Stepford Wives

IT IS all of five years since the former Mayo player David Brady described Dublin as Hollywood footballers.

Back then, he meant it as a jibe at what he saw as their strutting and preening on the pitch.

But, if you were to pick a Hollywood film of the past decade or so to describe Jim Gavin’s Dublin, it would be hard to look past ‘The Stepford Wives’.

In the movie, the demure women in an idyllic Connecticut neighborhood turn out to be robots created by their husbands.

When he agreed to play a challenge match against Armagh behind closed doors at DCU last week, Gavin didn’t expect that game to be the subject of a discussion on RTE Radio One’s ‘The Sean O’Rourke Show’ two days before the Leinster final.

But the injuries sustained by Davy Byrne — and Dublin’s reaction to what happened — has created a problem.

Gavin leaves nothing to chance. He is obsessed with the little details, with micro-management, with meticulous preparation.

But you can never plan for the unknown unknowns.

On Thursday evening, Colm Parkinson of Newstalk grilled Gavin over the Byrne incident.

It made for an extraordinary piece of radio on the ‘Off the Ball’ programme.

Parkinson asked all the questions that needed to be asked, but Gavin stuck to the Stepford Wives template.

Again and again, no matter what the question, he repeated the same stock answers — using the phrase ‘’frank discussion’’ four times.

Gavin was on message, but the message made no sense.

He is in charge of one of the most charismatic and exciting teams — on the pitch — that Gaelic football has seen in decades.

But, in their public appearances off the pitch, they are as grey as a Pravda announcement of increased tractor production.

Last week, Kevin McManamon was wheeled out for a press conference.

There’s a lot to McManamon. He has a Masters in sports psychology, is an accomplished singer and musician and has a bright and intriguing personality.

But the Stepford manual meant that personality was bleached away to nothing.

McManamon was polite and courteous, but it was as if he was pre-programmed to pour out the cliches we hear from Dublin before every game.

The pity is that there’s far more to this bunch than we’re allowed to see.

Indeed, they’re very reminiscent of Heffo’s heroes of the 1970s in that many are very successful in their working lives as well.

On the Dublin GAA website, there are short Q and As with each of Gavin’s players.

They’re all asked for their childhood sporting heroes and the usual suspects like Muhammad Ali, Roy Keane and Michael Jordan crop up again and again.

But there are a few interesting nuggets.

Eric Lowdnes went for Trevor Giles, a Meathman. Michael Fitzsimons opted for former Croatia striking legend Davor Suker.

Diarmuid Connolly gave the nod to Butterbean, the former boxer who tipped the scales at over 30 stone.

But Jack McCaffrey’s choice was the most eye-catching.

He went for Viktor Krum, a Bulgarian wizard who excels at Quidditch in the Harry Potter books.

An all too rare glimpse of the real men behind the Stepford masks.

Three days ago, Gavin took umbrage at the notion that Dublin aren’t tested in Leinster, and that victory today is nailed on.

But it’s hard to argue with cold figures.

On his watch, Dublin have won their matches in Leinster by an average of 16 points apiece.

Other than London in the 2013 Connacht decider, Westmeath are the longest odds to win a provincial final in decades.

The suspicion is that Gavin knows Leinster strolls are no preparation for the battles that lie ahead in the All-Ireland series.

That would explain the desire to arrange a challenge against Armagh — a hard-nosed team with a point to prove.

Thursday’s press briefing wasn’t at the usual location of the gleaming Gibson Hotel, but in Parnell Park.

The Nell was Heffo’s crucible. It was there that the plan to conquer football and, by extension, a city and its people was hatched.

Bill Shankly had his bootroom. Heffo had a tiny galvanised hut in Parnell Park where he’d plot and cajole.

When he spoke in tribute at Heffo’s funeral, Tony Hanahoe, his old captain, put it best.

“It was a draughty, little galvanised hut sustained by nothing but Chrissy Robinson’s tea, Marietta biscuits, and sheer determination.”

That old shed with the corrugated iron roof has long since disappeared, and a wander around the clubhouse led to a framed photograph of Gavin’s All-Ireland winning squad from 2013.

Included in the photo are 26 members of the backroom staff. That’s a lot of Marietta biscuits.

As a brand, Dublin has the x-factor that resonates in Stillorgan as much as Stepaside, in Bayside as much as Ballybrack.

It’s the biggest gig in town but Gavin’s cautious low-key approach to the Dublin job is a reflection of his own quiet, guarded personality.

He doesn’t believe in the cult of the manager, deferring all the time to the collective — the backroom team he’s assembled and the players

But Gavin can’t play down Dublin’s ambition.

That was made clear in the attempt to buy the Spawell. That is down there in print in ‘The Blue Wave’ strategy document with its stated target of at least one All-Ireland every three years.

Remember when Dublin had famines in Leinster? In Paddy Cullen’s first seven seasons between the sticks, Dublin lost to Laois, Longford (twice), Louth, Kildare (twice) and Westmeath.

In more recent times, Ciaran Whelan had to wait until his seventh season in sky-blue before he won a provincial medal.

On Tuesday, Whelan tweeted a pic of the team-sheet from the 1998 Railway Cup final between Leinster and Ulster.

Only three Dubs — Whelan, Brian Stynes and Declan Darcy — made the cut.

Now, it would be hard from a footballer outside of Dublin to make the Leinster team.

Today, they’ll collect a 10th Leinster title in 11 years, but it’s been a bad week for the All-Ireland favourites.

Don’t think they’ll be arranging another challenge with Armagh any time soon…

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