“I learned a long time ago when Kerry talk about other counties, I take it with a pinch of salt.”
Thus spoke Jim Gavin in July four years ago after Darragh Ó Sé wrote in his Irish Times column of Diarmuid Connolly still having “a bit of a scamp in him” and there being “something to be said for pulling his tail and seeing if he’ll hiss back at you”.
Less than two months later and Connolly was in front of a Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA) panel hours before an All-Ireland semi-final replay after he was sent off for reacting to Lee Keegan in the drawn game.
Coming as they did in a post-match press conference, the environment wasn’t conducive for Gavin to expand on his comments, safe to say it’s a rule of thumb he stands by.
From Ó Sé to Spillane pilloring Connolly on The Sunday Game two years later which prompted a brief RTÉ ban by Dublin, it could be argued the five-time All-Ireland SFC-winning manager has cause to question the source. But he now clarifies his remarks only pertained to Kerry pundits.
“I have massive respect for Kerry GAA people, I have lots of friends down in Kerry and always enjoy my time down there. One always gets a welcome… it is a beautiful part of the country, great people, not just supporters but great people.
“So, pundits will do what pundits do and a pundit’s perception on a particular set of circumstances, they might see that as a difficult situation whereas to me, it might appear as something completely different.
It is interesting to see the psychology of some former players and some pundits in how they would react to a particular set of circumstances, whereas for me it is just normal. That is just people’s perceptions. I don’t tend to listen to them anyway. I don’t have time. I have more important things to be looking at.
Spillane has since gone out to bat for Dublin, suggesting the kick-out rule changes introduced last year were a means of curbing Stephen Cluxton just as the ban on hand-pass goals was brought in to hurt Kerry in the 1980s. Gavin, though, knows Dublin are on a pedestal most of the country want to see them fall off.
“All I am interested in is my locality, the Dublin GAA supporters and I will do my best for them. That is all.
“As a manager, you are not in that spectator space. A spectator can talk about things that happened in the past that might influence the game but it is only talk. And how people perceive a situation that might be stressful, for me it might be completely rational. And vice versa. That is just people expressing their opinions.
“In my particular area, my job is to get those guys, my remit is to get those players to perform to the best of their ability. And whatever form that takes, if it is good enough the next day, it is good enough. And if it is not, we will have been beaten by a team whose self-actualising was better on that given day. That’s sport. It is great that it is that way. I am just focusing on my job.”
The amount of detail Gavin gives to it is known to be extraordinary. His day job working as the assistant director of the Irish Aviation Authority is demanding enough but he finds the necessary time for Dublin, sometimes in the wee hours. Dublin senior ladies football captain Mick Bohan, a former member of Gavin’s backroom team, marvels at his dedication.
“I’d look at the email in the morning and see ‘2.38’ and then you’d respond and then the email would be back within half an hour,” Bohan said in an interview last December. “And you’d thinking, ‘When does he sleep? Where does the sleep process fit in?”
So how much sleep does he get? “What I need. Well, one thing the military gave me and they gave me a lot, I’m very grateful for the time I spent in the uniform of Óglaigh na hÉireann, is that ability to sleep because you were sleeping, as a cadet, in trenches, or standing up even. So I’ve no problem sleeping, absolutely none.”
Coming up on seven years since he was appointed to succeed Pat Gilroy, does he feel he’s a better manager?
“Ooh, better? That’s a good question. I know I’ve learned a lot. You want to keep learning because you have to. I work as a regulator and there’s a just culture in my industry that accepts humans make mistakes, that accepts that somebody who has competency, a good skill-set, good knowledge, good attitude can still make a mistake.
“By European law, you have to report your mistake — as a flight crew, engineer, traffic controller, cabin crew have to report their mistakes so we can learn from them. That’s a high-performing industry.
“I have been immersed in that culture all my life, of that continuous learning, because the reason commercial air traffic that I regulate is so safe is because we’ve learned from horrific incidents, horrific accidents, and routine mistakes every day.
“Football is no different. The day you believe you have all the knowledge and all the skill-set is the day you’ll become unstuck so you have to keep learning. There was a rich environment for learning in the Mayo game and having looked back at the tape I’ve got lots of great learning for the team, for myself in terms of that game.
“So what you try and do is impart that knowledge and work on that over the next couple of weeks and hopefully improve a little bit again. There is that mindset among the players, they are humble enough to understand that they have no right to execute a performance, that they need to prepare as best they can for it and some things they got right against Mayo, some they didn’t and it’s trying to work on both of them.”