OPINION: Jim Gavin's apparent swipe at Tyrone is just really, really sad
Back in 2015, back when Derry weren't just as depressing as they are, I sat in Croke Park on a rain-ruined Saturday evening to watch a classic of sorts unfold.
0-3 to 0-2 at half time isn't your classic classic but it will certainly be remembered.
Derry tried to drag Dublin into the trenches that night. They accepted that the All-Ireland champions were better than them from the league final hammering the year before so, rather than take them on, they tried to beat them at a different game. A defensive game.
I was with one mate, sitting in the Hogan Stand and we were surrounded by blue jerseys.
- "You're shite," one guy in particular was taking awful offence to the way Derry were set up and the way they refused to kick the ball down Dublin's throats.
- "I know," I replied. "That's why we're playing this way."
- "That isn't football. You're a disgrace."
- "What do you want us to do? Take you on and get hammered?"
- "You're shite," he was adamant.
As it transpired, Dublin finally got ahead in the last 10 minutes. Every time they scored - which wasn't that much, they only scored eight times in 70 minutes - that same Dubliner would roar over to me as if it proved me wrong. As if I was doubting that Dublin weren't miles better than Derry.
- "I'm agreeing with you," I thought I'd try one last time. "We're shite, you're class. That's why we're playing this way."
- "You're shite," he responded.
The rest of the country jumped aboard the slamming session that night too. The death of football, it was called - but that was about the 19th time that phrase was used in fairness.
Through all the opposition that Jim Gavin has faced and beaten, you'd have thought he was above this whole having a pop at 'negative' tactics thing.
Ever since Donegal beat them in 2014, it has just been an insatiable bloodbath from the capital who have stopped giving two monkeys about how teams set up against them. If you want to fight, you'll find yourself in trouble. If you want to defend, they won't be caught on the break. If you want to go toe-to-toe, 15 on 15 with them, you're stupid.
But then on Saturday night, Dublin at long last didn't get things all their own way. Their dominance might frustrate many around the country but it's hard to take away from just how good they've been and what brilliantly worthy champions they are. Mickey Harte and Tyrone, however, look to have built a side that can contest with them.
He knows what he's up to! https://t.co/LvVa0TO1tS
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) February 13, 2017
The Ulster champions matched Dublin stride for stride in that league draw at the weekend and they sure as hell didn't stand back in awe.
Niall Sludden was the personification of a county's belief that they were good enough to beat this team. They were set up well - very damn well - they were hard to break down and they were deadly on the break.
For some reason, Mickey Harte is seemingly supposed to be a little embarrassed by this success?
"They were five up in the last quarter and they decided to try and close the game out," Jim Gavin said of 14-man Tyrone who, yes, were FIVE up so why wouldn't they close it out?
"From the off, they tried to close it out and then counter-attack.
"That is the style of football they play, they play it really well and they have won so much playing that style of football.
"But if that is the way they want the game to be played, we don’t.
"We want to play an attacking brand of football."
So what? Attacking football is nicer to watch, sure. But what the hell do Tyrone owe anyone? And what the hell do they owe the 'undefeated' Dublin?
If you can put aside how glorious some of Tyrone's plays were - the goal for example, end-to-end; Sludden running from 50 yards out straight through the middle to score himself - if you put all that aside for whatever reason and look at Gavin's apparent swipe, it's hard to understand.
Why has 'defensive' suddenly become an insult. Calling a team defensive is basically having a go at them nowadays when, in reality, saying a team won by defending is just as arbitrary as saying they won by attacking.
There's some moral high ground here that no-one has been able to yet probably explain - why this abstract notion of being defensive is something you should be ashamed of. There's an art in defending and there's a logic in having tactics. Especially against a team like Dublin. Especially when they're deployed as slickly as Tyrone deployed them.
Jim Gavin knows this better than anyone. And just because he's driving a Rolls Royce, it doesn't give him a licence to complain when others with lesser engines decide to take corners a little sharper than what might look good.
The game needs people like Mickey Harte putting it up to the champions whatever way they can. Jesus Christ, Dublin need it.