Gavin pulled no punches at yesterday’s launch of the Leinster championships when discussing various issues around the recent Allianz League final between the Dubs and Kerry.
The three-time All-Ireland- winning manager made veiled references to Kerry boss Fitzmaurice’s pre-match interview in which Fitzmaurice detailed past instances of apparent cynical Dublin play.
Gavin said he was “surprised” at what he termed a growing narrative regarding Dublin’s ill-discipline.
And Gavin, who confirmed he will remain in charge until the end of 2019, claimed that “referees have been influenced” by such commentary.
Gavin also took a pop at GAA officials for putting referee Paddy Neilan in charge of the league decider, which Kerry won by a point.
Roscommon whistler Neilan hadn’t refereed a Division 1 game this season before his appointment and handed out a number of yellow and black cards in the game.
Gavin also raised an eyebrow at media interviews conducted by referees who spoke openly about high-profile decisions involving Dublin.
What was clear from Gavin’s tone is that the bristling rivalry that now exists between he and his opposite number, Fitzmaurice, shows no signs of abating.
“What I was surprised with was the narrative growing in the background, that this Dublin team was a cynical team,” said Gavin. “We’re a very physical team. We play a physical sport, we need to keep that part of our game. That’s what makes it one of the best field sports in the world, the ability of players to tackle each other aggressively.
“But the facts demonstrate, in terms of yellow and black cards, that we’re not a cynical team. We try to play it the right way. Take Lee Keegan’s fantastic goal in the All-Ireland final series last year, if we were a cynical team he wouldn’t have got through but he did. They are the facts.”
Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly was shown a black card by Neilan in the league final after just 30 minutes, robbing the holders of a key player.
“Under the old rule it would have been a yellow card for rough play,” argued Gavin. “Under the technical drag down, that’s what it is. He accepts that. I still think that referees have been influenced by that narrative that we are a cynical team.
“He (Connolly) got a black card up in Monaghan that clearly wasn’t. And the referee was very close to see it. There was no grey area about it.”
Referee David Gough admitted in two separate interviews that he was unsighted and didn’t see Dubliner Kevin McManamon foul Kerry defender Peter Crowley in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, a turning point in a narrow win for Dublin.
Maurice Deegan also admitted that he should have shown Dublin defender John Small a black card in the All-Ireland final replay win over Mayo for a foul on Andy Moran.
“When you see referees that have refereed previous games asked to justify decisions they gave, or didn’t give, against Dublin, that’s fine,” said Gavin. “I’ve no problem with that. But it needs to be balanced. It needs to be opened up to say, ‘what happened to the other team as well?’ It can’t be just one focus on one particular team. That’s where the narrative is coming from.
“The referees are simply answering (media questions), I’ve no problem with them talking. I think it’s good and it’s healthy that referees articulate their views because now we can learn from it, we can understand what’s actually happening and their decision making progress.
“That’s a very positive step. But when it’s focused on one particular team, that’s not healthy for the sport.
“I think it could have an impact or an influence on how referees make decisions against our players. There have been referee comments in the broader media, a few of them. I would encourage that but there needs to be consistency.
“There needs to be a balance to everything. If it’s asked about one particular decision made for or against a Dublin player, that’s fine. Let’s balance it out to the whole game. Let’s break the game down then.
“We play a very chaotic sport, a fantastic sport. You can debate that there should be two referees on the pitch. To zone in on to one incident and highlight that, it’s unfair.”
Gavin was also highly critical of Neilan’s appointment for the league showpiece.
“You would have to certainly question the logic behind exposing a referee with that experience in those high-pressure games.
“We have a lot of experienced referees out there and I think there should be a better methodology of giving our top class up and coming referees exposure, not at the deep end, in the high-profile games, but in a more measured way.”
Gavin said he was happy to commit to a fresh two-year extension as manager, taking him up until the end of 2019 when he will have completed seven seasons in the role.
“Every year you have to think it over,” said Gavin. “You ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the right thing for the football team?’ There are no contracts here, there’s no-one getting paid so it’s simply the county board and are they happy with what you’re doing and are the players satisfied with what we’re doing? And can I give what’s required? If I can, then hopefully we can make it work but if for whatever reason I’m on that journey, and it’s not happening, then you have a responsibility to step away and hand it over.”