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A martial law for Jim

Former Dubs boss based his methods on military history


Famous day: Dublin manager Jim Gavin after the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

Famous day: Dublin manager Jim Gavin after the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September


Famous day: Dublin manager Jim Gavin after the All-Ireland SFC Final replay win over Kerry at Croke Park last September

In hindsight, with all we know now about Jim Gavin and the guiding influence of military doctrine on the type of football manager he would become, it's an easy scene to picture.

Gavin, the freshly crew-cut cadet in 1990. Eight weeks into his schooling in McDonagh Barracks in the Curragh.

Sheepish from the severity of that initial training.

Into the room walks Dermot Earley.

"We weren't like frightened puppies but when the senior officer comes into the room, you stand and you salute," he recalled of his first encounter with the legendary Roscommon footballer, who went on to become Chief of Staff, before a third level match between the cadets and Mary Immaculate College.

"He went around, shook our hands and asked us where we were from. Then he talked a bit about tactics.

"But," Gavin recalls with sparkling clarity, the experience having had a sincere effect on him, "he didn't talk about winning.

"What he said was, 'the greatest reward you'll ever get from anything in life is the satisfaction of doing something well and to the best of your ability'.

"And that is pretty much the philosophy that we used in my time with Dublin."

That was one of the many, varied stories told by Gavin on Wednesday night in an online conversation with fellow Clondalkin-er, Jim Kelly, a childhood friend and now Director of Coaching with Lansdowne Yonkers FC in New York.

Over ninety minutes of informal chat, Gavin darted up and down the spectrum of influences on his own coaching principles, many illustrative of how profoundly the military - and later, aviation safety - shaped his method of building and maintaining the most successful Gaelic football team in 40 years.

But there were others.

Events and people Gavin either avoided speaking about during his seven seasons as Dublin manager or just never cropped up in conversation.

He recalled vividly a family holiday to Florida to visit a relative in 1983.


There, he developed an initial interest in American Football, a sport from which he derived extensive coaching theory through deep study later in life.

Now, he can casually analyse the methods of some of America's most revered coaching figures; Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs, Bill Parcells, John Wooden and topically enough, Phil Jackson.

One particular match, Super Bowl XXIII, he recalled "resonated with me very much."

That game is best remembered for the San Franciso 49ers relentless late comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Down 16 to 13, the 49ers had the ball on their own eight-yard line with just 3.10 on the clock and proceeded to march 92 yards down the field in 11 plays.

They scored the winning touchdown from a Joe Montana pass to John Taylor with just 34 seconds left in the game.

It is considered a classic in the genre of 'sticking to the process' sporting lessons.

It also crystalised Montana's 'Cool Joe' persona, unflappable and unyielding despite the gravity of the situation and enormity of the occasion.

All of which sounds vaguely familiar.

Gavin spoke admirably too about former Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers coach Jackson and his handling of Dennis Rodman.

About how Jackson "gave him space to go off and release pressure," during a season in a bid to coax his eccentric defensive specialist back in to form.

Asked about his own man-management experiences, Gavin explained: "every player, you want them to express themselves as individuals. Every player, the way I look at them, as a coach, all your players - they all have different locks.

"One key will not fit every player. If you think there's a master key…forget it.

"Each player needs to be treated as an individual.

"If you want to get the best out of your player, you have to empower them.

"You can only do that from them gaining your trust."

What became sharply clear during the chat was the extent to which Gavin the coach is a collaboration of disparate philosophies.

And how the formative experiences of his professional and sporting life effectively became the chapters of his coaching manual.

The oscillating fortunes of his own playing career. The strict and necessary discipline of military life. The grave importance of detail in aviation safety.

And books. Lots and lots of books.

Gavin described himself as "a practitioner."

"I don't have any degree in sports psychology or fitness," he stresses, yet he also cited big theories such Dale's Cone of Experience, Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, Fundamental Attribution Errors and the End-of History Illusion as touchstones of his own ideology.

Asked for a highlight of his time as manager, Gavin pulled a more obscure moment than most might expect.

"The National League final in 2013 was my first bit of tin (as Dublin manager)," he recalled.


"We played Tyrone in that final. Dean Rock got a couple of scores late in the game off the bench.

"That probably solidified some of the concepts that we were trying to teach. That 21-man game."

Then, in a quintessential Gavin pivot, he explained: "I'm reading a book on Napolean. Your strength in depth is a key component of (success).

"That fella Napolean won most of his battles - and I'd be a huge student of military battles - by using his strength in depth. His reserve.

"I'm not saying the players who start the game are like the clown in a bull fight before the matadors come in," Gavin went on, "but in some ways they are.

"Kevin McManamon would have been a great bull fighter, would have made a great matador. He's phenomenally mentally strong, a superb man.

"He's just a great guy. But phenomenally mentally strong. He'd push himself. That mental strength, we could use it to the team's advantage.

"He could deliver a performance, no matter what the circumstances."