All Ireland Countdown Day 5: Jim Gavin profiled

By on September 15, 2013
Round Tower PRO Mick McGlynn speaks with Towers stalwarts present and past who know Jim well and speak of Jim Gavin the footballer, manager and person. 
In the early 1980s, the back garden of a Clonburris house was the setting for games of Gaelic Football amongst four young boys. Makeshift goalposts were the focal point as the boys kicked scores that had them dreaming of Croke Park on a September afternoon. Playing with the three Gavin brothers – Barry, Brían, and Jim – was their neighbour Fergal Dardis. Fergal has known Jim all his life and despite now living 11,000 miles away, they remain very close friends. “We learned and honed our skills in the Gavin’s back garden from a very early age,” Fergal recalls. “There was always a set of goalposts up.  We were on Clonburris Primary School teams together and played alongside each other right up to me leaving Ireland for New Zealand in 2006.” 
Sean McNamara, who helped develop the footballing and hurling talents of hundreds of children who passed through the doors of Clonburris, lists Jim’s primary school playing achievements. Jim is unique in Cumann na mBunscoil circles, having represented the school six times in finals in Croke Park and won all six – three in hurling, three in football. He played corner forward, midfield and half-forward during the finals, scoring 2-3 in total. “The fact that he played and won six Cumann na mBunscol finals is still talked about among teachers at Cumann na mBunscol meetings and has been mentioned in Croke Park programmes,” Sean states. “In the Junior final of 1982 he finished with a broken finger which only came to light after the game when he was being presented with the cup. Our success and the strong players on those teams came from very strong Street Leagues in which teams were very strong and well trained. The 9th Lock teams were coached mainly at that time by Jim Gavin senior, Vincent Halpin and Aidan Dardis.” 
9th Lock dominated the Street Leagues for many years, Bernie Cronin, who mentored Jim as part of various Round Tower senior football management set-ups, recalls. Jim’s brother Barry was part of a part of a great underage team that included Tony Delaney, Fred McCarthy and Colm Tyndall, and then word emerged Barry’s younger brother Jim “was a bit special”, Bernie remembers. 
“There were many great footballers on the school team and in the Street Leagues all feeding into the Towers,” recalls John Jordan, a former teammate of Jim and Dublin county minor who now lives in California. “The likes of Fergal Dardis – shoulders that were years ahead of his age, Ben Taylor – a younger version of the Bomber, Brian Dunne – could sell anyone a dummy solo, Cormac Kirwan – great midfielders hands, Richie Bolton – stylish and skillful, and Seamus McCormack. I am confident that nobody will disagree that the best of us all at that time was the late Johnny Connors.”
“Jim was a very talented footballer who could play anywhere,” Fergal recalls. “In hurling he played in goal and was an unreal shot stopper.  In Football he was as adept at wing back as he was in the forwards.  He was fearless, quick and very much a team player.
Barry Gavin, one of the quadruplets who were honing their GAA skills in the back garden, informs Jim’s sporting talents went beyond Gaelic Football. “While Jim is best known for his football prowess, he was also a very accomplished hurler and soccer player and played underage soccer to a very high standard,” he comments. It was the GAA community in Clondalkin that benefited most from Jim’s sporting talents. “Without doubt Jim’s sporting career has been strongly influenced by his time in Clondalkin, his upbringing, the schools he attended and the Towers Club,” Barry says. “The people he came in contact with and the structures that supported his sporting development all greatly contributed to Jim’s development as a player and a coach. Jim was fortunate to have come in contact with men who had a great knowledge and passion for the game: Frank Roebuck and Sean McNamara in Clonburris, Johnny Roebuck and Jim Tully in Moyle Park, and Ted Keane, his underage mentor in Towers. But I’m sure Jim would agree that the greatest influence would have to be his parents and in particular his father James Senior.”
“The whole of the Gavin family seemed to be involved in everything that was going on with GAA in Clondalkin,” John remembers. “I particularly remember the encouragement coming from the sideline from Jim Senior.” 
Derek Murray, Round Tower Senior Footballer, is a past pupil of Clonburris and is now a teacher in the school. “Jim is someone I would have always looked up to,” he says. “From my time in Clonburris as a student Jim was a person we were all told about for his appearances for the school in Croke Park. Then as he broke onto the county scene with Dublin I always wanted to do the same, as he was a fellow Round Towers player.”
The talents developed out the back garden, outside Clonburris Primary School and on playing fields representing Towers brought Jim to the Dublin senior Football team in 1992. The pinnacle of his inter-county career was All Ireland success in 1995, when he lined out half-forward for the Dublin side that defeated Tyrone 1-10 v 0-12. 
“He had a very good catch, great left foot and an incredible ability to pick out another player with a foot pass,” Sean McNamara remarks. “His bravery, strength, blocking ability and discipline were also very evident.”
Tony Delaney, current chairman of Round Tower GAA Club, played with Jim and mentored him. “Jim showed promise from a very early age and began attracting attention as young as his street league years,” he recalls. “I had the pleasure of mentoring Jim when we won the Under 21 championship in 1989.  Jim was only a minor then but played a huge part in our success. He was a highly intelligent footballer and also a very honest and hardworking performer.”
“Jim was a leader on the field, in the dressing room and on the training field and he led by example; Being our county player when he spoke, everybody listened,” Bernie recalls of his influence on Towers sides. 
“He was single minded in his desire to achieve,” Fergal says.  “He did this in his professional career as well as his football career.  I remember after a big New Year celebration in Baldonnell Jim left and trained.  On the run into the All Ireland in ’95, Jim and I went to the community centre for extra training on his nights off to work on his skills.”
“Jim was a leader in the dressing room and could be relied upon to energise a training session or contribute in a constructive manner at team meetings,” Tony states.
