Darren Gavin: the Dublin football find of 2019?
Lucan Sarsfields midfielder has grasped every opportunity to date with both hands
Darren Gavin: has made a big impression for Dublin during the Allianz Football League Division One campaign. Photograph: morgan Treacy/Inpho
“I think he’s a big prospect for Dublin, and if he doesn’t nestle in beside Brian Fenton this year, I’ve no doubt in the next two or three, he’ll be a big prospect for Jim Gavin.”
That was John Divilly on Darren Gavin – and he should know.
Speaking after UCD defeated DIT in the Sigerson Cup at the end of January, by 17 points, Divilly singled out Gavin for special praise, as if already harbouring some inside information. As well he might.
Three days later, Gavin made his first senior appearance for Dublin, coming off the bench at Croke Park after 60 minutes to replace James McCarthy at midfield, in the 11-point win over Galway, and even for those last 10 minutes he nestled in perfectly beside Fenton. The rest could be another small part of Dublin football history.
That Gavin made his first Dublin appearance against Galway so soon afterwards wasn’t without some gentle irony, and Divilly should know about that too.
Trace the trail: Divilly was the marauding centre back on Galway’s All-Ireland winning squad of 1998, which also featured Fergal Gavin, Darren’s father.
Gavin senior, from the Mountbellew/Moylough club, was an intermittent Galway midfielder that year although he didn’t feature in the 1998 final win over Kildare, as the Kevin Walsh and Seán Ó Domhnaill partnership was by then unbreakable.
Not long afterwards Gavin Snr moved to Dublin, which ultimately cut short his own player career with Galway, only with that facilitating his son’s route towards Dublin football.
Same surnames aside, meanwhile, Dublin manager Jim Gavin can’t be accused of any bias or preference, as Gavin had to patiently await his chance like anyone else might.
It’s over two years now since Gavin junior, who plays with Lucan Sarsfields, first put his hand up for attention within Dublin football. In the 2017 Dubs Stars football challenge at Parnell Park on New Year’s Day, his scorching goal at the death, into the top left corner, won the contest for Dublin, 3-13 to 4-9. The potential was there for all to see, even if Gavin’s physique was more of a 5,000m runner on the track, with the pace and endurance to go with it.
In Dublin’s under-21 football campaign that followed, Gavin was again to the fore, including in the 2017 All-Ireland under-21 final against who else but Galway. An early replacement for the injured Andy Foley, Gavin went on to deliver a man-of-the-match display at midfield in Tullamore that day, only again his elevation to senior status would require further patience.
That same under-21 team produced the Dublin football finds of the last two years: Con O’Callaghan for 2017, and Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan for 2018, Gavin now on course to continue that trend. (Dublin number two goalkeeper Evan Comerford was also between the posts that day, Colm Basquel also among the forwards.)
Two seasons on, and still with that distance-running physique, Gavin is looking increasingly comfortable alongside Fenton. Before making his first league appearance, Gavin did feature in the O’Byrne semi-final win over Meath (on penalties), that being the development squad under Dublin’s Paul Clarke
A week after the Galway game, he was given his first starting berth in the round three meeting with Kerry in Tralee, scoring his first point in the process, only for Kerry to run out one-point winners. Gavin also started at midfield alongside Fenton in the 1-12 to 0-7 win over Mayo, and again against Roscommon last Sunday week, where he scored his second point from play.
However Gavin is not the only player to emerge with some experience of Divilly’s UCD Sigerson team: Kilmacud Crokes wing back Cian O’Connor got his first senior start for Dublin against Roscommon last Sunday week, also scoring his first point.
Both Gavin and O’Connor are again expected to feature this Saturday evening, as Dublin’s bid to reach the league final for a seventh successive year continues against Tyrone in Croke Park. Mickey Harte’s men haven’t beaten Dublin since the 2013 Division One campaign.
Since then, Dublin have won six and drawn two of their eight league and championship meetings, the most recent coming in last year’s All-Ireland final, where they finished six points clear (2-17 to 1-14).
Dublin’s search for the find of 2019, meanwhile, looks to be already nearing completion.