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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Frank Roche: Jim Gavin will get by with a little help from his friends

Dublin football manager Jim Gavin
Dublin football manager Jim Gavin

SO then, what type of manager is Jim Gavin? Apart from the obvious reply to that - an eminently successful one - you could apply a variety of adjectives to Dublin's senior football supremo.

He has been described as "Zen-like", especially circa 2013 when his first campaign as Sky Blues boss culminated in two pretty crazy games - the semi-final classic against Kerry and a fraught final against Mayo - from which his team emerged triumphant, Sam Maguire heading back to the Capital.

Is he always an oasis of calm on the line? We don't think so - name a manager who is - but he rarely if ever conveys the impression of losing his cool or his focus. And that's important for a team's own mindset - to have a sense that your leader can keep a clear head admist the tumult of Croke Park.

ULTRA-ORGANISED

Gavin has been cited as meticulous, and you can see why. And ultra-organised, as befits a man of his military background.

One other thing: there is no mistaking who is the boss, the deciding voice, in his management team.

And yet, as you listen to the Round Towers man talk about GAA management at inter-county level and the type of people he likes to involve, it's clear that Gavin does not view himself as a micro-manager.

He doesn't attend to all the little details because (a) there aren't enough minutes in the day and (b) he prefers leaving that to the experts. That's why he asked them to be involved in the first place: you "absolutely" leave your ego at the door and trust the guys who know best.

"I've surrounded myself with people who are experts in their particular field," he explains, speaking at a Gibson Hotel press briefing ahead of Sunday's Leinster SFC semi-final against Kildare.

"As a manager you need to have a working knowledge of each area - from sports science to the medical issues that go on, and defensive work. I'm not a defensive coach but you have to know the concepts.

"Yeah, you bring people in to complement your own skills. That's a challenge for each manager to do that."

This weekend will see Dublin's second outing of the summer in a provincial championship widely dismissed as a done-deal even before a semi-final ball has been kicked. The holders weren't asked a single meaningful question by lowly Longford; there's a hope, if not quite a confidence, that Kildare will at least do that.

The flip side is that, in the wake of last year's All-Ireland semi-final ambush by Donegal, serious questions were being asked about Dublin's defensive naivety.

It was time for critical introspection and there have been obvious signs this year of a less gung-ho set-up, with more tracking back by forwards and a greater inclination by half-backs to keep sentry in their own half.

For all that, one of the big backroom changes initiated by Gavin during the closed season was the introduction of a new forwards coach. No less a name than Jason Sherlock.

"I have always mixed my coaching staff, even at U21 level," he explains. "I think it brings a freshness to it. Players are used to particular themes and concepts coming from a manager, and to have a skills coach like Jason who is a deep thinker on the game and thinks outside the box … he is very articulate and can get his point across in a very meaningful way to the players.

"And they enjoy the challenges he poses them. It has been a positive step forward to have him involved," Gavin concludes.

As Gavin sifted through the wreckage of last year's All-Ireland defence, he didn't waste any time before plotting a way forward. The idea of bringing Sherlock on board materialised "quite quickly", he explains.

"I went to the county board the week after the All-Ireland semi-final to plan for the years ahead, and that's when that process began.

"Some people left the management team for personal reasons and, as volunteers, there are big demands on both the backroom and coaching staff and that just gave an opportunity to bring Jason in."

Gavin had spotted a future coach lurking inside the jet-heeled 'Jayo' even from when the duo shared a Dublin dressing-room as players.

"Listening to him speak primarily about forward play and his ideas and concepts and strategies, they were always interesting," the manager explains.

DEVELOPED

"He's got a broad range of sporting backgrounds from basketball to soccer, and obviously he has achieved an awful lot in Gaelic football and developed himself as a player each year he played inter-county level.

"That's what impressed me about him - that he wanted to grow as a player - and I can see him transfer those skills to his coaching remit," he adds.

It's not that Gavin likes to surround himself with winners, per se, but rather those with a winning attitude.

"In terms of achievement it's not necessarily trophies. All of us will lose more than we win," he quickly reminds. "But those who have a desire and passion for their sport, they are the people I normally go after."

Last question: has the role of a manager changed much in his time, coming through the county ranks from U21 to senior?

"Not really. Anybody that I have in the background are all volunteers," he points out, "and they are people that I asked and the county board asked to get involved to assist the Dublin senior football team. They are all doing it for the love of the game.

"From my background in aviation and the military, to manage a team is to delegate roles and responsibility. I'm not a full-time manager or a full-time coach; I have a professional life outside of the sport.

"It is a challenging job … we are all in it together for the betterment of the players. The people I bring in are all there for the benefit of the players. That's the philosophy I have always had, even at U21 level."

froche@independent.ie

 

 

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