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Thursday 21 November 2019

Jim ready to fly again

No news is good news for Dub GAA chiefs as Gavin starts plotting for the six-in-a-row

Jim Gavin, who is set to remain on as Dublin manager hugs Jack McCaffrey after last year’s All-Ireland success. Photo: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin, who is set to remain on as Dublin manager hugs Jack McCaffrey after last year’s All-Ireland success. Photo: Sportsfile

There has been no official announcement and there doesn't even need to be. Jim Gavin is going nowhere.

Or, to be more precise, he is going where no manager has gone before - in pursuit of six-in-a-row.

September speculation that the Dublin football manager might depart on a history-making high has been replaced by the dawning realisation that he will back in charge when the latest Allianz League campaign kicks off on January 25.

He has two years left to run on his latest deal, and the county board doesn't even need to go through the formalities of ratifying a manager who could be there for life, were he so inclined.

"He hasn't indicated that he's going," confirmed Dublin chairman Seán Shanley last night.

"The way he's inquiring and talking about fixtures for the league and that, I'd say he is definitely staying on."

A position that the county board would welcome?

"Oh, definitely."

Delivered

It's safe to surmise that, if Gavin was seriously contemplating an exit stage left, he would have kept Shanley, John Costello & Co in the loop. Especially as almost seven weeks have passed since the five-in-a-row was signed, sealed and delivered after an epic All-Ireland sequel with Kerry.

Even the most decorated squad in the game wouldn't fancy such managerial uncertainty after the clocks have gone back, and with a Croke Park rematch with Kerry pencilled in for the last Saturday in January, when another league campaign kicks off, less than three months away.

But it's abundantly clear that Gavin has also started planning and plotting for Kerry and beyond.

You can read the signals in other way, too. In late September, Bernard Brogan revealed how he planned to sit down with Gavin and "have a chat" about his future, whether that entailed retirement or carrying on.

"I want to meet Jim and have an honest conversation with him and not come into the meeting (going), 'This is what's happening.' Just have a chat with him and, as I said, when I got injured, 'Let's just war game it.' Whatever result will be, will be," Brogan told Off The Ball.

"We'll have an open and frank conversation but I'm not going to go in with a decision made. Because Jim has been a big part of my career for a long time and we've won six All-Irelands together."

Fast-forward a month and Brogan was confirming his inter-county retirement. Subsequently, in an interview with the Irish Examiner earlier this week, the four-time All-Star revealed how he had met up with Gavin last week, in the Westin Hotel on Westmoreland Street, to tell him of his looming announcement.

According to this account, Gavin asked if he was sure and Brogan assured him that he was, after which the manager conveyed his sadness, congratulations and, especially, his gratitude.

All of these actions are not those of a manager in the process of disengagement. He has been tangled up in blue for seven seasons that are sure to have tested his mental energies like no other amateur sporting pursuit, but when your team keeps on winning, why hop off the treadmill now?

For all that, there was more than a whiff of speculation, on that emotional Saturday night in mid-September, that the Dublin manager might view this perfect day as the ideal way to say goodbye.

Albeit at the second attempt, the Drive for Five had ended in the chequered flag. A tantalising target that eluded Mick O'Dwyer in football, and Brian Cody in hurling, had been reached by Dublin's inscrutable supremo.

So often guarded in his media pronouncements, Gavin gave one of the most engaging post-match briefings of his seven-year reign in the aftermath of that September 14 replay. His father Jimmy slipped into the media auditorium, in the bowels of the Hogan Stand, to hear it all.

Jumped

Quite a few present read the mood music and jumped to the conclusion that this could be it.

Yet, if you revisit his actual words that evening, there was nothing definitive.

"I have a profession outside of this role I've been asked to do for Dublin and I have family commitments too. It all goes into the mix. But it's not the time [to talk about it]," Gavin said.

"I have committed to next year so we'll reflect on it."

It was, in a way, classic Jim: he was merely telling us what we already knew. If there was a decision to be made, he would only reveal the outcome in his own good time.

Or maybe not tell us at all.

You see, he doesn't have to. Gavin had already signed up for the 2019 season when the county board announced, last December, that their manager had agreed a further two-year extension.

In other words, he has already been ratified up to the end of 2021. By then he would have served nine seasons -and potentially won eight All-Irelands.

Yesterday, asked if the county board had ever harboured doubts about Gavin's future intentions, Shanley alluded to the potential attraction that you could "go out on that high ... but no, he never gave any inkling that he was even thinking about it.

"The only thing he'd be worried about is, you know, that he can do it - that his work life wouldn't interfere with it."

And, as an assistant director in the Irish Aviation Authority, it must be acknowledged that the 48-year-old has a busy and taxing job.

Juggle

Yet his ability to juggle 'work and play', since taking over from Pat Gilroy in October 2012, has never been in question.

This former Irish Air Corps pilot has been a runaway success like no other modern manager.

As the accompanying graphic reminds us, he has won 18 out of 21 major honours (between league, Leinster and Sam Maguire). He has lost one of his 48 championship outings, and remains unbeaten in the last 37 of those dating back to that watershed semi-final defeat to Donegal in 2014.

It's not just in the trophies or the numbers but the chasm he has built between Dublin and most of the rest: their average winning margin in SFC combat on Gavin's watch stands at 10.6 points per game.

Can he - or they - be stopped in 2020? Kerry will obviously believe they are the best equipped to end the champions' unbeaten streak, but who else if anybody?

In the coming weeks, following Brogan's lead, there are bound to be a few more retirements of veterans who have slipped to the fringes.

But most if not all of the front-line troops will be back in the mix for six. And so too, it is now increasingly clear, will be the main man himself.

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