Jim Gavin v Mickey Harte: A clash of football’s deepest thinkers

Jim Gavin and Mickey Harte will share a championship sideline for the first time in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Tyrone. It will be a meeting of equals and, in some ways, opposites.

Six All-Irelands, 10 provincial championships and five Division 1 titles between them. Both influential thinkers but proponents of very different styles of play. The temptation is to sum it up as a clash between attacking and defensive philosophies.

Tempting but far too simplistic.

Gavin’s Dublin may play the game with a panache and a drive that delivers imposing scorelines but they know how to defend. Nor have they been averse to utilisation of the dark arts when such spells were called on to secure silverware.

Harte’s Tyrone have been labelled defensive for years. Painted with the ‘puke football’ moniker as far back as 2003, their game in the noughties was more of a revolutionary all-court press that allied itself with some superb attacking football.

The same could be said of the latest generation.

But Gavin and Harte do differ in significant ways. Among them is their contrasting views on some of the major tweaks to the game’s regulations in recent times with Gavin an advocate of the black card and mark and Harte a stringent critic.

“You go back to the instances in the past where players going through would be pulled down, you don’t see that anymore and it has been a very positive step for the game,” said Gavin prior to Sunday’s encounter.

“I don’t think we’d have seen as many goals or free-scoring games as we have now. It obviously needs to be tweaked, everybody realises that, and I’m sure that is being looked at by Croke Park.”

If there was one incident that did more than any to pave the way for the black card it was Sean Cavanagh’s ‘no apologies’ tackle on Monaghan’s Conor McManus in an All-Ireland quarter-final in 2013 but if Harte had his way he would simply “bin it”.

Same with the mark. In fairness, he has been consistent on both counts. His opposition to the award of a free for the high catch in the middle third was just as insistent earlier this summer after Colm Cavanagh claimed five of them against Donegal.

Harte’s objections to both aren’t centred so much on the assertion that change is bad so much as his belief that it should happen organically. Gavin, though, can only see the positives in rules that nurture the game’s finer points.

“It’s a skill-based game and, for me, any rule that will promote the skills of Gaelic football needs to be encouraged. We had the black card, now we have great scoring in games. The tackling definitely has improved. Coaches have had to work on that because of the black card.

“And, again, high fielding: some of the high fielding in recent games, Sean Cavanagh, Colm Cavanagh, outstanding catches in games, and it’s great to see that that skill has been rewarded by the player being able to retain possession when he comes down.”

The mark, at least, has been a straightforward addition for referees. The black card, as Gavin mentioned, has been rife with difficulty due to differing interpretations and with the result that players, managers, and spectators have been at times left fuming.

But then referees have always been human and the critical role they play in team sports was highlighted again after Tyrone’s defeat of Kieran McGeeney’s Armagh in the last eight when ‘Geezer’ highlighted the official’s interpretation of the tackle as being key to this game.

Over to you Mr Coldrick.

“Both sets of players and both sets of management teams are just looking for consistency from the referee, that the rules of the game are applied and that it’s consistently applied throughout the full expanse of the game,” said Gavin. “I’d say that’s probably what Kieran was referring to there, that whoever officiates the game is consistent in his interpretation of the rule.”


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