Rory O'Carroll exit leaves Dubs with 'big shoes to fill'
Published 05/01/2016 | 02:30
Back in early 2013, former Dublin manager Paul 'Pillar' Caffrey was quizzed to his views on the Dublin side of the day.
Jim Gavin's side had just scorched through the early rounds of the League, and while Caffrey was delighted with their progress, he warned they were still reliant on certain individuals.
Bernard Brogan, he said, was close to "unmarkable" but it was full-back Rory O'Carroll who was singled out for the highest praise.
"Rory O'Carroll, I would say at this stage, he is probably irreplaceable. He is the one fella who there is probably no-one to step in for," Caffrey said.
"In four Leinster finals, I played four different players - that showed that when Paddy Christie went, we didn't have a set No 3."
Dublin's travails at full-back towards the end of the last decade have been well documented.
In four provincial deciders from 2005-09, four different men slotted into the No 3 position with Barry Cahill, Ross McConnell, Colin Moran and Denis Bastick all playing there to varying degrees of success.
Each of them, however, felt like a stop-gap and none of them could offer a solution to the problem until O'Carroll's rapid emergence.
And Sunday's confirmation that O'Carroll will miss the 2016 campaign leaves a significant hole in the Dublin panel. Of course, their options have expanded since Caffrey's comments but Gavin must find a replacement for one of the most pivotal positions on the pitch.
And former Dublin All-Star full-back and 1995 All-Ireland winner Dermot Deasy believes management have some "big shoes to fill".
"I was surprised, and I'm disappointed to lose him," Deasy said. "He is a class full-back. If you look back it's hard to remember him having a bad game.
"When he was injured or missing other people had slotted in but for me he was head and shoulders above any other candidate for full-back in the county.
"I can't think of anyone who comes near him, but hopefully now over the course of the O'Byrne Cup and the League they will unearth someone. But yeah, they are some big shoes to fill."
Gavin revealed that he had been aware of O'Carroll's decision for "some time" and it's something that his predecessor Pat Gilroy had to deal with.
O'Carroll's emergence started at half-time in the 2008 Leinster club final: then Kilmacud Crokes manager Paddy Carr turned to O'Carroll when his side were struggling with Rhode and Niall McNamee. It was O'Carroll's first senior championship appearance for the club and he'd stay in that position as Crokes went on to win an All-Ireland title the following March.
Later that summer, Pat Gilroy handed him his Championship debut against Westmeath but a few weeks later O'Carroll was off travelling with friends.
Later, he would miss the League campaign of 2011 through his studies but Gilroy recognised his importance and put him straight back in the team for that summer's Championship.
There are several options to replace O'Carroll. There's no doubting the ability of Philly McMahon to tangle with either the big boys or the smaller, trickier forwards, as witnessed by how he dealt with the threats of Aidan O'Shea and Colm Cooper in the All-Ireland semi-finals and final.
And Ballymun have a proud tradition of providing full-backs to Dublin, with the likes of Gerry Hargan, Deasy and Paddy Christie hailing from the north city club. That would leave room in the full-back line for Mick Fitzsimons, who was pushing hard for inclusion from the start towards the end of last year's Championship.
Kevin O'Brien, who was captain of Gavin's Dublin's U-21 team that won the All-Ireland in 2012, is fully recovered having suffered a nasty cruciate injury.
Davey Byrne (Naomh Olaf's) was excellent at full-back for Dublin as a minor but is used further out the field by his club, while Ballyboden's Robbie McDaid would also be an option.
Another move could see the versatile Cian O'Sullivan pushed into service at full-back but that would see change both central defensive positions after he established himself at centre-back last year in Ger Brennan's absence.
Last Sunday, St Vincent's Jarlath Curley was stationed in front of the Dublin goal for most of the afternoon but it is clear there will be a variety of options explored before Dublin head for Kilkenny to take on either Laois or Wicklow in Nowlan Park on June 4 in their Leinster Championship opener.
"(O'Carroll) is a loss," Deasy continued. "If you were writing your (Dublin) team down you'd have Cluxton at No 1 and Rory at No 3 straight away. Central positions by their nature are harder to fill."
Gavin, however, has no fear that they could struggle to find a replacement for O'Carroll in the way Caffrey did during his term.
"I think in the past it was a more pivotal position. But the way the game is evolving, I think we've got good cover," Gavin commented.
"A player like Rory you want to have around but we've got a big squad, we've always espoused the team ethic, and it's a great opportunity for Rory to go away and experience a different culture and lifestyle, for a year or two.
"And it's a great opportunity for the gap that he's left, and I'm sure there'll be players pushing for that position."