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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Surely Gavin's record puts a seed of doubt in his sideline rivals?

Jim Gavin. Pic: Sportsfile
Jim Gavin. Pic: Sportsfile

It's a rudimentary rule of maths that when you've lost just ten out of 96 league and championship games, you will enjoy head-to-head bragging rights over virtually every single managerial opponent.

That's the happy statistical place in which Jim Gavin (right) finds himself - six-and-a-half years into his reign - ahead of Saturday night's latest Croke Park shindig with Mickey Harte.

Knowing Gavin, he will be consumed by very different stats this week: like Dublin's conversion ratios, kickout percentages, tackle counts, etc, etc.

But what about the managers who keep facing Dublin's inscrutable general - and, for the most part, keep on losing? How much does that erode self-confidence, leaving them doubting their game-plans and/or players the next time battle resumes? This weekend's duel got us thinking on that very subject.

Elusive

Harte has never struck us a manager who wavers in the belief that what he's doing is always the right thing for Tyrone … but have their most recent Dublin showdowns (four defeats on the trot, by a cumulative 26 points) impacted on his belief in the team or even in his own ability to engineer an elusive victory?

"No," he replied, asked that question yesterday. "I don't think so much in the games with Dublin because everybody knows you're playing against the best.

"Experience against the best is a good thing anyway. Yes, you don't want to be beaten and you don't want to be overhauled in the way we were perhaps in that (2017) semi-final.

"But getting games against a team like Dublin, who are the best in the last four or five years, without question, are always good games to get.

"Regardless of the outcome, because you're certainly learning a lot more about yourself and your players than you would by playing against teams that you know you can handle or manage."

Harte actually won his first battle with Gavin - a March 2013 league clash at Croke Park. But their eight subsequent meetings have produced six Dublin wins and two draws; and those 2015 and 2017 stalemates must have felt almost like defeats given how Tyrone had HQ victory wrenched from their grasp late on.

Still, Harte is scarcely alone: the vast majority of Gavin's opponents have suffered in his company.

Éamonn Fitzmaurice is one of only three to have beaten Dublin twice since 2013 - but that must be viewed in the context of an overall record that incorporates one draw and seven Kerry defeats, including all three SFC encounters.

James Horan has only met Gavin on five occasions; but the prodigal Mayo boss can boast of just one draw (in 2014) and his fourth loss (last month) had a deflating air to it.

Rivalry

Previous Mayo managers - the Pat Holmes/Noel Connelly axis in 2015, and Stephen Rochford thereafter - have suffered in the league against Dublin and yet brought them to replays at the business end of the championship. Will Horan believe he can go one step further if the rivalry resumes this summer?

For the record, Fitzmaurice apart, the only other managers with two victories over Gavin are Cork's Brian Cuthbert (even that couldn't salvage his Rebel reign) and Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke.

And his only 'unbeaten' senior adversary? Jim McGuinness, whose Donegal drew in the 2013 league and then famously ambushed the Dubs in 2014.

Soon after, McGuinness's career took a very different direction. Maybe he realised that Jimmy winning matches against Jim was about to become a whole lot more difficult ...

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