And so begins the Dublin drive for five. Two months on from their worst league campaign during Jim Gavin’s six-and-a-half-year tenure, Dublin take their first step of eight towards a historic fifth consecutive All-Ireland SFC crown when they travel to O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, for a Leinster SFC quarter-final clash with Louth this Saturday.
Should this five-in-a-row bid unravel at any point in the months ahead, take it as read that it will not be in Leinster. For while the period of time to Dublin’s last championship defeat may stand at four years, eight months and 23 days, this pales in comparison to the rather staggering 3,252 days since Dublin last fell in Leinster. Since that 2010 provincial semi-final defeat to Meath, the Dubs have gone 24 games unbeaten in Leinster, bagging eight provincial titles in the process.
Incorporating the landscape beyond Leinster, the reigning Sam Maguire holders are 28 championship games unbeaten. Indeed, since that Donegal setback in August of 2014, no team, rather tellingly, has put three goals past Dublin in league or championship.
But even if the total number of goals conceded this spring (six) was nothing out of the ordinary, results certainly did not tally with recent springs. Dublin losing three games in a single competition is unheard of since Gavin took the reins in October of 2012.
It was put to Gavin at the recent Leinster championship launch at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, a place where the Dublin manager spent 18 years as a pilot, that league results, particularly their reverses to Monaghan, Kerry, and Tyrone, suggested the chasing park were reeling in the pace-setters. The reply of the five-time All-Ireland winning manager suggests he believes too much has been made of their fourth-place finish in the Division 1 league table.
“We finished fourth before and qualified for a league final (2014). It’s all context, whether you want to dive into that,” began the Dublin manager. “Coming out of the National League, the learning from it was if we don’t perform to our very best, we’ll end up fourth in the league, as we did.
"And we deserved to be there. It’s no secret that coming out of the league, there are quality sides who are evolving every season. From Kerry blazing a trail to Tyrone playing a more offensive, attacking game, to the consistency of Mayo deservedly being league champions. Those things are outside of my control, though.”
It was inevitable that the county’s drive for five would enter the discussion at one point or another, but in the same vein that Gavin never gave much thought to a flight beyond the one directly in front of him, he’s not giving consideration to what may or may not happen later in the summer.
“It’s how you process context. I’m very conscious that it’s a sport. In my career, I’ve got a very broad view of the world. I can put things in context. For some of the players in the Dublin squad, they were doing their Leaving Certificate four years ago.
"So that’s the context for them. They’re just fighting for a place. That’s all they’re interested in.
If people have their own narrative or context, I can’t control that. All I control is what I’ve been asked to do with the Dublin football team and that is to get them to be their best, in every season.
Now an assistant director with the Irish Aviation Authority safety and regulation division, Gavin’s career, from Military College in the Curragh Camp, cadet training, graduating with the rank of second lieutenant in Óglaigh na hÉireann, and serving as chief flying instructor at the Baldonnel Aerodrome, he admitted, has heavily influenced his approach as Dublin manager.
“Even in the context of this year - in aviation, there are no guarantees. Commercial air transport is a very safe industry, but it has become so safe because we have learned from the failures, incidents and accidents of the past.
“So, there’s a good open mindset within the aviation sector. There’s just a culture which accepts that humans make mistakes, so I understand that air traffic controllers, engineers, pilots, cabin crew, baggage handlers, people in the aviation security sector make mistakes and it’s our job in the industry to try and find the root cause of it.
"Why they happened, what contributes to it? And learn the lessons, embrace that vulnerability, and make ourselves stronger.
“My time in Óglaigh na hÉireann has served me well. They trained me really well. I’m still in aviation and have a passion for aviation. I wouldn’t see it as a job. I’m lucky that way. In my part-time, I gave my all to the Dublin senior football team and my club Round Towers.
"That was my focus at the time. Things just happened to fall this way [that I became Dublin manager]. I understand that I am very, very fortunate to be in the position I’m in. Very, very fortunate.”