Jim Gavin content to focus on Dublin’s game plan

Dublin manager well aware of the counterattacking threat Tyrone have perfected

Jim Gavin: “They had a very defensive system married to a really impressive attacking game. They seem to have got the balance right so it’s going to be a tough game for us.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Kieran McGeeney was asked after Armagh’s defeat to Tyrone earlier this month if he felt his team’s conquerors had another All-Ireland title in them.

The Armagh manager and former skipper spoke of Tyrone’s “potential” and their “belief”, describing those as vital factors, but claimed it could all come down to circumstances beyond their control in the semi-final against Dublin; the referee.

“Depending on how a referee sees the tackling, it can go for you or it can go against you,” said McGeeney. “Those particular things could have a big influence on their semi-final.

“Like when Tyrone played Kerry during the league, there were a lot of scoreable frees given that day. But then in the championship to date there hasn’t been too many.”


It was a fair point and as two highly physical and mobile teams prepare for battle, pitting the yin of Tyrone’s counterattacking strategy against the yang of Dublin’s free spirit, David Coldrick could find it difficult to remain anonymous all afternoon.

"Both sets of players and both sets of management teams are just looking for consistency from the referee, that the rules of the game are applied evenly, that they're consistently applied throughout the full expanse of the game," said Dublin manager Jim Gavin.

“I’d say that’s probably what Kieran was referring to there, that whoever officiates the game is consistent in his interpretation of the rule.”

Asked if it’s possible though that a referee’s interpretation of the tackle could be as important as McGeeney suggested on any given day, Gavin nodded. “Yeah, I think it is,” he said.

Top level

“But the tackle is well defined in Gaelic football at the top level and the referees that are left are all well capable of officiating the games. You wouldn’t have any concerns there.”

It is just another angle for Gavin and his management team to try to account for in their preparations. Dublin haven’t played Tyrone in the championship since 2011, a couple of years before Gavin took over and, since then, they have only met in the league.

Gavin may well find himself poring over the DVD of the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final defeat against Donegal this week as he attempts to fine-tune his team’s strategy. That was the only championship game Dublin have lost under Gavin and the comparisons between the counterattacking policy of Donegal in 2014 and Tyrone this season are obvious.

“Yeah, I think that’s fair to say,” said Gavin. “You just need to look at their scoring in the Ulster championship to see how good they are at that counterattacking style.

“Look at them the last day against Armagh, and how easily they dispatched them, you could see they had a very defensive system married to a really impressive attacking game. They seem to have got the balance right so it’s going to be a tough game for us.”

Tyrone deployed Mark Bradley as their solitary forward for much of the win over Armagh, leaving their 13 other outfield players in much deeper positions.

Gavin admitted there’s a possibility Dublin could get sucked into playing a tactical game on Tyrone’s terms this weekend.

“That’s a possibility, yeah,” he said, before being asked how Dublin might avoid that scenario. “Most of the focus over the last few weeks has been on how we want to play our game. That’s the focus that we’ve always taken. Each team that we’ve played, we’ve given them the ultimate respect and we prepare as best we can for the challenge that they bring.

“But we’ve always tried to play our own game plan, and to execute that to the best of our ability, and obviously that changes from game to game. But that has been our key focus and will continue to be leading into the game.”

Gavin rejected the suggestion the defeat to Donegal in 2014 was a particularly defining moment for himself and his players. They’ve clearly added extra layers to their defensive game since then though Gavin shrugged at talk that it changed their entire outlook.

“I think you could look back to how we’ve changed our game even from last year’s All-Ireland series and how we keep evolving our game-plan,” he argued.

“We know we’re on the right track but we know if we remain stagnant in our game-plan then teams will simply roll over us. We have to keep marching forward and learn as much as we can from all the games we play.”