Paddy Cullen had just departed as Dublin manager in the early 1990s when Jim Gavin joined the senior panel as a player.
So his thoughts on the man shaping up to be one of the most successful managers in Gaelic football history have been shaped the same way as the rest of us, from watching and observing.
Gavin gives little away in his media dealings, often engaging in risk-free corporate speak, though Cullen reckons that, like all the best managers who are “a little bid odd”, there is a hint of the maverick to the current Dublin boss.
Cullen’s take on the former army man, a trained pilot, is that he is “a bit of an enigma” who runs his panel with militaristic precision.
Clearly, it is an approach that is working just nicely as two All-Irelands and three Leinster titles in his three full seasons to date attests.
Another All-Ireland success will put Gavin on level terms with iconic Dublin figure Kevin Heffernan though the suspicion is he may yet go on to even greater heights, eclipsing the records of managerial greats like Heffernan, Sean Boylan, Jack O’Connor and Mickey Harte.
“If I had five or six All-Irelands I’d be blowing my coal about it, I’d be saying I was great, fantastic,” said Cullen. “But Jim Gavin’s a cool dude, that’s the way he operates. He’s also a pilot and you have to be something special to be a pilot, don’t you? He’s very highly thought of but he is a bit of an enigma, I’ll say that.
“I left as manager in ‘92 and he came into the squad with the rest of the lads so I didn’t really know him. I knew his Dad, he was from Clare and I had a place down there at one stage. I don’t know Jim that well but what he’s doing, keep doing it, whatever it is.”
On the comparison with Heffernan, whom Cullen played for in the glory years of the ‘70s, he agreed there is something there.
“There would be in so far as I think they say that all these managers, and I was kind of one myself, but they’re always a little bit odd or whatever,” said Cullen. “I don’t think Jim is that odd even though he does give his opinion as he sees it and that’s all I can say.”
Cullen said he doesn’t care much for modern football which he regularly finds boring. He said that the development of elaborate defensive systems has reduced the excitement levels in games considerably.
But within those parameters, he believes that Gavin has turned Dublin into a force that are simply unstoppable and he gives Meath no chance of beating them in Sunday evening’s Leinster semi-final.
“No, I don’t think so. I can be quite honest and candid with you about that. If everybody just admits it, because a lot of people just kind of kick to touch on this, but I’ll say there’s nobody to touch Dublin at the moment.
“I don’t care whether that’s... like, fellas that I played with will say, ‘ah you shouldn’t be saying things like that’.
“But the fact of the matter is that the Dublin squad, and you can’t say a team because it’s a squad, if they pull one player, another one goes in and nothing changes the pattern of play. Nothing changes in terms of the over laps and the style of their play.
“With Jim Gavin, it’s a military-style operation and given his background, it’s obvious that he’s that kind of a guy. Everybody knows their job and everybody knows what to do.
“I find we are unstoppable in the system that’s there right now. Going back in time, I would still prefer our days even when we made mistakes stupidly. At least there was an entertainment value. I don’t find the entertainment value to be what it used to be.”
Cullen was at Croke Park yesterday alongside Sean Boylan for the 25th anniversary of the four-in-a-row games of 1991. He claimed Dublin played better than Meath in each of those Leinster championship matches but somehow didn’t win and admitted he still can’t fathom how David Beggy popped up to kick the winning point for Dublin in the third replay.
“David Beggy, who I know very well, for him to get the winning point, it’s like an old woman getting a point from about 75 yards!” said Cullen. “I mean, if you were to put money on anyone getting the winning point, it wouldn’t be David Beggy and we have been laughing about it since.
“We dominated the games, every game we dominated. But you couldn’t get rid of Meath, they were like that. You couldn’t get rid of them. They were like that back then, not anymore, but back then they were.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved