Dubs’ drive for excellence edges game closer to pro era

Dubs’ drive for excellence edges game closer to pro era
Cross codes: Dublin football forwards coach Jason Sherlock chats with Ireland rugby team manager Paul Dean during a visit to the side’s training session at Carton House. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Jim Gavin was nothing if not consistent.

He was consistent in his mannerisms and his general demeanor. In his persistent nods to the ‘threats’ posed by their next opponents, regardless of whether they were Wicklow or Kerry.

And in his insistence that all of this was not about him but the betterment of Dublin GAA.

Modest to the last, he presented himself as a humble servant rather than master of all he surveyed.

He was the very essence of a man tangled up in blue, but there were times when he could be coaxed from that thicket to take in a wider view.

Amateurism was a particularly good bait.

It’s only six months since he last talked about how that ethos remains the bedrock of the association.

He spoke of pride and the parish, how players weren’t in this for 50 cents a mile and how professionalism just wasn’t sustainable. This is a view he has always shared with sincerity and its one he embodies.

Reserved in his dealings with the media he may have been, Gavin was always open to the needs and wants of the volunteers that he praised so often.

He clearly holds the amateur ethos close to his heart and yet he was part of a machine that has taken the inter-county game ever closer to pay-for-play.

This is the duality of Jim Gavin and modern Gaelic games as a whole.

The drive for excellence, which the Dubs have come to embody, is a one-way street with an inevitable end. It demands more time, more expertise and more commitment and all of that demands more money.

Dublin have more of everything than anyone else and they have used it all well.

The debate on amateurism and professionalism is the great schism of our time in Irish sport.

The likes of Gavin and so many others in the GAA, at all levels, may refuse to accept that but the irony of all this is that they are the very ones leading the association through what will ultimately be its own Reformation.

Dublin aren’t just part of this philosophical debate. T

hey are writing the scripture, directing the course of events — unwittingly though it may be — towards an inevitable conclusion, with their full-time CEO, their commercial director, panoply of sponsors, and a high performance manager to boot.

This is only the start. Where Dublin — and Kilkenny in hurling — have gone others have followed. There is always a need for more.

Dubs’ drive for excellence edges game closer to pro era

Sport, like capitalism, is a fire that needs feeding. It can’t and it won’t stop. It can’t row back. It grinds on, driven by its own momentum like a side winning silverware and comes to need it like a drug.

That professionalism behind the scenes was echoed in every step made by Gavin and his team these last seven years, even if the argument has been made that anyone with a Junior ‘B’ club medal could have led the Dubs to success given all the structural and financial advantages they have enjoyed.

The grotesque discrepancies in funding the county has received when compared to their competitors is certainly grounds for discussion when putting Gavin’s achievements and legacy into perspective, but none of that can hide his centrality to everything we have witnessed through most of this decade.

So many of us still view Gaelic games and hurling in black-and-white. Teams are either adventurous or defensive. Dublin + Kerry = good.

Ulster football as a collective = mostly bad. It’s laughably reductive and a million miles from the truth when it comes to the five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions.

It was two years ago when an Irish rugby player who had played under Joe Schmidt waxed lyrical about Dublin’s multiple play books and formations and the regular pop quizzes to which the squad would be subjected throughout a season.

Jonny Cooper was particularly hot on them, apparently. It was just one insight into an operation that has revolutionised the game as it is played and, more importantly, prepared.

Dublin’s journey from nearly men to supermen started before Gavin. Paul Caffrey got the car back on the road, Pat Gilroy siphoned out the last of the dirty petrol but Gavin has fitted it with a V8 engine and strapped on an armour-plated hull and a howitzer of a gun to boot.

Where he and the Dubs have gone others will follow. The committed amateur may not like where it all ends.

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