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Saturday 24 August 2019

Gavin flight plan leaves no room for autopilot

'In aviation there are no guarantees,' says Dublin boss, who is mindful that football is the same

Dublin manager Jim Gavin at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships at the Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin at the launch of the Leinster Senior Championships at the Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Jim Gavin is in Casement Aerodrome. Home of the Irish Air Corps, from where he flew aircraft for 18 years, living on base for six or even eight of those years.

"Ah yeah, this was my home for 20 years," the Dublin manager says, his affection for the place palpable. And, in a way, it probably always will be.

Gavin is in Baldonnel for the launch of the Leinster senior football and hurling championships. This year's Leinster SHC looks a relatively egalitarian race ... whereas the big ball equivalent is lamented as an open-and-shut case.

But you'll never hear the manager who has lifted the Delaney Cup six years on the bounce talk like that. Not Gavin's style, never was. Then again, maybe his one-game-at-a-time mantra has been shaped by his life in the air.

"In the pilot game you are trading off your preparation. For every flight," he stresses. "There are no guarantees that you get from your departure airfield to your destination. You've planned for it. You've trained for it. You're in the 'sim' (simulator) every six months.

Emergency

"You do all your checks and processes and procedures. You're planning to get there but sometimes you need to adapt as the flight evolves. Be it an abnormality or an incident in the aircraft or an emergency. Or it might be routine.

"There is no particular straight-forward path in aviation, that's for sure."

So it is with football, he reasons, even if Dublin on his watch have always taken the front-door path of least resistance. This year's campaign opens against Louth in Portlaoise on Saturday (7pm). When one thoroughbred in a two-horse race is priced 1/500 (that is no misprint) it's understandable if the favourites might get ahead of themselves.

But not the boss. Not this Air Corps veteran, who was chief flying instructor for over six years at Baldonnel. And not this assistant director of the Irish Aviation Authority, whose day job entails maximising safety and learning from the airborne accidents of the past.

"Again, in the aviation space, after each flight you'd have a review," he explains. "It's a process-driven industry. That has informed me to be very process-driven in terms of the performance of sport.

"In the context of this season, one can't give any guarantees because one just doesn't know. The only guarantee that I know from working with the players I have is that they are a really honest and hard-working group of men. They try their best in everything they do."

But surely this year is different? Heavy hangs the weight of history and all that?

"For some of the players in the Dublin squad, four years ago they were doing their Leaving Certificate," he points out.

"So that's the context for them. They're just fighting for a place. That's all they're interested in, getting on the team sheet, as in the first 26.

"If people have their own narrative or context, I can't control that. All I control is what I've been asked to do with the Dublin football team - get them to be their best, in every season."

Deserved

But they weren't at their spring best? "Coming out of the National League, the learning from that (was) if we don't perform to our very best, we'll end up fourth ... and we deserved to be there.

"It's no secret that coming out of the National League, there are quality sides evolving every season. From Kerry blazing a trail; to Tyrone playing a more offensive, attacking game; to the consistency of Mayo being deservedly winners. Those things are outside of my control. All I can so is focus on the Dublin football team."

From his league review, are others evolving or were Dublin not quite at it?

"There has been a bounce of a ball between us in other games as well," he reminds. "Like, we finished fourth before and qualified for a National League final (in 2014). It's all context, whether you want to dive in to that.

"Championship games that we've played in the past, we've won by a bounce of a ball. That's the context. We understand that there is a bounce of a ball between teams. So we've no business looking beyond … our horizon in 25th of May. That's where it's at. Whether that's my aviation history influencing, bearing upon me, I don't know. All I'm driven towards - and the players will tell you that - is the 25th of May. Let's see where it takes us."

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