THE NEW ERA in Dublin football has begun.
The ratification process may have occurred last Monday night but it was shortly after noon yesterday when Jim Gavin faced the world for the first time in his new role.
He breezed into an upstairs room in the nerve centre of Dublin GAA in Parnell Park and dipping his toes into the senior inter-county managerial waters.
The 41 year-old was flanked by the head men of the county board Andy Kettle and John Costello, after being entrusted with the demanding role of guiding the county’s capital side. He succeeds 2011 All-Ireland winning supremo Pat Gilroy yet Gavin seems intent on maintaining traits of the previous era.
Just like Gilroy, he has appointed as media manager to deal with the plethora of enquiries that will come his way. Seamus McCormack has the duty of helping to deflect the glare of the spotlight from the new setup.
There were plenty present yesterday at the Donnycarney venue, eager to gain an insight into the new blueprint for Dublin football. And there was plenty to learn as Gavin spoke brightly, intelligently and articulately.
We learned that he has assembled Mick Deegan, Declan Darcy, Michael Kennedy and Shane O’Hanlon as his accompanying sideline operators. That Martin Kennedy, the highly-rated physical coach to the Dublin hurlers for the past two years, will now be training his focus on the county’s footballers. That DCU will continue to be the hub of the squad’s preparations.
And how the new man is comfortable coping with the pressure he has inherited.
“The expectation within the capital is always there. It doesn’t faze me at all. I know exactly what I need to produce as a manager. In fact, I particularly revel in that kind of pressure environment in my career outside of GAA as well.”
That last comment was salient. Gavin spent 21 years as an Air Corps pilot, where one of his primary roles for a few years was flying the Government jet.
Last year he switched to the Irish Aviation Authortity where he is primed with coaching trainee pilots or developing the skill set of qualified pilots. Dealing with expectations comes with the territory.
Gavin is responsible for those expectations after the progressive work he has done at U21 level in guiding the county to two All-Ireland and three Leinster titles over the last four years. Blending those young talents with established senior figures is a dilemma that he finds easy to solve.
“It’s pretty straightforward. The players that perform will be on the squad. For example in the U21 final this year, we had a guy Paul Maguire from St Jude’s who missed most of the season but played particularly well in a club game. And I brought him and he played in the All-Ireland final. That’s the way I see it.”
But he will have to manage without one of the brightest stars from the U21 ranks after Ciaran Kilkenny announced last week that he would be switching codes to the AFL after signing for the Melbourne-based side Hawthorns.
Ciaran Kilkenny. Pic: INPHO/Cathal Noonan.
“It’s not a surprise. Ciaran has always expressed his desire to play professional sport and this is a fantastic opportunity for him. I certainly believe he needs to leave with the sun on his back and I respect his family for making contact with me last week before the story even broke.
“I have experience of it myself because Brian Stynes did it and I had come up through the ranks to minor with him. He headed off after minor and went to Australia and then he came back a few years later and we won an All Ireland together in ’95. That was very satisfying. So that opportunity to come back is always going to be there for Ciaran Kilkenny.”
He’s already starting plotting and planning. The county championships in Dublin are in full swing and Gavin has been scrutinizing them carefully in recent weeks. Attending a recent conference in the Royal College of Surgeons on sports medicine educated him on the risk of rushing back into training for 2013. Yet come early November he will start to wheel out plans of trial games and gym programmes.
“It’s always been an ambition of mine to manage a senior Dublin football team I was happy in my own ability and my ability to form a very competent and skilful management group, which I have done. That group is there to facilitate the players in their ambitions.”
JIM GAVIN ON…
His management style…
I’ve never ruled a dressing-room with a stick. It’s up to the players. I’m very much a facilitator and about empowering players. I set a game plan but I want players to express themselves.
Dublin’s hunger in 2012…
They showed great resolve to come back in the semi-final against Mayo. You talk about hunger but if they hadn’t got hunger, they would have thrown in the towel at half-time. They trained very hard and would have considered themselves fitter this year than they had been in 2011.
Criticism of defensive football…
I played a role that was seen to be quite defensive as a half-forward in 1995. Pat O’Neill was quite innovative. And in that framework, I was allowed to express myself to go forward. To me it’s just evolution. Who knows it might come full circle.
The tradition of Dublin football…
I would see teams that play with humility. I’ll expect a disciplined approach from all the players, both on and off the field. The goal for me is to create an environment within Dublin football where I can get the best players and get a consistent performance.
Breaking down modern systems…
I actually find it very interesting to analyze teams. The four All-Ireland semi-finalists from this year, they each played a unique style of football. Players want to have ownership of the process and have their ideas expressed.