Danny Hughes: Jim Gavin's sky blue thinking
LAST week I attended the annual charity lunch in the Canal Court Hotel, Newry, which is organised by Newry Chamber of Commerce and Trade.
Over 1,000 people from the business, sport and community sectors attended and together £82,000 was raised for local charities. Jim Gavin was the guest speaker on the day.
In the past you would usually struggle to keep the guests quiet during events such as these. However, for Gavin, everything stopped. No clattering of dishes, no drinks being ordered. The people were transfixed. If a fire had broken out, I doubt anyone would have left.
Gavin’s military background, especially in the field of aviation, was to the forefront during his engagement with us. He explained that during his working life and his experiences in forensically examining air accidents, the key was always to get to the root cause of an accident. Then to seek a solution. Then, finally, to ensure it would never happen again. He described how he used these experiences and transferred this knowledge into his coaching and management of football teams.
In the workplace, he was clearly proud and referenced the fact that the huge improvements in aircraft flying and safety has resulted in Irish aviation as having one of the best safety records in the world. If football lovers think that it is luck or coincidence that Dublin haven’t been beaten in the Championship since that ‘Donegal’ semi-final in 2014, then they haven’t listened to Gavin enough or indeed done their background on the man himself.
In this context, to go three years and counting without experiencing a Championship defeat is an astonishing feat. Gavin obviously takes the same approach to football as he does to his work in the aviation industry.
For me, having the responsibility for 200 passengers on a flight, directly or indirectly, would be considered significantly more important than looking after a team of 40 individuals, including the management team itself, of course.
However, the forensically and clinically disciplined Gavin seems to take the same approach to both business and sport. He carries the burden of responsibility and makes people safely believe that they will get to their destination successfully. You may not know that when you get on a flight from Dublin, Gavin and his team have been so rigorous with their testing that catching a flight is as safe as – or safer than – boarding a bus and arriving safely.
In that light, my only presumption is that if I am given the number 10 Dublin shirt, I’d be so confident that the work, or ‘process’ as Gavin describes it, is so in tune that all I have to do is simply turn up. Job done. For any player, the psychology behind this fact is hugely motivating.
It’s believing, or knowing, that your manager is better than the opposition, being aware that the players around you know exactly what their role is on the team and, finally, being confident that the team is so well prepared that the chances of being beaten in a Championship match is as remote as seeing an Irish plane falling out of the skies.
This current Dublin team is mentally strong because Jim Gavin has moulded each player this way. I think they have proved this, having achieved three in-a-row. Players are not naturally this mentally strong. Their leader has made them even stronger collectively since he inherited the team from Pat Gilroy.
Like any mode of transport, though, accidents occasionally happen. And when this Dublin team experienced their accident in 2014, processes were followed to ensure that this never happened again. Gavin was the right man at the right time to examine the reason as to why this occurred, to transfer skills from his professional background to ensure this never happened again. It was the best defeat Dublin ever took.
AS Gavin rightly stated last week, Dublin became the largest inhabited populated area in Ireland when the Vikings invaded Ireland in AD795. In other words, Dublin has always been the largest city, but they have not always won the All-Ireland.
The Dubs have definitely had their share of fallow periods. Not until Gavin said that, did I really think about this. Like many in the past, I have assigned their success to the larger amount of funding the county receives, but then again this has always been the case. In recent years, they have just spent it much more wisely.
Gavin rightly praises the county board for taking the steps15-plus years ago to invest heavily in club football and structures. In total over 20 clubs were represented in the 2017 Dublin squad that won the All-Ireland. My observations previously perhaps had merit, but they offered a far too simplistic reason for Dublin domination.
The only way that counties such as Down, Armagh, Cavan, Antrim and Monaghan can make ground on the Dublins of this world is via investing in all grades at underage level. This has to be start and end point. The money the counties receive publicly and privately should be directed for the most part towards club improvements and club structures.
Simply establishing a Centre of Excellence in a county should certainly be welcomed. However, this should be prioritised in favour of the club and not the individual player. By providing excellent facilities for a club within your county, you have the potential to improve standards for the many and not just the few. The few elite at underage level will still thrive within the club system if it is structured and prioritised enough.
The phenomenal facility at Abbotstown opened for the benefit of all clubs in Ireland and has been a popular facility. How practical it may be for a club such as my own – Saval – with the facility being at least a two-hour journey away, is questionable.
For Derry and Donegal clubs it is almost impossible to see a benefit of Abbotstown. Something that must be considered, though, is that Dublin as a county could still put the structures and investment in place 15 years ago and lift standards, reaping huge dividends now, without such facilities such as Abbotstown even existing at that time.
Therefore it’s about getting your structures and more importantly, investment right at county board level. It’s about getting the right people for the job, the prime example being Jim Gavin. It’s about boring words such as ‘process’ and ‘structures’. You do not necessarily need an Abbotstown facility. You just need the right people in the right place at the right time. Short-term pain for long-term gain.
After the accident in 2014, the Dubs are safely one of the greatest teams in the modern era because of it. I get onto a flight now more confident than ever, knowing my safety may have been in the hands of men of Jim Gavin’s ilk. I am more confident than ever of landing in my destination. You can only imagine how comfortable the Dublin players feel these days.