Jim Gavin pilots a steady course for Dublin

The Dublin manager sees similarities between flying and running a football team

Some people will tell you it only takes the pilot and co-pilot to fly a commercial Airbus, but Jim Gavin will tell you that they are wrong.

Because behind them is the cabin crew, behind them the baggage handlers, behind them the engineers, the refuellers, aircraft security, air-traffic control, ground handlers, the fire service, etc.

And, besides, do the pilot and co-pilot applaud themselves every time they successfully land a plane?

It’s a slightly roundabout way of explaining why, win or lose in Croke Park on Sunday, Gavin will not be falling to his knees in either joy or disappointment. And he certainly will not be kicking back afterwards to wallow in any of the glory or to finger any of the blame.


It’s the same way Gavin has repeatedly fielded any questions about why his sideline antics rarely if ever extend beyond a mere smile or a sip from his water bottle.

And Sunday will be no exception: this, after all, is the man whose very first coaching job was with the Defence Forces’ football team, around the same time he started in the Air Corp.


This latest showdown against


is still seen on those terms, same as the 2013 final win over Mayo, and last year’s final win over Kerry.

Football management is not exactly like flying a plane yet Gavin likes to see it that way. “It would have appealed to me, for that reason, yeah,” he says of that initial draw into management. “I would have been a flight instructor in the Air Corp. That’s teaching, and coaching is really teaching, the same principles and methods of instruction apply.

“And I have used a lot that I’ve learned in aviation in terms of instruction on the training field because there are lots of synergies there.

“And good military systems, and good military commanders, would understand that the platoon or company is the sum of its parts. It’s the individual components that make it unique. And it’s the same in the field of commercial aviation.

“Commercial aviation is a very process-driven industry. That’s why it’s so safe. It’s all very regimented, but the strength of it is that you have people following that particular process, and within that they can express their individuality.

“It’s the same process in any dressingroom. You have 30 players, you have a system you want to play to, and a game plan. But you want those players to express their uniqueness because that’s what makes them special, that expression piece on the field of play.”

Gavin was well able to express himself as a player, and back then did not mind wallowing in some of the glory too. At the end of Dublin’s 1995 All-Ireland win over Tyrone he famously sat back on his heels and raised both arms triumphantly into the air – as well he might (Dublin had not won the All-Ireland since 1983).

Players’ game

It is the last question raised during this his last round of interviews before Sunday’s final: why doesn’t he express any of that satisfaction as a manager or is there any comparison between winning an All-Ireland on the field and on the sideline?

“Well, it’s a players’ game. The management group, it’s our job is to get those players to be the best they can be. That’s what we’ve been asked by the county board as far as I’m concerned. And if I’ve done that, and the management team have done that, well then we’ve done our job.

“And if we come up against a team that performs better than us on any given day collectively, that’s just sport. So all of our focus is driven towards getting those players to perform.

“And it is all about playing. The management, we don’t kick the ball, we don’t put those tackles in, or make those passes. The players do, so it’s a players’ game. There’s great satisfaction from seeing people be there best and to self-actualise. Absolutely, that’s the enjoyable bit.”

So it is all about controlling yourself on the sideline?

“No, I wouldn’t say controlled. One is controlled so you can be your best for the players, and so whatever influence you have on them at a tactical level during a game, you can make those right calls, or replacements coming on, or whatever.”


Win on Sunday, however, and Dublin will have enjoyed back-to-back All-Ireland success not felt since 1976-77. Might that allow him break out of autopilot mode even once?

“I’m not really interested in that question. We haven’t won anything yet.

“We got over a very good game against Kerry, but it’s about going after a performance against Mayo, and, hopefully, we’ll be at the end of it. After that we’ll reflect in it”

He said Dublin would look back at their last game “to get whatever we came from it, too improve the performance”.

“Because it’s not consistent enough, and if we perform in some areas like we did against Kerry, Mayo will definitely punish us. It’s a two-horse race now.

“It’s whichever team can perform to the best of their abilities in the final.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics