Dublin manager Jim Gavin: ‘The game is evolving... we have to keep pace’

Jim Gavin sits more or less motionless when giving interviews. The few movements are slow and every bit as refined as the crisp shirt and suit but the man is slippery as an eel when the tape rolls.

Calmness personified, he evades verbal curveballs with ne’er a blink of an eye. 

Answers emerge stripped of anything remotely related to controversy — unless he wants it that way. The drawbridge is never lowered, especially when the conversation centres on him.

It has been noticed that the Dublin manager is rarely photographed with Sam Maguire, though God knows he has had plenty of opportunities these last few years, and he has rarely if ever been captured actually holding the thing.

His reasoning is simple. His job, as he sees it, is to be a facilitator. He is a behind-the-scenes man whose remit is to erect the stage on which his players, who are the real stars, can shine. Anything else is nothing more than a distraction.

His latest sit-down, prior to Sunday’s All-Ireland final against Mayo, followed all the usual lines. He admitted to taking an interest in other football managers but it was almost under sufferance that he offered up names like Dr Pat O’Neill and Mickey Whelan.

Other sports have come under his microscopic eye and, though details are vague here too, he admits to having read up on Bill Walsh, the legendary American football coach who turned the San Francisco 49ers from laughing stock into blue-chip stock.

“The ability to help the people around me self-actualise their goals underlines the single aspect of my abilities and the label that I value most — teacher.” That’s Walsh writing in his book, The Score Takes Care of Itself.

It could just as easily be Gavin.

“Culture precedes positive results.” was another of the maxims made famous by Walsh whose legacy stretches far beyond three Super Bowl titles to his championing of the revolutionary ‘West Coast offense’ and a generation of coaches who cut their teeth under him.

Walsh also possessed a voracious work ethic and, though Gavin refused to be drawn — yet again — on the volume of hours he commits to the Dublin cause, he echoes the Californian in the fact that he sees standing still as falling behind.

“What we’ve learned is that you have to improve, you can’t remain static,” said Gavin.

“Each season that we’ve taken the team, we’ve tried to evolve. Each game we’ve tried to evolve, even from the game against Tyrone, we’ve identified things we have to work on.

“We’re on the right track, there’s no doubt about that, but if we remain static ... you can see the evolution of the Mayo team and the bits that they’re adding to their game. The game is evolving all the time, we just have to keep pace with it.”

That’s clearly rubbish. Dublin have redefined Gaelic football. It’s others struggling to keep up. Think of the Stephen Cluxton effect alone, or the manner in which they played the code’s first prolonged version of tiki-taka against Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final late last month.

Tyrone brought nothing they hadn’t seen before though. Gavin admitted as much. Mayo bring far more big-game experience, better players individually and a management team that isn’t afraid to approach the strategic side of things from left-field.

Gavin doesn’t see it so much like that.

The Aidan O’Shea switch to full-back, for example, he classified firstly as “realistic” rather than anything revolutionary but he knows that Dublin will need to be prepared for the possibility of something they haven’t encountered yet.

“We know all the players and we will see. They just have a wealth of talent. So, yeah, they can mix it up. And you saw last year with the goalkeepers, they made the brave decision to change it up. The same again with Aidan O’Shea. Very versatile player. A big fulcrum of their game plan.

“Plus, they can change their game plan. They can run the ball, they can kick it as well. So they pose threats on many levels and I thought against Kerry in the first half, the 17 shots they had, they got seven points and they probably would have been disappointed with that. They’ve been racking up big scores and they’ve been very impressive.

“So, yeah, you need to prepare for all angles.”

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