Diarmuid Connolly's return: a Jim Gavin media masterclass
"It's a very regrettable incident, it shouldn't have happened. It's not part of our game but as I've said, both players spoke to each other after the game... They want to now concentrate on getting their county jerseys back."
Rhetoric, the art of persuasion, has been used since the Ancient Greeks to convince people of a certain message. You could study the five accepted principles of it (Invention, Arrangement, Style, Memory and Delivery). Or you could watch a modern master in it: Jim Gavin.
Dublin are approaching something never before achieved in Gaelic Football – the five in-a-row. You might have heard rumblings about it, noticed a spring in the steps of Dublin fans or spotted a muttering of the fabled “Drive for Five” in the newspapers… But you won’t hear it from the Dublin camp.
The news that two-time All Star and Metropolitan prodigal son Diarmuid Connolly is back in training with the Dubs after a failed sojourn in the States was met by absolute euphoria by Dublin fans, dread-filled respect by opponents and palpable excitement by neutrals. Connolly is back for knockout Championship football.
But in typical Jim Gavin style, it was managed in every possible way.
Gavin’s attention to detail is without comparison in Gaelic Games. That stretches from everything pitch-related right the way through to his side’s interaction with the press. He knows something very simple: the media need Dublin, Dublin don’t need the media. As a result, he’s kept the carnival from the door as his side hopes to make even more history.
It’s been the standard over the past few years. Media interviews with Dublin are held early-morning, most journalists could prepare a Bingo card of phrases and have it filled after three answered questions and the quotes from Gavin himself are simply interchangeable with the previous opponents; albeit he can also list 20+ players when talking about the upcoming game. The script is prepared. The lines perfectly, if mundanely, delivered.
Gavin’s Connolly revelation on Sunday, one of the stories of the footballing summer to date, was as low-key and afterthought-laden as we should have expected. Blink and you might miss it;
— Dublin GAA (@DubGAAOfficial) July 14, 2019
In the midst of a typically pointed mention of Dublin players returning to work on Monday, and sandwiched neatly between Jonny Cooper and Robert McDaid, is the ending (or rising point of action) of the long-reigning Connolly saga. Whoever wrote the caption to that tweet must have had a wry smile to themselves as Gavin produced another managed mic drop moment in an ever-increasing list.
It was released the morning after Dublin’s breathtaking few minutes of muscle-flexing saw them defeat Cork at Croke Park, a powerful message to would-be challengers emphasised by the celebration of goals by Ciarán Kilkenny and Brian Fenton. This was designed to underline that win. The message was clear: there’s even more to this team.
We’ve seen this before from Gavin, also related to Connolly. After the Vincents man was handed down a 12-week ban for pushing a linesman against Carlow in 2017, Gavin refused to give part of his usual broadcast media briefing, deciding instead to unleash a prepared statement to print journalists denouncing what he perceived as unfair coverage of Connolly in the incident’s aftermath. The Dubs boss even evoked the constitution in a passionate defence of his player. That’s Rhetoric 101, appeal to a higher power.
This boycott was abated later in the summer, but the message was clear: this can happen again.
So it came to pass. The standoff reared its head again in Spring 2018 when Gavin again refused to speak to RTÉ, this time in relation to RTÉ’s releasing of DVD footage to Dublin for analysis purposes. The all-too limited access was again pulled, and only restored when it again suited Dublin to do so. Unlike Tyrone, they provided RTÉ with their traditional access to the All-Ireland Champions banquet after they saw off Mickey Harte’s side.
Gavin is clever. His team rarely puts a foot out of place on the pitch, but even more so in the media rooms. Invariably, the moments he chooses to make headlines (outside Dublin's performances on the pitch) are his moral stances or positive PR messages.
The news trickles out when it suits Dublin. The message is managed to favour the Dubs. Jim Gavin’s stage-management of his side is second to none.