Everything may be bigger in the capital but bigger doesn’t always equal better. With more adulation comes more criticism, with more exposure comes more scrutiny and with more success comes higher standards. If new Dublin football manager Jim Gavin didn’t know these things before he took the job he was certainly aware of them early into his introductory press conference. He was led into the room by county board chairman Andy Kettle, who rather than dampening the fire of expectation gathered some kindling.
“Jim is coming in to keep up a tradition of success in winning All Irelands and while the recent past hasn’t yielded as many as we would have liked I have no doubt that he will at least repeat the success achieved by the previous management.”
That kind of pressure is nothing new in a county where each year is very much taken on its own merit rather than excusing bad performances in the present with good ones in the past. This Dublin team has achieved some success but given the bounty of All Irelands that have gone to Kerry and Tyrone, Gavin wants players who still have an appetite for success. And if that success comes, so will the pressure.
“There will always be pressure in the capital but I revel in that kind of environment. The success all of the players have had is in the past. If we have people whose goal it is to win one All Ireland that wouldn’t be good enough for me” said Gavin.
This year saw a lucrative underage football double for Dublin with Gavin coaching the U21’s to their second title in three years while it was the minor’s first All Ireland since 1984. To illustrate that drought, in the intervening years Diego Maradona scored the hand of god, won and lost world cup finals, was kicked out of another tournament due to drug use while also fitting in gastric band surgery and a stint as Argentinian manager. This conveyor belt of talent is coming at a perfect time for Gavin whose chief task will be to complement the existing panel with some fresh faces.
“My plan is to bring together the experience base that exists at senior level with some fresh faces from the underage successes to drive towards that championship. I will be looking for players that play to a particular system and who play for the team. My mantra is that players accept tactics and a style of play that will benefit the team. Players that perform will play. There’s plenty of talent in the county so if someone isn’t performing it will be a case of the next man up.”
DCU’s own Michael Kennedy will form part of Gavin’s management team and Gavin values the experience and expertise of his new selector.
“Michael has done a fantastic job as director of GAA at DCU. He has a great ability to read the game and he is a fantastic coach as well.”
The success of Jim McGuinness’ system with Donegal has really made this the era of the manager. Plotting, scheming and strategising were previously reserved for Bond villains but now they are applicable to most intercounty managers. This year’s final was almost pitted as a battle between McGuinness and James Horan rather than the players on the pitch. And while football may be in danger of turning into chessboards with the players as pawns and the managers as grand masters, Gavin recognises the needs for effective and efficient systems.
“Football has certainly evolved over the last few years and systems are changing, that is one of the fascinating things about coaching. I get great satisfaction studying games and looking at how mangers employ their systems. The challenge for me is to reinvigorate these players and get them to play to a particular system. If I had my way I would name my team alphabetically because I don’t see it as a 1-15 game anymore the team that finishes is more important than the team that starts.”
Gavin is arguably under more pressure than any Dublin manager before him. None of his predecessors have had the resources available to him today. However structures put in place underage that have been nurtured by him and Dessie Farrell mean no Dublin manager has possibly had the scope to select from such a variety of ages. He has come in promising a system of play in tune with the modern game but the only system that will be judged kindly by Dublin fans is one that yields success.