Danny Hughes: Dublin will only be vulnerable when Jim Gavin has gone
THERE is an opinion among many fans and pundits that the standard and excitement of this year’s Championship was sub-standard.
Some have pointedly suggested that the exceptions to this assertion were the Tyrone v Donegal match in Ballybofey or the Monaghan v Kerry game in Clones in the Super 8s.
I personally don’t think the Championship has been any less exciting or of poorer standard than that of recent years.
The inevitability at times of a Dublin All-Ireland win has perhaps reduced one’s enthusiasm for the game and it is for this reason that you perhaps find attendances have fallen overall as supporters are turned off county football.
A number of months ago I came across footage of the 1988 Ulster Championship quarter-final between Derry and Down, played in Ballinascreen.
It was horrific stuff. Start to finish rubbish. So before we descend into nostalgic glamorising of ‘the way the game should be played’, we should perhaps scour YouTube.
We may not have been privileged enough to enjoy a final of the calibre of 2016 and 2017, but it was a darn sight better than some of the finals we have witnessed in the past.
Do we forget the Kerry All-Ireland wins of 2006 and 2007? They were hardly classics, but somewhere along the line Kerry had to scrap and win matches during those campaigns. And while the final wasn’t that type of affair, it didn’t lessen the value of the title.
I wanted Tyrone to win this year’s All-Ireland, despite the fact that as a county they would come closer to Down’s five All-Ireland titles.
Out of pure unadulterated jealousy, it should be a given that you support anyone other than your rivals.
Although I never felt like this, I do know plenty who, unapologetically, feel this way.
I, like many others, love sport because of the romance of the unknown.
Because Dublin appear to be so strong, almost unbeatable, the romance of the football Championship, in contrast to hurling, has diminished in recent years.
Hurling went through a similar period when Kilkenny dominated between 2006 and 2009, winning four in-a-row. That passed and eventually other teams started to catch up on the winners.
It may be hard to see now, but eventually Dublin will be beaten.
It happens to all great teams and history is full of stories of great nations eventually crumbling.
Dublin won’t crumble, they won’t be far away each and every year, thanks in the most part to Jim Gavin’s current management style.
The problem for Dublin lies after Jim has gone.
Jim Gavin’s legacy is establishing a culture which has enveloped the squads who have dominated in the last four years and won six All-Ireland titles since 2011.
The ‘one in – one out’ policy has meant that players such as Bernard Brogan, Paul Flynn, Diarmuid Connolly and even Michael Darragh MacAuley are relied on less and even become peripheral.
Gavin is utterly ruthless.
Paul Flynn, who has come into the team and played extremely well when introduced in almost every match this year, never received as much as 30 seconds on the field in the final.
Brogan, albeit, in the twilight of his career, studiously rehabilitated a cruciate ligament injury in five months with an injury that usually takes nine months to fully recover from for the average club player.
No minutes. No token substitute appearance.
As a player – in their shoes – I would be severely pissed off.
In the case of those latter two players having won All-Irelands and Player of the Year accolades previously, it would be difficult to feel huge satisfaction in the latest title.
The substitute experience for winners is a place cloaked in contradictory emotions.
How Gavin has managed to retain a good working relationship with the individuals concerned and retain relatively harmonious squad morale is possibly one of his greatest accomplishments.
The problem though, a bit like when Manchester United lost Alex Ferguson as manager, is what happens when Gavin actually goes?
How many times have we seen ‘handovers’ in team sports which didn’t exactly go smoothly.
Yes, Dublin have huge financial resources. Yes, they have a huge population base and a much stronger pool to target, coach and then pick a squad of players.
But it is the culture and philosophy which has been a mark in Gavin’s tenure as manager that sets them apart.
Driving excellence and perfection as well as competition within the squad, is a very delicate balancing act.
Being too loyal to players can breed a fair amount of resentment in younger challengers. Being quick to disregard experienced personnel can leave the changing room lacking leaders. Gavin appears to have managed all of these factors brilliantly.
Meanwhile, Dublin’s challengers have not done the same.
Mayo exited the Championship early this year. In the two years before this, they may have come the closest to beating the Dubs, but the reality is that they didn’t.
Between some of their marquee players failing to turn up on the big occasion, to management decisions over personnel, how could a healthy culture be prevalent in such an environment?
Kerry have similar concerns and the pressure from the Kerry supporters seems to be a hindrance at this time as opposed to as anyway near supportive, as indicated by Eamon Fitzmaurice’s parting shot.
Tyrone have made strides, yet they started from a lower base and still remain a work-in-progress.
I think that the funding Dublin have received from Croke Park has perhaps unfairly tarnished their legacy. And while I am the first to admit that the whole issue of financial fairness needs drastically looked at, I am not sure if anyone other than Jim Gavin could have managed this squad to four in-a-row.
County teams and management squads will be starting to assemble (believe it or not) over the next few weeks and they will be buying into an inter-county system which is significantly better than anything I ever experienced, one at least on par with semi-professional and professional team sports in other codes.
The hours required now in a gym, on a field, on a treatment table, at shooting practice and recovering will ultimately dictate whether they will be successful or not.
Their success will be measured within a team space, so it will take 29 other people who are as equally committed if not more committed than you.
Success ultimately comes down to individual attitude within a team environment and if this ‘culture’ isn’t right within a team, then it would not matter how much money is available to them.
That’s why the right manager is the most important person in a team. That’s why Jim Gavin is so important to Dublin. Should they lose him, their most important asset, Dublin may not be as sweet as ‘Molly’ thereafter.