Jim Gavin’s big strength has been his coolness on the line, his composure and his ability to transfer these same virtues to his players, says Oisín McConville.
To date, the championship has gone exactly as both of these teams had planned. In fact, neither has had to face a bump in the road let alone a road block. Both teams would get more resistance from their B teams than what they were faced with in the championship to date.
There are few teams in recent history that have reinvented themselves as many times as Tyrone have although they have struggled to recreate the same intensity and fear factor they enjoyed in the noughties. Tyrone people were also guilty of the unthinkable in turning on Mickey Harte, questioning if he was the man, questioning his fortitude and his resilience. The Tyrone County Board also questioned the great man. They rewarded him with a one-year contract when they should have it in writing that the job is all his until such times as he chooses to walk away.
Of the current crop, only Brian Cody and Jim Gavin can be mentioned in the same breath as Harte. It is one thing to win All-Irelands, it’s another to build a new team, to instil the same credentials and the same values in a brand new bunch of young men.
To anyone who has managed or coached in the most recent era, they will realise that is now not as easy as it once was. Yet Harte has managed to stay current and relate to these young lads.
As well as his man-management, he has moved with the modern ways, defensively sound and able to break and attack with pace and precision. This current regime is two years in the making. They first started to use this
system against Mayo in the league in
Castlebar in February of last year. It took a lot of work to perfect and a little bit of tweaking of individuals.
Tyrone are now a top-four team and will be for some time. The country can trawl the best ideas for all those transfixed on changing the championship status quo, but next year the semi-finalists will be exactly the same as 2017. Tyrone are here to stay and they can rival Dublin in their ability to fund this longevity and a conveyor belt of players coming to replace or push on those in situ.
Their ex-players attend regular Club Tyrone gigs all over the world. In that regard, they have created a revenue stream second to none. Granted, it’s much harder work than what Dublin and Kerry do to create the finest atmosphere for players to prosper in but they get it done with the minimum of fuss.
Gavin has no such worries. When I first witnessed him at play I wondered how this soft-spoken, methodical, Arsene Wenger-type figure was going to inspire the Dublin upstarts.
Three years I have spent waiting for a chink in the armour, a change of expression, a glimmer of joy or a sense of annoyance. But here we are still waiting, still wondering if indeed what we see on the sideline is for real or is this a mask of ultimate composure for us all to admire, especially those who lose it weekly at the U6 or U8 game.
I thought we had seen a chink during the year with the Diarmuid Connolly rant, but make no mistake; instead of this being a rant it was a well-placed show of support for his players, a well thought-out event that is sure to pay off when most needed, which is this weekend. Be under no illusions — Jim had discussed that well-placed and well-timed outburst with his media manager, his commercial manager and his lifestyle coach, his analysts and his selectors before launching it into the public domain.
Gavin’s big strength has been his coolness on the line, his composure and his ability to transfer these same virtues to his players, that’s why they win so many big games in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
Gone too are the mega egos of previous Dublin teams – these guys are grounded and they are approachable but most of all they love winning. They are also capable of winning whatever way you want to play them: pack the defence, throw caution to the wind... it doesn’t matter, they will take what you have and come back at you with all they have. They are nasty, they like it physical, they are stubborn. They don’t feel compelled to entertain, it’s just part of the package with them.
The Dubs are untested to this stage, just like their opponents. Neither team knows where they stand really (just look at Kerry last week!) For me, Tyrone have a couple of major issues. Their outlet ball is still Mark Bradley, I can’t see him get much change out of Jonny Cooper or Philly McMahon. I watched him play a similar role with his club this year in the Ulster Club Championship and really struggle. Tyrone have been ruthlessly efficient this year in front of goal with between 10 and 12 scorers in each game. However, they still have a tendency to take silly options and kick poor wides under pressure. That pressure will be ever-present this weekend.
For both these teams, it must be a sense of relief that there is a proper championship match coming down the track. Dublin, in particular, will feel they have had a really easy passage to the semi-final. I imagine this Dublin group will enjoy the questions being asked of them this week.
They will revel in the fact that people are doubting them and for the first time in quite a while they are seen as being vulnerable to this Tyrone challenge. For me, this is exactly what Dublin need, a game they can get their teeth into properly.
I expect a major show of strength from Dublin both mentally and physically.
It may take some time for Dublin to figure Tyrone out and to break down their stubborn resistance, but break it down they will because they have their own stubborn streak and they are battle hardened in their own way.
Most of all they reflect their manager’s steely composure when it comes to winning games in the last 10 minutes.
Last week, Kerry and Mayo shared just five points in the last 20 minutes. Don’t expect that from Dublin this weekend.
They would have kicked six or seven scores to seal the deal. When it’s “clutch time” there is no one quite like the Dubs right now.
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