Jim coached the Dublin Under 21’s in 2003 to the county’s first All-Ireland success at that grade and in April he managed the senior footballers to league title since 1993. During his tenure as manager of the Under 21’s from 2008 – 2012, they won three Leinster Championships (2009, ’10 and ’12) and two All-Irelands (2010 and 2012). 
Derek’s footballing achievements have replicated those of Jim’s. He has been a mainstay of the Tower senior footballers for ten years and played senior football for Dublin, winning 2 Leinster Football Championship medals. In 2003 he played on the Dublin team that claimed the county’s first Under 21 All Ireland Football Championship. The team was coached by Jim, something that made the success “very special”, Derek says. “I think from the way Jim treats people there is nothing players will not do for him. There is a mutual respect there, he has a great way with the players and they respect that and respond to it, as is evident in him winning his All Ireland’s at Under 21 level and his Dublin team now being in a senior final. From anyone I’ve spoken to – be it players, friends or others – I haven’t heard a bad word said about Jim. It is obvious to me he is held in the highest regard as is his nature as a person.
Derek recalls Jim’s coaching of the Under 21 Dublin Footballers. “He was never one for shouting or banging tables so when he spoke there was always that sense of quiet as players wanted to take in what he said all the time as we knew he wasn’t one for bullshit or telling you what you wanted to hear. He was honest with everyone and never shied away from telling people when they weren’t doing something correctly. 
“From having played with Jim, trained with Jim and trained under Jim, I think he brings a calm methodical approach to the dressing room. He builds everything around work-rate all over the field which was something he always had in his own game. Although small in stature it was something I always noticed from going to see Towers matches as a child how brave and tenacious Jim was. He always gave 100% and that’s what he expects from anyone he asks to take the field.” 
“Jim is an extremely focussed and disciplined individual who never got flustered on the pitch,” Tony comments. “One of his great attributes is an ability to plan what he wants to do and being able to figure out how that will be achieved.” These considerations are echoed by Fergal: “Jim is very calm and structured – maybe it comes from his military training.  He has a style of play and the team do it his way.  There is no player bigger than the team and Jim drives this into them.”
“Managing the Dublin team is a huge operation and Jim has picked a winning team from selectors, training, PR and our very own Frank Roebuck on stats,” Bernie states. “His coolness on match day is remarkable and may be attributed to his training as a pilot and military background.”
Bernie has referred Jim’s backroom team including a man who has made a fantastic contribution to Dublin GAA through his nurturing of talent for many years at Clonburris, playing and coaching with Towers, and management of other club teams. Past pupils of Clonburris recall with great fondness lunchtime breaks on the field outside the school, when Frank Roebuck and Sean McNamara would use the opportunity to teach you the skills of Gaelic Games.  “Having worked alongside Frank the last ten years I have gained a huge amount of knowledge and experience and it’s no surprise that Jim, having played under Frank at primary school, secondary school and with Round Towers, knew Frank would be a great addition to his backroom team,” Derek comments.  “Whether it be a school game, a club game or a county game, Frank shows the same enthusiasm and passion and is never short of advice if he thinks it can benefit his teams.”
“Clonburris National School has long been the main feeder school for the club due to the efforts of Frank and Sean McNamara,” Bernie says. “When one considers the players who have come through – Tony Delaney, Colm Halpin, Barry Gavin, Fergal Dardis, Derek Murray to mention a few, one appreciates the importance of the school and impact Frank has made and continues to make.”
After playing senior football for Towers, Frank went on to manage the senior footballers, winning the Division 2 title twice. He has also managed St. Anne’s, Good Counsel and St Maurs. Fergal describes Frank as a guru in Dublin footballing circles, describing many of the players he coached in Clonburris as becoming club stalwarts. 
Bernie has witnessed at close hand his management capabilities. “Frank’s a very good reader of games and players and an inspiring orator in the dressing room never short of a word,” he says. “He is also innovative in terms of training regularly introducing new routines and drills to keep everything fresh. It’s a sign of his abilities that former student Jim has turned to his ex-master Frankie for his knowledge and advice as part of his management team.”
Derek speaks of the qualities that would have enticed Jim to bring him into his management set-up. “He sees more than just a game of football when he looks at a match. He has a great eye for noticing when things maybe aren’t going right and he quickly reacts to this in a positive way. His knowledge of the game is second to none and he loves the challenge of trying to break down another team’s game.”
The most listened to radio show in the country, RTE’s Morning Ireland, visited Clonburris this week to bring to listeners excitement in the parish and wider community. “Its’ a great feeling having Frank involved in the management team being in the school and also with Jim being a past pupil, Derek remarks. “There is a great buzz in the school since we returned in September and we are all very proud of what Frank and Jim have achieved to date and we are looking forward eagerly to having them both back in the school with Sam Maguire in tow. It’s massive for the school having them both involved and hopefully it can also inspire more children to get involved and play Gaelic Games.”
Bernie recalls 1995: “There was a great buzz around the Club and the whole village that we had a local man on the team and the win was celebrated throughout the winter. This winter promises to be even better!”
Clondalkin is now decorated in navy and blue and banners don sidewalls, businesses, houses and housing estates.  Talk in the town is of Sunday’s game, tickets, and our pride in our local’s involvement. The All Ireland Football Final 2013 truly is a unique occasion for this proud community. 
Back in Dunedin, New Zealand, Fergal will be up at 2.30am on All Ireland Final day to watch the neighbour he’s grown up playing football with lead the county’s senior footballers out on one of the biggest occasions on the Irish sporting calendar. “I have no doubt that all the prep will be done and the team will bring Sam home,” he concludes.   
Thank you to all for their contributions and assistance in bringing this article together.