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Gavin v McGuinness: The 2010 encounter between the men who would change the landscape of Gaelic football

Seven years ago Jim Gavin and Jim McGuinness met on the sideline for the first time in the All-Ireland U21 football final.

TWENTY FIVE YEARS ago, Dessie Farrell and Declan Bonner shared the same field, and both wore the number 13 jersey, in the All-Ireland senior football final.

A late score from Bonner helped seal a famous four point victory for Donegal over Farrell’s Dubs, and bring Sam Maguire back to the hills for the first time in their history.

Declan Bonner 1992 Current Donegal U21 boss Declan Bonner celebrates the county's All-Ireland success 25 years ago. Source: INPHO

Tomorrow at 2.30pm, Farrell and Bonner will don bainisteoir bibs as they share the sideline for the EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football championship semi-final in Breffni Park, Cavan.

It’s the first meeting between the counties at this grade since the All-Ireland final at the same venue back in 2010. On that occasion, two other familiar faces patrolled the sideline.

Dublin won that day by 1-10 to 1-8 after a stoppage-time penalty from Michael Murphy cannoned back off the crossbar. Donegal’s hopes of a first U21 crown since 1987 were cruelly denied at the death, but it would prove to be a fruitful year for both counties.

Michael Murphy A dejected Michael Murphy after the U21 final in 2010. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Dublin captain Jonny Cooper lifts the cup Dublin skipper Jonny Cooper lifts the cup. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

It was a game that spawned a litany of future senior All-Ireland winners. Paddy McGrath Mark McHugh, Michael Murphy and Leo McLoone would go on to lift Sam Maguire just two and a half years later - Donegal’s first September triumph since 1992.

Rory O’Carroll and James McCarthy would annex a senior All-Ireland just 16 months later – Dublin’s first triumph since 1995. Jonny Cooper and Dean Rock took a little longer to make their breakthrough, but by the 2013 success they had firmly arrived on the scene. Further titles followed for the Metropolitans in 2015 and 2016.

The players who took the field that day would go on to win seven All-Stars between them – Murphy (2012 and 2014), O’Carroll (2013 and 2015), McHugh (2012), McCarthy (2013) and Cooper (2016).

pjimage Source: INPHO

But what made that final seven years ago even more notable was the fact it was a first showdown between two of the finest tactical minds we’ve known in Gaelic football – Jim Gavin and Jim McGuinness.

Both men made their championship debuts as players in 1993, a year after their counties clashed in that All-Ireland final. And were in the U21 hotseat for the All-Ireland final meeting between Dublin and Donegal 17 years later.

Nobody knew it at the time, but Gavin and McGuinness would go on to change the face of the sport.

Two months after that defeat to the Dubs in Cavan , McGuinness ascended to the role of Donegal senior manager. They lost to Dublin in a dour All-Ireland semi-final in his first campaign, before claiming that incredible All-Ireland success in 2012.

In 2013, Jim Gavin assumed control of the Dublin senior team, winning the All-Ireland in his debut year. The following season, the rival managers would meet again, this time in a seismic All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park.

Jim McGuinness shakes hands with Jim Gavin after the game McGuinness and Gavin shake hands after the 2014 semi-final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was one of McGuinness’s finest hours. He later detailed in his autobiography the incredible effort that went into beating Dublin that day.

He spoke about the countless hours that went into analysing their restarts (“I am not sure how many hours of my life I gave to watching Stephen Cluxton taking kickouts”), picking apart their patterns of attack and defensive structure.

After a slow start, Donegal were looking in danger of losing touch with the reigning champions. Then their manager looked up to the big screen in Croke Park.

McGuinness wrote: ”The big screen happened to show Jim Gavin, Declan Darcy and the rest of his backroom team sitting in the stand together and laughing about something. It was probably unfortunate timing for them, but we noticed it on the sideline.

“They had just moved into a five-point lead, 0-09 to 0-04, with not even 20 minutes on the clock.

“Paul (Durcan) asked me what I wanted from the second half. I told him that I wanted to see Jim Gavin out of that f*cking seat in the Hogan Stand and down on the sideline giving his substitutes a rub on the back when he was sending them in.”

Eventually Donegal found a glitch in the Dublin system and made them pay. Ryan McHugh ghosted in for two breakaway goals as the rank outsiders stunned the Leinster champions.

Donegal went on to lose the All-Ireland final to Kerry, and McGuinness stepped down after four years in charge.

Tom Rothwell with Jim Gavin and Jonny Cooper Gavin and his former U21 captain Cooper with the Sam Maguire last October. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Meanwhile, Gavin spent the winter of 2014 hatching a plan to ensure Dublin wouldn’t be as ruthlessly exposed again. He issued something of a mea culpa in the wake of that defeat and promised a more ‘balanced’ team would emerge from the ashes.

“I accept full responsibility for the philosophy and for the way Dublin play their football,” Gavin said.

“For the attacking style we play and, sometimes, for the vulnerability that it brings, and the unpredictability of it.”

It would prove to be a seminal moment in Gaelic football.

Gavin turned Cian O’Sullivan into the game’s elite sweeper and implemented a system where Dublin’s half-backs avoided leaving oceans of space behind them.

They haven’t lost a championship game since.

A new set of players and managers will roll into Breffni Park tomorrow afternoon.

If they go on to have the same impact on Gaelic football as the lead characters in the 2010 U21 All-Ireland final, then the sport is in safe hands.

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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