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’
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