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Friday 6 December 2019

Micko's eight now in Gavin's reach

Gavin's win ratio eclipses even O'Dwyer in his Kerry pomp

John Small, Cormac Costello, Michael Fitzsimons and Dean Rock celebrate at the final whistle last Satrurday
John Small, Cormac Costello, Michael Fitzsimons and Dean Rock celebrate at the final whistle last Satrurday

For decades, it has been an article of faith - the greatest football team ever, Micko's Kerry, end of argument.

Then Dublin kept winning and the argument resurfaced; and now they've completed the magical five-in-a-row that escaped even Kerry.

All of this brings us to another long undisputed doctrine: the greatest manager of them all, Mick O'Dwyer.

If Brian Cody is acclaimed as the untouchable godfather of hurling management, with 11 All-Irelands and counting, O'Dwyer has held the same position in football for even longer.

But now the record books and various other statistical yardsticks are calling this into question.

The Kerry octogenarian is still the standard-bearer with eight All-Irelands ... but Jim Gavin is closing rapidly, with six Sam Maguires in just seven seasons. This equates to a higher success ratio than O'Dwyer's eight from 15 with Kerry - or even eight from his first 12 seasons.

The Dublin boss can also boast a more impressive national league record: five titles in a seven-year window, compared to three from 15.

Doubles

Reflecting Dublin's season-long consistency, Gavin has already achieved four league and championship doubles, whereas O'Dwyer managed this feat just once - in 1984.

Meanwhile, Gavin's championship strike rate is off the charts: he has won 44 out of 48 games, drawing three and losing just once, representing a win ratio of 91.67 per cent. O'Dwyer's SFC win ratio in Kerry was 79.63 per cent: he won 43, drew four and lost seven out of 54.

If the Dublin manager stays for the long haul, the distinct probability is that he'll ultimately surpass the man from Waterville.

Countering that, there has been lots of conjecture this week over Gavin's future intentions, fuelled by the celebratory mood music of Saturday night in Croke Park, even the release of emotion from usually stoic personalities such as Gavin and his perennial captain, Stephen Cluxton.

Might completion of the Drive for Five be the perfect time to walk away?

"Everybody in Dublin would be hoping that he doesn't," Barney Rock told The Herald.

"I think he committed to do it (last December) until 2021 ... it would be a big shell-shock (if he left) and I don't think there'd be anyone running to queue up to take the team because it would be a hard record to follow.

"Sometimes people say things straight after games, and people take the wrong things from it. But I'd still see Jim Gavin being the manager next year," Rock predicted. "The team is going well, it's a young team, there's loads of young lads coming through - and I don't see him moving."

Rock's son, Dean, has been a mainstay of the Gavin years, starring off the bench in the 2013 All-Ireland final before taking on the mantle of deadball specialist from the start of 2015.

Barney himself soldiered in vain for Dublin against Micko's Kerry in the 1984 and '85 deciders. But he's loath to compare managers - let alone teams - from such disparate eras.

Comparing

"I hate comparing people. I hate people saying 'the greatest team of all time'," said Rock Snr.

"Management nowadays is totally different to back in the 1970s and '80s. Back then, Micko probably did all the training whereas now the coaching would be done under Jim's management, you'd have other lads doing all that work. But there's a lot more goes into the matches nowadays."

For all the differences, Rock is convinced that Gavin is "definitely in that company" where once you had O'Dwyer, all on his own: "In seven years he's only been beaten once in championship. It's a phenomenal record by the leader of the team."

O'Dwyer's record haul of eight included one four-in-a-row and it's fascinating to compare his record at that 1981 juncture - when he had completed seven years in the hotseat - to that of Gavin today.

Back then, the Kerry supremo had won five All-Irelands and, of the 27 SFC games contested, his team had prevailed in 24, drawing once and losing twice - a win ratio of almost 89 per cent. Just marginally shy of Gavin's new benchmark.

After the raw shock of '82, Micko's Kerry would regroup and secure a three-in-a-row encore from '84. But his Kerry reign then flatlined and, in Owen McCrohan's biography of Mick O'Dwyer, Manager of the Millennium, the eponymous hero recalls his brooding drive home after the 1989 Munster final loss to Cork: "I realised how foolish I was to have stayed on so long. If I had pulled out after winning the All-Ireland in 1986 it would have saved me those three awful years. Now I was leaving when nobody wanted me to stay a minute longer."

O'Dwyer would reinvent himself as a wandering manager with the Midas touch in Kildare, Laois and Wicklow. It's impossible to conceive Gavin managing any county other than his native heath ... question is, how long will he stay with his beloved Dubs?

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