Like Gavin, Schmidt has built an environment that will outlast him

Like Gavin, Schmidt has built an environment that will outlast him
Ireland rugby head coach Joe Schmidt, right, and Dublin football manager Jim Gavin. A lot like the examination of Dublin that will follow Jim Gavin’s eventual departure, the same scenario will face Ireland post-Joe Schmidt, says Ed Coughlan. Picture: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Last Saturday evening in Croke Park had a sense of inevitability about it, as Dublin cruised to their 29th All-Ireland title, capturing the elusive five in a row in the process.

Their recent dominance and consistency under Jim Gavin is deserving of a place in history.

The question now becomes; how many more titles can they add in their quest to hunt down the top spot on the all-time honours list, currently at 37, deservingly held by Kerry?

There are two narratives around Dublin at the moment. One suggests that should one or two critical individuals depart the scene, the current success would be a lot more difficult to sustain.

This runs counter to the narrative that Dublin are successful because of the money they receive. Is it possible that Dublin are as good as they are because they have created what money can’t buy: a no-frills environment built on respect and autonomy?

If Jim Gavin and Stephen Cluxton were to sign off from their duties with Dublin in the off-season, hypothetically speaking, I do not see it as the stimulus for implosion that others suggest it would be, because of the manner in which the environment has been built, again, not because of the money the county receives.

Jim Gavin may have had to lead by example for the early years of his time in charge, but in more recent times, the players have taken on the mantle of sustaining the standards of excellence and setting the tone for new players and personnel that are continually added to the set-up as others move on.

This type of player-led environment is what will determine the sustained success or failure of Dublin football in seasons ahead.

In addition, the succession planning is well and truly in motion, with Jason Sherlock, among others, learning from within.

This is not to say that they will try to mimic Jim Gavin’s approach if and when they get the chance to manage the team, as this would also be a contravention of the type of philosophy that underpins this group.

The opposite in fact; it is likely they would be encouraged to improve on what is already there while continuing to grow an environment that nurtures accountability and self-development, neither of which have a price tag on them.

Jim Gavin himself remarked on what was in position when he took over from Pat Gilroy in 2012, mentioning the coaching ethos put in place by Mickey Whelan.

This was not to suggest that it was to remain untouched, but instead be added to and developed further.

The lessons to be taken for other counties from this Dublin team are many and rather than seeing their success through cynical eyes, it will serve people better to see it as an opportunity to learn.

Dublin have become a team of decision makers and problem solvers with an incredible skillset for the diverse plays that define the game of Gaelic football.

Their capacity to handpass, kick pass, hop, solo, and score off both sides is what we were lead to believe was the birthright of those from Kerry only.

Not anymore.

So what do we make of kids from Dublin who were not born with a football in their hand and a sense of entitlement to raise Sam Maguire above their heads with such regularity that they grew up to think that Croke Park was only visited on All-Ireland final day?

If this Dublin team does anything for the coaching culture in Ireland, it might be to finally banish the idea that talent is something we are born with, passed down from one generation to the next.

As the football season draws to a close, The Rugby World Cup is about to begin in Japan where parallels between Jim Gavin and Joe Schmidt are there for all to see.

Before Schmidt, rugby played a distant supporting role in the Irish sporting landscape. Since Schmidt, it has moved to the top table with no signs of leaving any time soon. Recently, Brian O’Driscoll commented that it was the consistency of the team that sets Schmidt apart from his predecessors.

Furthermore, Schmidt’s attention to detail has been well documented over the years. The comparisons between the two men continue into their demeanour, conduct, and knowledge of their respective games.

Even though there have been times where Schmidt’s approach was questioned as being too specific and lacking in player input, based on conjecture around how they played, I’m not sure there is sufficient evidence to support the accusation. if there is any case to be answered in this regard it will be tested like never before over the next six weeks in Japan, should Ireland manage to stay out there that long.

Apart from the obvious differences between the sports, the fact that rugby is so structured no doubt lends itself to a particular type of approach.

That said, the game is more free-flowing than ever before, and coaches like England’s Eddie Jones speak about how games are won and lost by the teams best prepared for the unstructured sequences that often get the crowd on their feet.

It will be fascinating to see what lessons Joe Schmidt has learned through his time in charge as he signs off from his head coach role at the end of the competition. Suggestions that Ireland have been figured out, I suspect, will whet his appetite to prove his doubters wrong.

The planned succession of Andy Farrell from within to replace him again speaks to the possible comparisons between Dublin football and the Irish rugby team.

It is ironic that the professionalism of Irish rugby is matched only by a team still residing in the amateur ranks, a stark reminder of the shambles Irish soccer has found itself in nowadays.

A lot like the examination of Dublin that will follow Jim Gavin’s eventual departure, the same can be said of Joe Schmidt.

Irish rugby will have little patience for a lull in performances after he is gone. In fact, such patience will be tested before he goes should Ireland once again fail to make a semi-final or indeed go on to contest a final in early November.

I believe they can, but then again I also believed they could in 2015.

Yet this time around I sense the true brilliance of Joe Schmidt will shine through, even if it has been helped by the arrival of Stuart Lancaster at Leinster in the meantime, to showcase a form of coaching that encapsulates both structure and chaos.

Make no mistake, the former England head coach has impacted Irish rugby, even in the confines of his province.

The measure of a coach is in their capacity to learn from whomever, wherever, forever, and Joe Schmidt, like Jim Gavin, has shown enough over the years that he is always trying to improve himself and those around him.


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