Tuesday 27 September 2016

Will Rory Kavanagh's Donegal comeback be worth it?

It's always a risk but history has been kind to some of those who came out of retirement

Published 15/01/2016 | 02:30

Rory Gallagher (right), taking on Peter Crowley in 2014, is hoping his inter-county return can end in glory for Donegal (SPORTSFILE)
Rory Gallagher (right), taking on Peter Crowley in 2014, is hoping his inter-county return can end in glory for Donegal (SPORTSFILE)

It's generally accepted that the more successful teams are the most settled teams with the lowest personnel turnover numbers.

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In some cases they may have greater resources to draw on but for obvious reasons the need for change is never as great.

In his four years in charge of Donegal from 2011 to 2014, Jim McGuinness used just 33 players in 24 championships matches. Kerry's personnel count from 23 championship games was 39 with James Horan using 42 from 24 games across the same period.

Those figures for Donegal change a little when 2015 is factored in with Hugh and Gary McFadden and Eamonn Doherty all tasting championship action for the first time.

But by and large Donegal have operated with a core of 24 players who have kept the show on the road through the county's most glorious period. Rory Kavanagh was one of that 24 until quitting in the wake of the 2014 All-Ireland football final.

It had been on his mind for the 12 months before that and indeed the sense of finality about the journey they were on framed much of their preparations that year.

"We all spoke openly about one last great effort. It was accepted amongst us that by the end of 2014 we would no longer exist as one team," reflected Kavanagh in his autobiography 'Winning' published late last year.

By the time it was being pulled off the shelves at the height of the Christmas market, Kavanagh was strongly considering a comeback, following a call from Rory Gallagher inviting him to return.

The connection that Brian Corcoran began to feel with vanquished Cork players when he went to collect his car in the CityWest Hotel after the 2003 All-Ireland final defeat to Kilkenny, eventually taking him back after almost three years out, has clearly been at play here too.

The team that would cease to exist almost two years ago is back together again. Paul Durcan may have moved to Qatar for the year but come championship time he'll surely negotiate some position to make a contribution, just as he has done for Ballyboden St Enda's. From 2012 only Ryan Bradley has been lost to emigration.

Ironically, as Gallagher seeks to integrate the best of the last two minor teams and those Donegal U-21 teams that lost three successive Ulster finals in the last three years, the recall of one of the tried and trusted sends out the biggest message.

Inevitably, there is an element of gamble about Kavanagh changing his cash for chips again. Paul Galvin's return to Kerry last year at the age of 35 yielded just 30 minutes of championship action over three games, but for his colleague Mike McCarthy stepping back in 2009 at the age of 31 brought stability at centre-back to a creaking Kerry defence that helped steer them to an All-Ireland title within three months. Eoin Brosnan had a decent 'second coming' too in 2011.

Go back further in time and Eoin 'Bomber' Liston will perhaps reflect on his 1993 comeback as ill-advised but Jimmy Keaveney's celebrated u-turn in 1974 couldn't have gone better.

Kavanagh's St Eunan's and Donegal colleague Brendan Devenney sees the return of Kavanagh in a positive light, noting how he has aged better than most 33-year-olds. The call to arms has come out of necessity, he feels, as much as anything else.

"Donegal people realise we're struggling in terms of new bodies coming in. If you think about it in the last few years Ryan McHugh and Odhran MacNiallais are really the only new guys who have come in. By and large it's the same squad in 2012, Ryan Bradley apart, taking him out of it.

"The same guys to do that '21 to 21' running for 70 minutes. Now you have teams playing much more defensive. The odds are getting more and more stacked against Donegal," he said. "Being 33 doesn't mean a lot because everyone ages different, a lot of people say about age is irrelevant because you can have a 33-year-old who is like a 40-year-old, you can have a 33-year-old who is like a 26-year-old. It depends what their make-up is, what their genes are and how they have looked after themselves.

"Rory has got excellent genes. He has that lean build, always had. He was too lean for midfield. Jim and them did a lot of work bulking him up.

"He'll certainly be fit enough. It's a risk for everyone. You see with Paul Galvin last year. Donegal wouldn't have the squad that Kerry have but I think among the top six teams Donegal would probably have the lightest squad. If Rory and Neil are fit, I can see them starting in Donegal's championship games."

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