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Dublin manager Jim Gavin is the epitome of all that is good about the GAA

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shows Anto Finnegan his medal for completing the Run For Anto event in Falls Park last Sunday. The proceeds of the colour run are going to deterMND Picture by Ann McManus

EVERYTHING about last Sunday morning at Falls Park was perfect. It’s not often you can say something was perfect, but the ‘Run For Anto’ was exactly that.

The sun blazed above the 1,000 runners who turned up for the deterMND charity event. From the edges of the 5km path volunteers doused everyone with powdered paint.

At one point there was so much colour hovering in the air, the west Belfast park looked like the end of the rainbow.

There was no pot of gold to be found near the park's flowerbeds - but, still, this was happiness on a grand scale.

Sean Kelly is Antrim GAA's PRO and the man who came up with the colour run idea to help raise funds and awareness for Anto Finnegan's charity.

Sean can juggle 20 balls at the same time and not get flustered. The event ran like clockwork.

As most people in GAA circles know Anto was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2012.

His deterMND charity has raised over £300,000 in the fight against the life-limiting illness.

The word inspirational is thrown around like any other bog-standard adjective.

It's a real pity because it should be used more sparingly; for people who genuinely meet its lofty criteria. For people like Anto Finnegan.

During his playing days with Antrim he was defiance itself.

The scoreboard might have decreed otherwise, but the truth is Anto Finnegan never really lost on a football field.

Despite battling the illness, he hasn't changed one iota.

Brian White was right about Anto. In an interview with The Irish News a few years back, he said Anto had "a smile that reaches his eyes".

Before last Sunday morning's race, he was in the pavilion wearing that unmistakable smile. It was another proud day for his family and his charity.

Imagine what it must feel like when 1,000 people drop what they're doing to help support your charity.

Imagine what it must feel like when Jim Gavin and Jason Sherlock turn up at Falls Park with the Sam Maguire to show their solidarity.

Jim and Anto struck up a friendship at the time the Dublin manager brought up his team to take part in the 'Game For Anto' at Ravenhill in November 2014.

Gavin does a lot of charity work and tries to make himself available for as many events as possible.

But it's only when you see him in person and how he made time for every single person who wanted to shake his hand, get a photograph, or simply chat and congratulate him for guiding Dublin to their fourth All-Ireland title in a row that you reach the nub of the man.

Since he's become Dublin manager I've attended many of his post-match press conferences. He is always courteous and mannerly.

He deflects praise and heaps it on his players and the opposition - even if the Dubs have beaten them by 20 points.

In our insatiable search for quotes, Jim is notorious for not giving journalists a lot to work with. His press conferences are generally dry events. Boring, some reporters might say.

And he doesn't do one-to-one interviews with the press.

In truth, the Dublin manager adds very little to the GAA media discourse. And that's entirely his prerogative.

Some of us in the media, though, can be slightly dismayed by Gavin's lack of animation. I've been guilty of this too.

Of course, some of us in the media aren't without ego and the Round Towers clubman has been occasionally derided for not filling our tapes with colour and passion.

But that's the way Jim rolls.

As much as we'd like to believe that the GAA world revolves around our own media bubble, it doesn't.

The GAA is about much more than the marching band on All-Ireland final day, 80,000 people cheering in anticipation and the clatter of keyboards on floor seven of the Hogan stand.

The Falls Park last Sunday morning couldn't have been more removed from the scenes of Croke Park a few weeks earlier.

This was another face of the GAA. The altruistic face, where I watched a young kid deposit his pocket money into one of the collection buckets at the end of the charity run.

After the run, Gavin explained to The Irish News the importance of his role as Dublin manager.

Describing Anto as one of his heroes, he said: “When you’re part of a county team you’re in a very privileged position, but with that comes responsibility.

“It’s about looking after each other in hard times and supporting each other. It doesn’t matter which county you come from.

“This is a unique, sporting organisation. When you look back to the very foundations of the Association in 1884, it was for the promotion and cultivation of Irish culture and games. I think this is a little bit of that vision our forefathers had for the Association - to see so many people out here supporting one of our Gaels.”

A former Irish Army officer, Gavin now works for the Aviation Authority. He's a major backer of the Irish charity Bóthar that battles hunger in many parts of the world.

A week after one of Dublin's All-Ireland triumphs, Gavin flew the plane, packed with livestock, to Africa on behalf of Bóthar.

After guest speaking at a GAA event in Lurgan he was handed a voucher for attending.

He handed it straight back and insisted the money be used to buy the kids of the club a ball each. You can't have enough balls.

There were probably 100 other things Gavin and Jason Sherlock could have been doing with their time last Sunday morning.

But they set off for Belfast around 7am to support Anto's charity.

Some of us in the media have perhaps been looking at Jim Gavin from the wrong angle.

He is the epitome of what the GAA is really about: its altruistic side and "looking after each other in hard times".

The Association couldn't ask for a better ambassador.

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