AS AN employee of the Air Corps, Jim Gavin knows all about flying under the radar.
Yet, after three and a half years in the public eye, you’d swear things would change, that he’d be swallowed up by the hype that surrounds Dublin football, especially in this history-making era.
Winners of the league for the fourth time in succession, they have achieved something that has been done only twice previously: by Mayo in the 1930s, Kerry in the 1970s.
Big deal? Not to Gavin. “The League is ranked behind the All-Ireland and the provincial series,” he said after Sunday’s victory over Kerry. “So it is all about the process of trying to be the best we can.”
Such understated rhetoric is par for the course with a man who avoids controversy like the plague and has been able to refocus and refresh his side from one season to the next. Unbeaten in 22 league and championship games, he – already – has won two All-Ireland titles, four leagues, three Leinsters. Kevin Heffernan, the Godfather of Dublin football, retired with three All-Irelands, five Leinsters and one League. Are we stretching things to suggest Gavin could surpass that tally?
Not when you consider the strength of his panel, never mind his team. For if Dublin are indisputably the best team in the country right now, then their second-string can arguably be called the second best side in Leinster – and, if all things were equal and they were allowed enter two teams in an All-Ireland series, it’s probable that they’d end the season as quarter-finalists.
If this seems a gross exaggeration, then consider the following: within Leinster, only two other counties, Meath and Kildare, will be playing Division 2 football next year, Kildare after spending this season in Division 3.
Beyond the provincial border, Donegal, Mayo, Monaghan, Kerry, and Tyrone are clearly stronger but everyone else would play second fiddle to Dublin's second string – bearing in mind that Roscommon were considered to be the story of the league as March ended and April began.
Then Dublin travelled to play them – but not the Dublin who defeated Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland (just three of their All-Ireland final starting team lined out in Carrick-on-Shannon). The result? A one-point win for Dublin.
Victors of all nine games this season, Gavin – for the second year in a row – used 35 different players in their seven divisional games, and this policy of experimentation has had a dual effect: firstly, keeping the established players on their toes; secondly facilitating his desire to unearth new blood.
Last year it was Brian Fenton who came from nowhere to end the season as an All-Star and All-Ireland winner. This season, Jack McCaffrey, the reigning player of the year, and Rory O’Carroll, their All-Star full back, quit the panel, leaving David Byrne and Michael Fitzsimons to battle for O’Carroll’s shirt, Eric Lowndes and John Small to capitalise on the vacancy created in the half backs by McCaffrey’s departure.
Beyond the seniors, the conveyor belt continues to move. The Under-21s, managed by Dessie Farrell, won yet another Leinster title this year, with Con O’Callaghan, the team’s full-forward, scoring 2-19 during their three-game provincial campaign. He, Shane Clayton and Michael Deegan look set to step up.
And looking further into the future, it’s plainly obvious that Dublin will continue to be parked among the elite, especially when you consider the Croke Park financial report that was published in February, where it emerged that Dublin were awarded €2,821,990 from the GAA – 47 per cent of all distributed funds heading in the direction of one county.
From that total, €1.46million was bracketed under the heading ‘games development’. In contrast, Meath and Kildare, received €45,600 and €42,600 respectively. In addition, Dublin get another €1m a year via the Irish Sports Council.
Having money is one thing, knowing how to spend it, is another, though. And in this area, Dublin have both a structure and a plan. Their underage development squads are the best in Ireland. The number of coaches Dublin clubs partially finance outnumber everyone else’s in Ireland. Quality and quantity collide. Dublin don’t just have more money than anyone but they have more players and coaches too.All of which suggests the blue tidal wave sweeping across the Gaelic football landscape will be unstoppable. As for this season, it’s obvious they will be contenders for an All-Ireland, practically certain that they will win Leinster and – if Sunday is anything to go by – a near guarantee that if any team lacks discipline or concentration, then they’ll be punished.
Remember that before Aidan O’Mahony was dismissed 14 minutes into the second half for an incident that left Jonny Cooper on the floor, Kerry were within a score of Dublin. With five minutes to go, they were four points down. Then Brendan Kealy’s kick out ended up in the hands of Paul Flynn before ending up in the net. Two minutes into injury time, Eric Lowndes, a sub, added a second goal. These guys don’t look gift horses in the mouth.
“Jim Gavin is brilliant at his job because for him to be able to keep the levels of hunger that he has in a group that has been successful over the last couple of years, it’s remarkable really,” Eamonn Fitzmaurice said.
“You really have to have it from the first minute until the last because they don’t slacken off so you can’t either. We weren’t at the top of our game today. We tried hard, we worked hard. There’s things that we’ll need to improve on for late in the year but you have to take the hats off, Dublin are an excellent team.”
With an excellent manager. “He flies under the radar,” Fitzmaurice said. But for how much longer? Victory in Leinster and the All-Ireland this year will see him surpass Heffernan. Neither he – nor his team – may have the aura and personality of that Dublin 1970s team, but statistically they both seem set to eclipse them.