such an ex­tent that they can change the All-Ire­land fi­nal, there weren’t go­ing to find it.

Gavin ended his talk by fo­cus­ing on fa­mous quote from Man­dela, which he came across when he died in De­cem­ber 2013, just a cou­ple of months af­ter Dublin had won their first All-Ire­land ti­tle: ‘What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what dif­fer­ence we have made to the lives of oth­ers that will de­ter­mine the sig­nif­i­cance of the life we lead.’

Given his team’s suc­cess over the past five years, Gavin can be sat­is­fied that he has made a dif­fer­ence to the lives of many in the cap­i­tal.

IN­SPIR­ING:Jim Gavin speak­ing at the Sport Ire­land event

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