Dublin are just a staggering 70 minutes away from yet another All-Ireland crown.
This would be their third in a row – a chance to cement their place as one of the greats, if not the greatest in the game’s history.
How does Jim Gavin keep a team so successful already motivated? How does he keep them fired up, more ruthless than ever and by the looks of it hungrier than ever to take Sam home?
Well, in Dublin’s ruthless pummelling of Tyrone last month, six of the team that started the drawn 2016 All-Ireland final had to make do with a seat on the bench. Gavin’s secret to success? Change.
Yes, there have been injuries, dips in form and a 12-week suspension along the way. The 46-year-old had a full squad to choose from in the semi-final, however, all six were fit and had featured already this summer at some point. Why not use them? He hasn’t quite needed to just yet.
The platform that the former half-forward has created has enabled young and ambitious players to thrive and develop at a time in which Dublin have a squad of experienced players who have done it all. These players are yet to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand to lift Sam Maguire, or if they have they did it as a fringe player.
Gavin is more than willing to take a chance on youth. Every year we see new stars emerge, take a jersey and just refuse to let go of what is theirs. This year alone we’ve seen Niall Scully and Con O’Callaghan become regulars, David Byrne, John Small and Brian Fenton to name but a few have also broken into the set-up in recent years.
Take Scully for example, an Under-21 All-Ireland winner in 2014. In December, you could have thought he had missed his chance to make the senior grade as his old teammates starred for the seniors since 2015 and 2016. He had an exceptional O’Byrne Cup campaign in which he emerged as a senior player in an inexperienced Dublin team while the rest of the panel were on their team holiday.
Scully was given a start for the league opener in Cavan and simply never looked back. Gavin put his faith in the young Templeogue Synge Street man and has since reaped the rewards with the versatile wing-forward fitting perfectly into the system and keeping none other than Paul Flynn out of the Dublin team.
Let’s get that straight, a man in his first senior season is keeping Flynn, who won four All-Star awards in a row from 2011 to 2014, out of the team. Flynn hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, he struggled with injuries early in the year but was fully fit last month to face Tyrone and had to watch from the bench until he was introduced in the second half.
Flynn isn’t the only one missing out on a starting place this summer. Kevin McManamon featured regularly throughout last year and also this year’s league campaign but hasn’t started since the opening game of the Championship. Michael Darragh MacAuley is a former Footballer of the Year and the 31-year-old was an unused substitute against Tyrone. Eoghan O’Gara and also veteran Denis Bastick have been condemned to the bench all summer. Then there’s Bernard Brogan.
Brogan has won four All-Irelands at this stage, four league crowns, over ten Leinster titles, All-Star awards and Footballer of the Year awards. You’ll find his face on countless bus stops and billboards around Dublin and you hear his voice in pretty much every single Supervalu advertisement! How do you keep Bernard and the above mentioned motivated?
You drop them, as Gavin has done. In response, Flynn scored three breathtaking scores at crucial stages against Tyrone. McManamon came on and put in a serious shift, tiring the Tyrone defence which ultimately led to the second goal scored by none other than O’Gara. Brogan, Bastick and MacAuley weren’t even called upon but when they are they have performed. The effect this is having is very positive for the team.
The 15 that finishes the game are just as important, if not more important than the starters. The luxury of having over half a dozen experienced players who are absolutely gunning to get out and make an impression on the Round Towers club man is invaluable. The starting 15 are determined to keep hold of their jersey while the likes of Brogan want their jersey back. That’s why Dublin have been able to perform so consistently since Gavin took over, particularly since 2015.
The cocktail of youth and experience means the county is in a great position with the future in mind. What’s left of the core group that were around in 2011 aren’t getting any younger but the next generation Gavin has integrated into the team show all the potential of those before them.
Dublin are here to stay.
Gavin Quinn, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we spoke with Marc Ó Sé ahead of the All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo