After five All-Ireland wins Dublin's GAA Manager Jim Galvin steps down and gets his life back, quietly.
In the final year of his life, one of Dublin’s heroes from the 1970s, the Blue Panther himself, Anton O’Toole, who passed away in May of this year, was invited to join the present Dublin team for an evening. It was an emotional hour or so, a true hero of the past meeting the heroes of today for the last time.
In the days that followed a member of the O’Toole, family loaded a photo of the great man with the bunch of Dublin lads up onto social media.
Within hours, the family was asked to take the same photo down!
The giant wall that encloses the Dublin team had possibly been breached, just the tiniest little bit. Nobody knew for sure.
But, in the photograph, in a tiny corner of the shot, behind the heads of all the men smiling at the camera, were some scribblings on one of the team’s giant whiteboards.
Barely decipherable were some tactical maneuverings. Still, the request came for the photograph to be removed from public viewing. Jim Gavin and his management team wanted nobody peering over the wall enclosing the greatest football team there has ever been.
Last Saturday morning Gavin shocked everyone outside, and inside the wall, when he made it known that he was quitting as Dublin team boss. The greatest team had no idea that the greatest football manager of all time was about to scale the wall and leave them.
Gavin did so, after calling his players to gather around him. Then he left!
There was no grand exit. No big public goodbye. No doors opening in a dramatic manner and the manager boldly walking away.
Nah! Gavin jumped the wall instead.
Apart from building a football team that broke every record in the game that was considered unbreakable, Gavin’s second greatest achievement was erecting that wall, a structure that made everything possible.
Five All-Irelands in a row (six in seven years) and winning a commanding 18 out of 21 titles in his seven years (played 107, won 86, lost 11, drew 10) raised Gavin far above Dublin’s Kevin Heffernan and also above Kerry’s amazing Mick O’Dwyer as the best there has ever been in commanding and delivering the biggest performances.
The wall was made up of many things. Primarily, it was built with “nonsense speak” as Gavin delivered nothing but high-powered PR gibberish on his own team and every other team Dublin met over that seven years period.
Not once in those years did he put his hand on his heart. Not once did he present himself as a man with feelings or emotions.
The wall was built by calling press conferences at 8 a.m. and telling the journalists who turned up absolutely nothing of any consequence. The wall was built by seeing to it that any cars turning up at team training sessions in the evenings had their number plates checked out.
The wall was built by horsing out a whole ton of performance psychology, some of it decent enough, some of it sounds like mumbo-jumbo to the rest of us – as Gavin alluded to John Wooden, Douglas McGregor, Frederick Herzberg and, of course, his favorite of all, Abraham Maslow (and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid).
The departed Dublin manager could go on about Maslow’s theory of self-actualization until the cows came home.
Gavin, in his seven years, never introduced himself. Only once in this time did he offer a journalist a one-on-one interview, and that was back in 2016 when the Dublin manager was promoting the Bray Air Display Show. A lifetime career airman, Gavin was taking up a Boeing Stearman E75, a 72-year-old bi-plane that had been originally used to train fighter pilots in Florida.
Gavin showed he could talk when he chose to, and he told us about that plane’s “beautiful lines” and how it was made from “Canadian spruce that was planted in the 1880s.”
It was the one and only occasion when Gavin offered genuine clues about what he was doing back inside the wall.
“It’s a team sport,” he began. “It’s a collective. It’s the aviation model, what I’ve learned in the military. A team as the sum of its parts in a very efficient commercial operation has two pilots upfront and that might be all you see.
“But they have the cabin crew who serve the needs of the passengers, the maintenance crew who service the airplane, the air traffic controllers, the baggage handlers – so there’s a big team there. Aviation is about the collective.
“And football is about the collective, too.”
Which, of course, also tells us absolutely nothing much as Gavin demoted both the airline pilot and the football manager, and made the two of them of no more particular importance than the next man or woman.
The signs that he was thinking of leaving were there. He had invited his father Jimmy onto the field in Croke Park last September after Dublin had beaten Kerry in the All-Ireland final replay, and he celebrated with the old man and posed with him for photographers.
And, at a Dublin club semifinal last month, he went onto the field after the game with his son, Jude, and the two of them played a little ball in front of more photographers.
These were the tell-tale images, images of Jim Gavin as a human being and not some higher power with alien-like thoughts and actions.
We don’t know whether he has suggested who should be his successor. The smart money is on one of his lieutenants, Paul Clarke, and also Dublin’s winning minor and under-21 manager Dessie Farrell.
No doubt the Dublin County Board will ask Gavin. And he will probably tell them who it should be (favoring Stephen Cluxton, I’d imagine, the Dublin keeper and on-field general who is sure to also now follow Gavin into retirement).
So, he’s gone!
Gone for good, and it’s a sure thing that we will not be seeing very much of him ever again, unless we spend our Saturday and Sunday mornings looking out for him at the playing fields used by the Round Towers club in Clondalkin where he grew up and where he became a GAA man and also an airman.
The Gavin back garden offered a decent view of planes taking off and landing at Baldonnell Airbase. Gavin is still only 48 years of age. He has a lot of football managing still in him. A lot of flying still to do.
He’s got his life back! Not that he chose to share any of it with us in the first place or at any time during his seven brilliant years as Dublin boss.