Jim Gavin and his re­gen­er­a­tion game

Past tri­umphs of no con­cern as Dublin supremo plans for lat­est fi­nal test against Ty­rone

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Gavin Cum­miskey

From the hid­den rooms of Dublin foot­ball comes Jim Gavin. There are no se­crets, mys­tery is skew­ered per­spec­tive, all we see is the re­lent­less en­ergy of a spe­cial col­lec­tion of men, many of whom can­not get into the team any­more. Yet they re­main. After the semi-fi­nal dis­missal of Gal­way, Gavin spoke about an­other “co­hort of play­ers in the shad­ows” await­ing their op­por­tu­nity. The four-in-a-row quest, six All-Ire­lands this decade, has been no­table for the con­stant re­gen­er­a­tion of Gavin’s Dublin.

Stephen Clux­ton, Cian O’Sul­li­van and James McCarthy started the thrilling 2011 vic­tory over Kerry and ev­ery fi­nal since. Mick Fitzsi­mons, Michael Dar­ragh Ma­cauley, Bernard Bro­gan and the pre­vi­ously un­drop­pable Paul Flynn also started but how many of them will walk in Sun­day’s pa­rade? Maybe Ma­cauley.

In the glo­ri­ous in­ter­ven­ing years, Philly McMa­hon starred up from sub to man mauler while Kevin McMana­mon has carved out the finest pos­si­ble in­ter-county ca­reer from an im­pact role.

When the masses make a now sin­gu­lar visit to wit­ness their beloved Dublin, they must ac­quaint them­selves with Eoin Mur­chan and the won­der­fully pro­fi­cient Brian Howard. They are names that hardly roll off the tongue like Rory O’Car­roll and Diar­muid Con­nolly.

But give it time.

Nat­u­rally gifted foot­baller

Told-you-so sto­ries like the great­est full-back in gen­er­a­tions head­ing to New Zealand are re­dun­dant be­cause the hole was filled by Johnny Cooper and mounded by McMa­hon. Ire­land’s most nat­u­rally gifted foot­baller, Con­nolly, is only avail­able on grainy footage spin­ning and pok­ing goals in Bos­ton. So what? Watch Howard in Omagh.

There’s a strong pos­si­bil­ity that the best scor­ing for­ward the city has ever known, Bro­gan, will not be re­warded with a jersey de­spite his mirac­u­lous re­cov­ery from a cru­ci­ate tear. In­stead, catch Cor­mac Costello pil­fer­ing show-clos­ing points.

There is only room for what hap­pens in the now, and what comes from the shad­ows, as Gavin and Dublin hunt down the only re­main­ing ghosts. Kerry un­der Mick O’Dwyer.

Gavin says noth­ing of this, nor do any of them, not a drop pours from the Dublin ship de­spite the col­lec­tion of strong voices who could make money by be­ing well known and seen and play­ing the me­dia game. Yet noth­ing leaks.

It turns a morsel from in­side Gavin’s ini­tial Dublin panel in the win­ter of 2012/13 into a feast. Serves them right for putting a Ty­rone man in blue.

Core phi­los­o­phy

“I re­mem­ber him speak­ing the first day at the first meet­ing,” Paddy Quinn told The

Her­ald. “He told us that his aim was to win three All-Ire­lands in the next three years. He had the goal set out and he had it planned out to a tee how that was go­ing to hap­pen.”

Gavin missed the tar­get and his core phi­los­o­phy of pure foot­ball had to rad­i­cally change after Jim McGuin­ness brought un­com­pro­mis­ing Done­gal men to bear on Dublin in that har­row­ing 2014 All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal.

Stum­bles past Mayo still fin­ished with Sam Maguire in Clux­ton’s grip but only the cap­tain is ir­re­place­able in the cur­rent team.

That is surely Gavin’s great­est achieve­ment as the man­ager. After a busy day over in Lon­don for the Ir­ish Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity and with train­ing to fol­low, we sug­gest as much.

“I sup­pose the most sat­is­fy­ing part of the role is to see the play­ers be the best they can be,” be­gins a long an­swer.

“Ob­vi­ously we have a lot of play­ers at our dis­posal, some fan­tas­tic play­ers that aren’t even on the county squad, but our job as a man­age­ment team is to blend them to rep­re­sent Dublin foot­ball. That’s how we see it. If we can do that we have kind of done our job. Getting tro­phies along the way is fan­tas­tic but kind of a bonus...And com­mit­ting so much time to it.

Be­cause it is all vol­un­teers, no­body is un­der any con­tracts and the mileage rate isn’t that good ei­ther. To do it for the love of the game, that’s prob­a­bly the most sat­is­fy­ing thing.

“In terms of tran­si­tion,” he fi­nally adds, “play­ers com­ing up is just the nat­u­ral cy­cle of any team.”

