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Gavin's act shows absence of ego

Success story: Dublin manager Jim Gavin (right) and Diarmuid Connolly
Success story: Dublin manager Jim Gavin (right) and Diarmuid Connolly
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

An exceptional thing happened on Sunday morning.

Staff at Our Lady's Hospice in Harold's Cross must have been amazed to see the Dublin senior football manager Jim Gavin make his way to see Betty Curtis, who is there receiving palliative care.

Betty is the mother of sports writer Roy Curtis, who has a friendship dating back decades with Gavin. Recently, he brought Gavin in to see his mother who asked him the chances of a return for Diarmuid Connolly to the team.

Gavin replied: "If there is, you'll be first to know."

On Sunday, Connolly returned to Dublin training, taking part in a recovery session after their win over Cork on Saturday night.

Gavin was true to his word, visiting Betty Gavin before the news broke that Connolly was back, sent out through the official Dublin media channels.

In that simple but thoughtful act, we must realise that we know nothing of Jim Gavin.

Or maybe we know bits of him, but don't understand him.

His various media engagements have long been lampooned as exercises in drabness. References to 'east-coast football' and 'intentfulness' tends to irk some - most - journalists.

But everything he says is designed to take away attention from him personally. He doesn't give sit-downs. He is the anti-Tommy Lyons.

On occasion, in what he sees as an appropriate forum, he will be more expansive. In early October 2017 at the HPX High Performance Conference, he heavily referenced his experiences as assistant director with the Irish Aviation Authority as an insight into his coaching philosophy.

"In accident investigations, by law, I can't apportion blame or liability on that pilot," he said.

"All I can do is find out why it happened, the root cause and let industry know, spreading the word out among the global community to make sure that accident doesn't happen again.

"So that just culture, applied to sport, is about creating an environment where athletes know that you are not going to slap their hand when they put their hand up. And likewise you as a coach are humble enough to understand that you will make mistakes as well."

What is clear is that Gavin divides his intentions exclusively as thus; what is beneficial to the Dublin senior football team, and what is not.

Many believed Connolly's Dublin career to be finished. Now nothing is off the table. His return is sure to cause a little tension within the camp. Maybe Gavin has identified that as something that will deliver the five-in-a-row.

And all because an ESTA was rejected as he prepared to fly out for his second summer playing football for Donegal Boston.

Connolly is another man of mystery. Never giving interviews, we just observe him in public and draw our conclusions. Some are spectacularly off the mark.

In 2017, he did not make the starting line-up for the All-Ireland final. His choice of garment to warm up in - a sleeveless vest - was interpreted as a major sign of rebellion.

This is the same man however that wore a Leitrim drill top in the warm-up for the 2011 All-Ireland final.

In coming back, he will have no guarantees. Take someone like Eoghan O'Gara who has been a loyal foot soldier and hasn't played a minute all year. Or Bernard Brogan, the Dub's golden boy who has made such an effort to recover from a cruciate ligament injury and has played just five minutes in the final league game against Cavan and didn't make the panel of 26 last weekend.

There is a sense though that the Dublin panel has become stale in the lack of a Niall Scully, Brian Howard, Eoin Murchan type emerging this season. And the contribution off the bench has waned.

Gavin will recall how Connolly bent the closing stages of the 2017 final against Mayo to his will, scoring one of the most magnificent points to grace a final, winning the last free for Dean Rock's decisive free.

When the All-Ireland is in the balance, he will reappear.

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