Methodical, meticulous, precise - Jim Gavin’s life in the Air Corps prepared him for management
The Dublin manager has never been flashy and always under-appreciated until now
Concurrently, he was by now the chief flying instructor at the Air Corp’s flying school. Every day was about moulding young men, getting them to buy into something bigger than themselves, teaching them self-control and expertise that they’d be able to access under extreme pressure.
“We concentrate highly on airmanship,” he explained in a Day In The Life piece in the Sunday Independent at the time. “That’s the mental process pre-flight, during the flight and post-flight. Not only do we want good stick-pilots, we need them to have a good mental capacity as well. In an emergency don’t jump in and start pulling switches and moving levers. Instead we want them to analyse the situation, prioritise and then act.”
At the Dublin press day ahead of the final, we asked him about his almost eerie lack of reaction to Kevin McManamon’s goal against Kerry. It wasn’t difficult to draw a line from the answer he gave all the way back to his flight-school manifesto.
“I was 20 years in the military and there is obviously a culture and ethos in the military based on you doing certain things. Ultimately, soldiers, airmen or seamen are designed to go to war. Ultimately, that’s what they are there for – to protect people. So if you have weapons on you need to keep a focus and a calm about you.
“When Kevin McManamon’s goal went in there was still enough time for either them to score or us to score more. So you’re trying to work that one out, not trying to get too emotional. During a game it’s for me to try and see the play develop and see beyond the next play. I keep my focus and I haven’t changed my management style that much from under-21 level.”
After that initial year with the under-21s, he drifted away from the Dublin scene somewhat. He was flying the government jet for a while, a job that demanded drop-of-the-hat excursions to all corners of the planet – especially in those days of money and spin-the-globe ministers.
But by 2008 he was back in harness with the under-21s and when Pillar Caffrey walked from the senior job at the end of that year, Gavin made a serious play to take over. He got as far as the interview stage before being passed over for Gilroy.
“He was in the frame, definitely,” says O’Neill, who was on the interview panel. “And I would say he was somewhat disappointed not to get it. The feeling was that he was committed to the under-21s. And of course, Kevin Heffernan was on board as well and he would have leaned very much towards Pat.”
Yet Gavin kept at it and made the best of it and after five seasons and two All-Irelands, his time came last October. And for all that the team he’s fashioned has entertained and wowed all summer, they are still built on the touchstones of his life. Esprit de corps. Targets. Method. Precision.
Live your life in the skies and you come to see the whole picture just by instinct.