OpinionRoy Curtis

Roy Curtis: Jim Gavin is football's last stand against doom merchants

Jim Gavin doesn't get the acclaim that Jim McGuinness receives
Jim Gavin doesn't get the acclaim that Jim McGuinness receives

It is the heaviest burden Jim Gavin shoulders, that of liberating the old game from the inflexible handcuffs Jim McGuinness slapped on its blistered wrists.

At times, the Dubs can seem like the last surviving arthouse in a humourless, ISIS-controlled universe; the one region of resistance not to bow to the austere jihad of caution and fear which has stripped football of joy, evicted all wonder.

A cultural oasis that has yet to allow the insurgents raise the black flag of defensive nihilism over its roof.

Mayo gallantly decline to surrender to the cesspit; Kerry, for all the exaggerated nonsense of their defecting to the dark side in the 2014 All-Ireland final, could never abandon such a treasure house of tradition. 

Eamon Fitzmaurice may be a pragmatist, but romance also surges through his veins. Though progressive, last year’s thrilling Limerick rumble with Mayo illustrates that he remains the curator of old-school dreams.

Yet still there is a sense that if Gavin falls, so much is lost.

That the spoofs, cynics and book-burners who populate the GAA hinterland, throwing their narcissistic shapes, will be closer to a final victory.

That the dismal science shall have conquered all, 15 men on guard duty inside their own 45 becoming the definitive carving on football’s Mount Rushmore. 

The game has been living a lie, peddling a humungous falsehood about the emperor’s non-existent robes.

It is the one that denies the genre midwifed into this world by Mickey Harte, advanced by McGuinness and imitated by so many of their lesser, fawning, one-crude-trick-pony disciples is other than an eyesore, an abomination.

And a pathogen that needs to be wiped out before it slaughters all that it meets.

This year’s championship has unspooled like a bizarre dystopian experiment to turn back time, a Dark Age express.  

Yes, putting 14 men behind the ball can sometimes satisfy the Machiavellian laws but – however great the hipster denials – it is devoid of charm. 

Presented as some chess duel between cerebral grandmasters, it will always be unwatchable.

Anybody who could endure great swathes of the Ulster final and not yield to thoughts of spending their time watching absolutely anything else is made of sterner stuff than I.

As a spectacle too many games now carry all the charm of 70 minutes peering into a toilet bowl at the fruits of diarrhetic bowel. 

The apologists have been cheerleading a cancer of negativity, championing a philosophy that has at its core the appetite for destruction; it is the wilful tearing down of those 5,000-year-old Assyrian statues.

The catchall categorisation of “blanket-defence” lends a gentle face to a monster.

It is a cynical, systemic prison created to incarcerate beauty; the basic tenet is to deny anybody of artistic bent access to their canvass and oils.

Jim Gavin rails against all this, offers a haven for aesthetes, declines to bow to the desolate, acetic fashion.

The Dublin manager stands for all the game might be, a carnival of expression, glory’s last stand.

When the creative wind is at their back, the Sky Blues transform Croke Park into a kaleidoscope of colour, a vision as uplifting as the great coliseum has known.

And yet, here is the irony: Gavin has never been remotely as celebrated as McGuinness.

Though his achievements are perhaps superior to his Donegal namesake he lives off the crumbs of the great banquet of acclaim afforded to McGuinness.

Gavin has won seven of the eight trophies for which he has competed, while delivering some of the most sumptuous offerings.

McGuinness achieved a stunning national breakthrough, he’s a charismatic figure (if an unbending control-freak), yet his enduring legacy was to reduce football fields to sardine tins, to perfect the art of suffocation. 

When Gavin’s teams ladle out the artistic impression, the response is to call for the team to be sundered in two; when they struggle to break down the blanket it raises what

Tomas O’Se calls “question marks about (Jim’s) tactical nous”.

Rarely does anybody mention the team which set the roadblock, letting the kidnapper of the occasion off scot free. Stockholm Syndrome, Irish style.

What is often forgotten about Dublin’s loss to Donegal last summer is how they had the guillotine poised above the Ulster giants’ heads, how Connolly and Brogan each had an opportunity to set the blade on its decapitating path.

Many journalists who relentlessly lampoon Gavin for not rivalling Jose Mourinho in the dial-a-quote stakes are unable or unwilling to see that he feeds them something of greater substance:  football of enduring eloquence.

The suspicion that there exists a school who crave to see the Sky Blue superintendent fall flat on his face can point to the Davy Byrne affair. 

A Dublin footballer was violently assaulted in an off-the-ball incident, yet it was Gavin – not Armagh’s Kieran McGeeney – hunted down on the airwaves.

When his stunning body of work is acknowledged, it is inevitably with the caveat that anybody with such enviable playing resources could do what Jim does. Really?

Donegal have a wondrous talent base: Yet still they often feel compelled to deploy the great Michael Murphy as a doorman.  

To neutrals it seems self-defeating. Like asking Michelangelo to chop firewood while getting the Sistine Chapel padre to give the ceiling a lick of paint.  

Gavin is a courageous manager, one who refuses to regard self-expression as a sin. 

What the wilfully blind will not see is that here is the saviour at the gate: The leader of an army that can storm Croke Park, reclaim football and perhaps send the merchants of doom scurrying back to their caves.