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Sunday 4 December 2016

Like Jim Gavin, the Dubs try to keep it calm ahead of Fermanagh test

Gavin's cool exterior is reflected in how his team maintains their patience in adversity

Jim Gavin speaks to the media in Dublin yesterday at the Gibson Hotel.
Jim Gavin speaks to the media in Dublin yesterday at the Gibson Hotel.
Westmeath’s Paddy Holloway and John Gilligan tangle with Fermanagh’s Richard O’Callaghan and Seán Quigley near the end of their All-Ireland SFC Senior Championship, Round 4A qualifier at Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan.

There's a clip of Eoghan O'Gara's goal against Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final in 2013 that boggles the mind, with respect to Jim Gavin's self-control.

Dublin are four points up. O'Gara takes possession high inside a sparsely populated Kerry defence.

Rather than fist over the bar or, indeed, squaring to Dean Rock, the Templeogue/Synge Street man just does what comes naturally and smashes a shot off the underside of the Kerry crossbar.

Dublin win what is quickly annointed one of the greatest games of football in verifiable memory by seven.

Camera pans to Gavin.

READ MORE: Dublin boss Jim Gavin warns: There's no back door and that brings pressure on both sets of players

The Dublin manager sips from his water bottle as all around him explode into histrionics.

"I just have a particular method of keeping myself in the game and to try to watch the moments of the game," he says calculatingly, befitting of a man with his aviation/Defence Forces background.

"We all have stresses in the game. Some managers need to be animated to keep themselves in the moment of the game. It's whatever really fits."

Surely though, you're just incredibly good at suppressing the hysteria?

That, opposed to the icy exterior, an emotional fire-in-a-chicken-coop rages inside in those very moments.

"You need stress to get out of bed," he points out.

"It's how you manage those stresses. Obviously, there's a tipping point for all of us. And it's how you manage that is the challenge.

Passionate

"But I think it's just about trying to keep a cool, calm head. Obviously it's a passionate, physical contact sport that we play.

"But it's trying to keep the composure in the mind that is always the challenge."

Yet this image doesn't, for some reason, seem manufactured.

Gavin then, has changed not one jot in his two-and-a-bit years as Dublin manager in terms of his persona.

His sideline demeanour is exactly the same - dispassionate and clinical.

His media personality - as contrived as ever - is as meticulous and rehearsed now as it was when he conducted his first press conference as manager in late 2012.

Even that infamously repetitive Newstalk interview (where he repeated the same answer over and over again about the Davy Byrne affair), ill-judged though it seemed, was a result of his stoic refusal to veer from a script, regardless of how many times he was invited to.

Perhaps the only significant change Gavin has undergone in his time in charge is a philosophic one.

This time last year, any team facing Dublin had one certainty in their corner: that Dublin would play man-to-man and press as high up the pitch as deep as their opposition dropped their high-numbered players.

Now, while not unrecognisable, there are subtle changes, though Gavin isn't inclined to discuss them in too much detail.

"We have changed very little from what we have done in previous years," he insisted.

"There have been some additions as there is in every season. Teams have to grow tactically, technically and physically, if you remain static teams will pass you by.

"There are layers that have been added. But our core philosophy stays the same."

True.

But against Westmeath in the Leinster Final, they showed two dimensions of their game whereas last year, no such variation existed.

When Westmeath sat deep, Dublin maintained a quorum at the back, disinclined - as they were - to leave inviting avenues through which their opposition might pour, a la Donegal.

With a decent lead constructed, Dublin's men pushed right up on Westmeath's kick-outs, strangled them for possession and finished off the job with style.

So even if Dublin don't veer much from the 2014 version when it comes to the crunch, the very threat that they might should discourage an opposition manager from constructing a game plan based exclusively around the Dublin set-up.

"I thought we were very composed and looked in control for most of the game," Gavin reflected of the Westmeath match.

"When teams put 13 men behind the ball there's a limited amount of space," he pointed out.

"People who watch the game can't expect to see a high-scoring game. That just isn't going to happen.

"The space isn't there for the scores and for it to be a high-scoring game.

"We've accepted as a football team that that's going to be the way teams play - with 13 men behind the ball.

"If they give our offence that much respect, then it's not going to be a high-scoring game.

"We just need to go through the phases, be controlled, and when the opportunities arise to try and take them."

Not that the Dublin performance was perfect. Or anything like it. "Certainly we need to be more polished in our finishing," Gavin admitted.

Execution

"I thought some of it was a little off the last day. But the decisions to take the shots were certainly on. It's just the execution that was poor.

"So we were very, very happy to win the Delaney Cup again.

"I'm sure if they did push on there would have been spaces for us to exploit," he added of the kick back had Westmeath committed more men to attack. "They made it difficult by playing 13 men behind the ball.

"The counter to that is they made it difficult for themselves to score. That's the balance you need to get if you are going to play a counter-attacking style of football.

"It wouldn't be in our DNA. I'm not saying it's the right or wrong way. We play a particular way and we would like to keep playing that way."

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