Dublin footballers continue to be somewhat of a quandary for everybody outside the capital, don’t they? It’s like people are torn between really appreciating what they’re doing through their incredible domination of the competition, or utterly despising it because of the obvious advantages they have enjoyed getting there, writes Mike Quirke
The inequality of funding and resources they have over every other county in the competition, along with playing the vast majority of their games at ‘home’ in Croke Park, continues to give the perception that they are playing with a stacked deck.
More funding, population, clubs, more players… So, it’s not hard to allow yourself to feel sour about what they’ve been able to achieve of late.
Easy to knock them and explain away their success with a sorry tale of how the GAA are doing everything in their power to protect their golden goose to the detriment of the rest.
And there’s probably a certain truth in that.
They’re so far ahead of the rest of the pack, people have kind of lost interest in their story.
Take the USPGA championship on Sunday. The seemingly emotionless Brooks Koepka played near flawless golf to win his third major title in six attempts — a truly incredible achievement, but scarcely anybody cared.
Tiger’s Sunday charge through the field was the story that captured the imagination.
Without Tiger, golf just isn’t as appealing.
Do fans appreciate Koepka’s game? Of course they do. Do they love him like Tiger? No chance.
It’s a similar story with Gaelic football right now.
Because of that undercurrent of boredom with the brilliance of the Dubs, they need a Mayo or Kerry, or maybe it will be Tyrone to breathe life into their tale.
While many are becoming slightly disengaged with the whole thing, it’s becoming more apparent to me what a remarkable job Jim Gavin and his coaching crew are doing to keep them rolling the way they are.
Has there ever been a more self-deprecating GAA manager than Gavin?
After stomping over the top of Galway on Saturday evening on their way to yet another All-Ireland final, the Round Towers man sidestepped any compliments coming at him him like a fly avoiding get caught by chopsticks.
His spiel sounds boring and almost disingenuous at this stage, and sometimes you’d like the guy to stand up after, stick out his chest and say: ‘Yeah, I created this!’
But it’s that apparent complete absence of ego that is marking him and his players out as an incredibly special bunch.
I’ve mentioned previously how he has virtually eradicated the term ‘hunger’ from the GAA punditry circuit.
It was a hugely intangible quality back in the noughties when GAA heads would try to predict a winner by asking: ‘Who’s the hungrier side?’
The theory was hunger became satisfied with success and silverware. Medals and trophies fill your belly and quell the appetite for the hard work that got you to the top of the pile in the first place.
Hunger was that abstract mental edge that propelled teams on to great accomplishments over a more vaunted opponent. The absence of success kept you sharp and focused. The achievement of it normally led to complacency and ultimately defeat.
This Dublin squad just don’t subscribe to that hunger theory and have dispelled it as a complete myth at this stage.
If you won the All-Ireland at any point in between Mick O’Dwyer’s Kerry team, and before the start of this era of Dublin control, the generally accepted theory meant you were unlikely to repeat the dose the following year. There were too many teams of a more equal standard, and the season of celebrating and enjoying the fruits of your labour would take too much of a toll.
My point is this: Jim Gavin is doing something very deliberate with Dublin that has eradicated the notion of winning making you less driven for the future. He’s tapped into what it is to keep them highly motivated. That’s gold.
I’ve mentioned on these pages previously, from what small slivers of insight we pick up from interviews from former players and the like, how Dublin seemingly invest huge time and energy into trying to create more of a player-led environment.
That environment in which they operate can have a significant impact on the type of motivation they experience.
Too much sports coaching the world over is still based on the carrot and the stick. Reward and punishment. That type of coaching environment creates those players who tend to be more extrinsically motivated. A form of motivation that typically leads to more short-term results.
In that context, the coach or manager are positioned as all-powerful fonts of knowledge with all the right answers. From every word uttered by the Dublin manager, it’s obvious that isn’t how they operate.
It’s about empowering their players to be more active participants in the entire coaching and game-management process. That comes from giving them increased opportunity to feel like they are involved in some of the decision-making that directly affects them. Their need for autonomy is being supported. How they train. How they play. Everything. That can have a huge impact on a person’s motivation.
I understand that most people are fed up the way Dublin are dominating the competition. And I think that’s the main reason why we haven’t embraced Gavin in the same way we think of a Brian Cody or Mick O’Dwyer. He doesn’t come across as some great character in front of the cameras, nor does he display any wild ‘passion’ on the sideline during games.
Being calm and steady are obviously not the most embraceable qualities for hero worship, but whatever about what we get to see publicly, Jim Gavin and the ship he is running have provided an environment where players have flourished under his management and continue to improve and work hard to stay at the very top of the pile.
When I think of Dublin’s enviable resources, I wonder why they are not dominating at development squad level year in, year out. Why are their minor and U20s not cruising through the field each season?
Where are their hurlers?
Do they not all benefit from similar luxuries in terms of funding and resources as the football side?
I’m sure somebody has a better answer, but it must also be at least conceivable that this is just a very special group of Dublin footballers with a spectacular manager who are attaining incredible heights because of how they operate together.
Nobody truly knows for sure.
One thing is certain however, Jim Gavin will always be more Brooks Koepka than Tiger Woods, but his brilliance as manager of Dublin will only truly be appreciated long after he’s gone.
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