Dublin are not any team. This is not cycli­cal. The All-Time man­agers re­build while win­ning – Alex Fer­gu­son, Brian Cody and to a lesser ex­tent O’Dwyer – but it would have been eas­ier to trust Paul Flynn over Niall Scully or throw the sub­stan­tial means of Dublin GAA at keep­ing O’Car­roll or Con­nolly at home. It would be eas­ier to let a great team grow old to­gether on Croke Park grass, right?

“Not re­ally. Paul Flynn and Michael Dar­ragh are in­cred­i­ble in­di­vid­u­als and to see the com­mit­ment that they give to the game and the de­ter­mi­na­tion they have to play their part, no mat­ter what it is, that in­spires us to be our best, and to have our game right. It can be de­mand­ing on your time and en­ergy but they drive the agenda. You do it for them.”

Gavin’s time con­straints are be­yond com­pre­hen­sion. His job re­quires un­nat­u­ral lev­els of fo­cus but what has out­side ob­servers so per­plexed is how Dublin’s 10 re­main­ing play­ers who fea­tured in 2011 re­main un­sated?

Great­est strength

“We never ref­er­ence the past,” he re­sponds. “We have tried to learn from it and there is rich learn­ing within the group. But we have never traded off the past. Never. It is re­ally al­ways been the next game.

“That has prob­a­bly been our great­est strength, that fo­cus, the at­ti­tude they have. Speak­ing about Paul Flynn, Michael Dar­ragh and Cian, their at­ti­tude is phe­nom­e­nal. That drives our en­ergy into the game.”

The wall looks im­preg­nable. That’s what is so spe­cial about Dublin, about the un­spec­i­fied work of Bernard Dunne and Gary Kee­gan, about Ja­son Sher­lock link­ing into the mi­nors, about an un­used Bro­gan or glimpses of Flynn.

The true hunger they are show­ing us is gen­er­ated be­hind locked doors. Ex­ter­nal noise is just that.

“Yeah, it’s all in­ter­nal mo­ti­va­tion. You are not look­ing for mo­ti­va­tion off any other team be­cause you can’t con­trol how an­other team pre­pare them­selves or what mo­ti­va­tion other teams use. It’s short-lived.

“It might get you up to the first ball or first play but after that it will burn it­self out. We have al­ways tried to be our best and just give it our all.

“The great strength of the group was that they un­der­stand that. Yes, they all want game time but they re­alise that un­like in­di­vid­ual sports it is about the team and the col­lec­tive and whether that’s seven min­utes or the full 70 they are will­ing to com­mit in the game. They push each other hard to get game time.”

Or they can leave, in­vest in ac­tual ca­reers or lease a mus­tang and sam­ple some East Coast liv­ing in the USA. The de­par­ture of star play­ers merely un­cloaked those coiled tightly in the shad­ows.

How Gavin man­ages it all – with the help of 1990s com­rades De­clan D’Arcy, Sher­lock and Paul Clarke – be­comes clearer when he speaks.

De­mands

“I’m an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor with the Ir­ish Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity on the safety reg­u­la­tions side so it’s a very re­spon­si­ble job, so I can’t let my mind wan­der. I have a great team of peo­ple there so it’s a great com­pany and the de­mands have my full at­ten­tion when I’m on that job.

“Maybe its an avi­a­tion thing, when you’re fly­ing you’re con­cen­tra­tion has to be on the flight deck, it can’t wan­der to the ground, you have to be in the air with the air­craft. Maybe that’s just some­thing that I picked up in avi­a­tion or the mil­i­tary that what­ever task is on hand you zone in on that.

“To be able to do both and ob­vi­ously the fam­ily as well you have to be able to com­part­men­talise oth­er­wise, it’s a busy job that I have, you’d prob­a­bly get snowed un­der from all the work.”

Imag­ine foot­ball con­sumed his en­tire think­ing?

“You have to be very dis­ci­plined with your time man­age­ment, ab­so­lutely yeah. You could be at it all day but we have a great team.

Shane O’Han­lon, who is a se­lec­tor, does a lot of the op­er­a­tional work for the team and Ja­son, De­clan and Paul – we share the work­load in terms of coach­ing and that’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one has their say in what we do. We all take an equal part in it.” With Napoleon over­see­ing each bat­tle. “We are all in­volved ab­so­lutely.”

‘‘ We have a lot of play­ers at our dis­posal . . . but our job as a man­age­ment team is to blend them to rep­re­sent Dublin foot­ball

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JAMES CROMBIE/INPHO

Dublin man­ager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Ty­rone man­ager Mickey Harte after July’s All-Ire­land quar­ter-fi­nal phase 2 match at Healy Park, Omagh.

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