Connolly ready to take another step – Whelan
Ciaran Kilkenny's u-turn on the AFL is a welcome boost, but former Dublin midfielder Ciaran Whelan feels 2013 could be the year that Diarmuid Connolly really comes of age as an inter-county footballer.
Connolly's natural talent and scoring ability has been seen only fleetingly with Dublin since he made his bow in 2007.
But Whelan senses a growing maturity in the St Vincent's man as he hits his mid-20s that may allow Jim Gavin to get the most out of him.
Connolly has even been spoken of in terms of captaincy, but Whelan says he's not sure if the player himself would want that or if it would be the right time for such a responsibility with so many other credible candidates around.
Whelan, speaking at the launch of the Alan Kerins' project charity match between Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry selection and Glenn Ryan's Kildare 15 on February 14 in Croke Park, suggested that the squad currently being assembled by Gavin may potentially be the strongest Dublin has had for many years and that Connolly can bring himself to the next level in that environment.
"Diarmuid has shown a lot of potential in the last few years and I think he's beginning to show a bit of maturity over the last 18 months. When players hit that 25, 26 age bracket, you can see they've learned a lot and their attitude can change.
"Certainly his hunger in the last month or so and desire in the O'Byrne Cup shows that there's a change to Diarmuid and that he's ready to step up," he said.
"As to whether that's captaincy material, I'm sure Jim will decide that over the next few months. He won't really get to know the players until well into the national league. It's a decision I think he might hold off for a few months."
Whelan feels Dublin might be better looking towards Stephen Cluxton or even Paul Flynn for a new captain if they are in the market for change.
"Obviously, Stephen is there a good while, he's a leader within the team, a leader on the pitch. He deals with pressure very, very well as we've seen in the past. He has the qualities needed to be a captain.
"Paul Flynn is another one that's established in the last few years, back-to-back All Stars and he's there for six or seven years. There's plenty of guys that have potential to do the job."
Whelan sees a distinction between Gavin's appointment as manager and the last four managers that preceded him, in that the levels of expectancy are far higher now with two All-Ireland U-21 titles and an All-Ireland minor title to supplement the 2011 senior success.
"It's an interesting dynamic that Jim has taken over under massive expectations, whereas Pat Gilroy took over under a cloud of doubt.
"So, there were very different starting points for both of them. It might add a little bit of pressure to Jim's reign, but he seems very well organised.
"There's great talent coming through," he said. "In some ways, you have to look at it and compare it to Cork a few years ago – finding his best 15 is going to be an interesting challenge.
"Obviously, the return of Kilkenny is a huge boost as well. You've got some great young talented players coming through. Paul Hudson was good in the last week or two, Jack McCaffrey looks like's a No 7 in the making."
"I think, on paper, in terms of talent coming through from minor and U-21, it certainly looks the strongest squad I've seen.
"That's probably a challenge in itself because it leads to a level of expectation. The biggest challenge for Jim is probably to bring the older lads who succeeded in 2011 along with him.
"Go back to 1996 when Mickey Whelan came in and there was a different regime. A lot of guys will always lean to what brought them success in the first place.
"Not only does he try to bring the young lads through into a squad and develop them, he has to get the experienced guys on board to buy into whatever strategy or system he wants to play.
"I think that's his biggest challenge of all."
Meanwhile, Dublin will play Leinster in a challenge match tonight at the Inisfails GAA club in Balgriffin at 8.0. They have also lined up a challenge against Meath next week.