Twenty games, 18 wins, 2 draws. Thus reads the league and championship record of Jim Gavin’s Dublin since March 7 last year when they drew with Tyrone. How much more is left in this run?
“How long is a piece of string?” smiles Keith Barr, Gavin’s old team-mate. “Why can’t they keep going? The reality is they’re a very good side. It’s not about the last run in the league – if you take the last four seasons under Jim Gavin, Dublin have played 30 to 35 league matches and lost probably four of them. He’s probably lost more O’Byrne Cup matches than National League ones.”
Barr’s not far wrong on either count. Five is the correct number of losses, the last defeat coming against Kerry in February of last year, just one more than the amount of defeats in the pre-season competition.
Even more staggering is a Gavin managed Dublin team have lost just once beyond March 16, that of course coming against Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final. Should we be surprised then Gavin is calling for a cessation of the inter-county season until March 17?
Flippancy aside, Gavin’s win rate across league and championship is a remarkable 80%. Even if his two All- Irelands place him second to Kevin Heffernan, the late godfather of Dublin GAA could only have dreamed of such success in such a short time. “It’s been an awesome performance,” says Barr.
But has Gavin truly received the plaudits he deserves? Where Éamonn Fitzmaurice was applauded for bucking a transitional trend in Kerry two years ago and Jim McGuinness garlanded for revolutionising Donegal in 2013, acknowledgement of Gavin’s mastery outside Dublin hasn’t been as quickly forthcoming.
The reasons are obvious.
Although his football philosophy is largely divorced from Pat Gilroy’s style, the inheritance he received from him was rich. Similarly, Dublin’s might in terms of finances and resources and their familiarity with Croke Park have lightened the 44-year-old’s load even if Dublin are still there to be shot at as they were even during the fallow years. Even when he is shown to be ruthless and quick-thinking during games, it is because of wealth of players at his disposal.
“People are entitled to argue their points and I mightn’t necessarily disagree with them,” says Barr of Dublin’s resources and residency in Croke Park.
“It’s fair of the media to ask questions but Jim Gavin and his squad, all they do is concentrate on is football. People forget that. Regardless of where they are playing matches, they are doing really well. Some don’t give the credit but I think one of the great successes of this Dublin team has been Jim Gavin and his management team. That has been the genuine secret of their success and how resilient they are and the quiet way they go about their business. They have been a credit to Dublin. It’s not a case of ‘oh, will Jim Gavin be an all-time great manager’. He is and that’s the reality. Silverware and results is what these boys do and they have both of them in abundance.”
Barr sees it as little surprise he has surrounded himself with players from the county’s 1995 All-Ireland winning team such as Mick Deegan and Jason Sherlock. The team had oodles of would-be management material. “Highly intelligent, great football brains, great footballers. They have proved it out on the field and made the contributions from grassroots level up. I laugh how some counties haven’t gone out after more of them. Paul Curran’s success with Ballymun and Clann na Gael in Roscommon springs to mind.”
Emulating Kerry’s 2006-7 and Cork’s 1989-90 feats and defending their All-Ireland title would go a long way to raising Gavin’s position in the pantheon not to mention crowning this Dublin team as the best of the decade.
“They don’t have to prove anything to me,” Barr insists. “Three NFL titles on the trot, probably heading to four. Two All-Irelands in the last three years, three including 2011. How many Leinster titles on the trot? (five) I’ve been involved in sport and I know what it’s all about. This is an exceptional Dublin football team but they’re being managed by an exceptional group.
“I’m not a fool to say this team can’t be bet on any day in any game. That can happen. The indications are they will win the NFL , Leinster and the All-Ireland this year but they can be beaten. That’s the reality and the allure of sport.”
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