Jim Gavin rejects theory that football is now too cynical

Dublin manager wanted sin bin to be introduced but believes black card is working well

Jim Gavin says players are not given credit for sacrifices they make to play game. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Dublin and Mayo haven't sold out Croke Park 13 days in advance by playing cynical football, and Jim Gavin also believes some people need to lighten up in their criticism of the modern game.

“I think we’ve got one of the best field sports in the world,” said the Dublin manager. And Gavin’s defence of the modern game doesn’t stop there.

Inevitably, he is also drawn into this Sunday’s semi-final between Tyrone and All-Ireland champions Kerry. Tyrone come to Croke Park with more than just gentle accusations of cynical football, particularly after Tiernan McCann’s diving incident in their quarter-final win over Monaghan, now popularly known as ‘Rufflegate’.

“The player made a mistake, I’m sure he realises that as well, and I’m sure he’ll play against Kerry,” said Gavin.


McCann, in fact, must still face a disciplinary hearing, later this week, and a ban could rule him out of the semi-final. What Gavin is certain about is that diving incidents are the still rare.


“I certainly don’t think it’s an epidemic, no. I think with the officials we now have, I can see the standards increasing every year. Players and managers and supporters and people who follow the game, they just want consistency, and I think we’re getting there. Referees are volunteers, like the rest of us. So they’re doing their very best, and that’s all we ask them to do.”

Most of Tyrone’s apparently cynical play against Monaghan came late in the game, when the black card didn’t seem to matter. Indeed Monaghan manager Malachy O’Rourke questioned the merit of the black card in such a scenario, although Gavin believes it has helped clean up cynical play.

“Yeah, I’d beg to differ on that. I would have been always in favour of the sin bin but it didn’t get there. It [the black card] was purposely brought in for the body collisions, trips, and that part of our game is beginning to be eradicated. So I think we’re seeing less and less of it and it’s going in the right direction.

“And have we seen that many black cards in the last 10 minutes of games? I don’t have the stats now, but it doesn’t appear that way to me. I still think the sin bin would be more punitive. But I think it was a positive step, to bring in the rule which would try to curb that type of play, and I think it’ll progress naturally over the coming years.”

Gavin also believes players don’t get enough credit for the amount of effort they dedicate to their sport. “We’ve a busy enough job looking after 30 players and the demands that that brings. We alwaysaccentuate the positives and what the guys are doing well. But I think the players don’t get enough credit for what they do. They are training to the same professional standards of most of the top teams, but they are not living a professional lifestyle.

Day jobs

“Any of the players you interview, all have to go back to the day jobs. They do it for the passion of their sport and the grá they have for it. So probably not enough consideration is given to what the players sacrifice for their games.”

By now, presumably, all the hard work in preparing for the Mayo game is done. With that, Gavin is asked about Jim McGuinness, who, in his column in this newspaper yesterday, talked up Mayo’s hunger to “break that cycle of hurt”, just like the Galway hurlers showed against Tipperary last Sunday.

“I’d expect every team in the last four to be very hungry,” says Gavin, with typical diplomacy. “The finishing line is still a bit off for all of us. We’re approaching the final bend now and you’d expect all teams to push hard for home.”

And as for the near cliche now of Dublin not being properly tested yet, Gavin simply raises a smile. “Every day they put on the Dublin jersey there is a certain expectation, and they are going into a test, always. Every team we play we give the utmost respect.

“There’s no doubt Mayo do have the momentum. They have played more recently than us against a very good Donegal side, and they will carry that into the game. It is up to us to match it early on in the game.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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