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Ciarán Murphy: Jim Gavin’s presence a sign of new football review committee’s serious intent

The job of charting a bright new future for Gaelic football is not an easy one but the former Dublin boss will ensure no effort is spared

Jim Gavin might have coached teams of thrilling style and power, but in truth mention of his name has rarely if ever been a prelude for heart palpitations.

Likewise the entire concept of GAA committees. But there was genuine excitement when his name was attached to new GAA president Jarlath Burns’ football review committee, announced at Congress last weekend.

Why? Because everything we know about Jim Gavin suggests that he wouldn’t take on something like this if he wasn’t going to be ‘all in’. The idea of doing something out of the goodness of his heart, or doing something because he felt he couldn’t say no, or because he felt honour-bound to do it, is anathema. Gavin’s name attached to a newly formed committee is the only one that could elicit that kind of public reaction.

Burns’ remarks about him last Saturday suggested as much.


“I met Jim Gavin four times. I’ve been having meetings with him now since October. I have to be honest; I have never met somebody as impressive as he is. Even all of the preparations we have done, linking the rationale back to the strategic plan, doing all of that work that has to be done, putting out the terms of reference.

“He thinks in a way that nobody else I know thinks. His higher-level thinking skills are incredible. I know that he is going to bring all of those skills to that post, as well as all of the incredible people, who are on the committee.”

Speaking to the Examiner this week, Colm Collins sounded almost as happy about the chance to work with Jim Gavin as he was about the chance to fix the sport. He called it a privilege. “He’s the best football manager ever, bar none . . . I think that anything that Jim does will be done well and he’s a really good choice.”

This chimes almost exactly with the public reaction. But it also raises the stakes appreciably. When people say Jim Gavin will save Gaelic football, it’s not entirely in jest. It sounds rather unlikely – but people didn’t think winning five All-Irelands in a row was all that possible either, until Gavin went where even great managers like Mick O’Dwyer and Brian Cody failed to go.

And for all that the supporting cast is incredibly impressive, (already confirmed names joining Gavin include Eamon Fitzmaurice, Malachy O’Rourke and James Horan) the work of this group will be inextricably linked with Gavin.

In the past GAA think tanks of this nature have been announced to great fanfare, but unfortunately that can often be as high-profile as they’ll get. By the time they report their findings, we’ll have moved on to the next cause célèbre. Most GAA people are happily in the dark as to how these things actually work.

And they can be bruising experiences. Many people will feel honour-bound to help out where they can, particularly if they’re being asked by a fellow club or county member. They may well go in with the very best of intentions, only to discover that they’ve been manoeuvred or manipulated into a situation not of their own making for political reasons.

Last September a similar group (albeit without Gavin) was asked to take part in a new Gaelic football review committee. There was quite a bit of buzz about it, by virtue of the quality of individual involved – Michael Murphy, Pat Gilroy, Billy Morgan, Malachy O’Rourke. Before the group met, they apparently analysed 45 games, 15 in the National League and 30 games in championship.

Within that sample size, the story went, the participants established 78 different metrics and were seeking to engage with a number of coaches, players and analysts to debate and discuss the findings. But the group met only once, late last year.

If Jarlath Burns met Gavin for the first time in October, then maybe it became clear that this new group, with Gavin at the helm, would supersede what those men had been asked to participate in. That may well be the reason it ended there.

But that experience, of going in with high hopes of making a difference only for it to curdle and die within weeks, could lead to disillusionment. It would not be unheard of in GAA circles for a sense of contempt for the ‘company man’ to set in. But that old line about a camel being a horse drawn up by committee doesn’t exactly spring to mind where Gavin is involved.

It sounds as if the parameters have been set. The timeline is with half an eye on a special congress late in 2025. We are being allowed to dream of a situation where the game will be returned to . . . well, what exactly? This is the key question, and one which will be at the heart of this committee’s work.

Because maybe the job is not one of returning the game to its former glory, but imagining a new future we haven’t seen before. If Jim Gavin and his main competitors while he was winning his five-in-a-row can agree on what they want Gaelic football to look like, they might just be able to get it. But that’s not a gimme.