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Brothers in arms for both club and county

AN Irishman based in a French town where nobility had to hide out because of tax riots by the 'ordinary' folk? Surely there's a touch of irony in that situation.

For 21-year-old Rory O'Carroll however, his time in Gien, situated on the Loire river and 150km from Paris, is being spent in less dramatic fashion, as the UCD student is combining teaching English with improving his French.

Indeed, if it weren't for the fact that he is the Dublin GAA team's most likely candidate to settle the troublesome full-back position, O'Carroll would be just another Irish student abroad and the town of Gien wouldn't be on our radar.

To digress for a moment -- on a historical note, be ye appraised of the fact that the 15th century chateaux at Gien was the elegant hideout for the young Louis XIV and his mother Anne of Austria when the peasantry were in revolution mode against taxation known as the 'Frondes'.

I'm not sure if Louis XIV owned the chateaux at the time, or whether he transferred his assets to his mammy to protect him against the predatory peasantry who were the violent forerunners of NAMA, but he got away with it all the same.

Remind you of anyone in our own little corner of the 21st century?

However, financial turmoil of the past and present is far from Rory's mind and that of his older brother Ross, two young men seeking to make their way in life via the education process.

Sport certainly doesn't define them in a narrow sense, although each of the O'Carrolls have taken significant steps in their GAA careers. The year 2009 lifted their home area of Stillorgan into the national consciousness when Kilmacud Crokes won the AIB All-Ireland club football title.

Ross, now 23, played through the campaign while Rory came on as a sub during the Leinster final in which Kilmacud defeated Rhode in late 2008.

Brothers in arms in the Kilmacud full-back line, they went on to become brothers in medals when the Crokes carried on the good work by ousting Corofin in the All-Ireland semi-final, and then enjoying an epic day at Croke Park by winning the decider at the expense of mighty Crossmaglen Rangers.

Great moments indeed, and with a new Dublin manager, Pat Gilroy, looking for young players to bring on to the panel in 2009, the O'Carrolls came under scrutiny.

Hurling, as much as football, is a passion, and though the two lads only took up both sports in serious fashion when they were 13, their talents have shone brightly for club and county.

Ross made his senior debut for the Dublin hurlers in 2007, and Rory impressed with the Dubs U-21 hurlers, but football claimed his attention from 2009 onwards.

At the start of 2010 both were committed to the Dublin football squad and hurling was left in the background.

For Ross, it was a year of disappointment as recurring injury problems resulted in setback after setback with the Dubs. Rory enjoyed better fortune, showing up well in the League and gradually looking more impressive as a full-back as the season unfolded through the summer.

He also found time to win the All-Ireland U-21 football championship with Dublin, and in the process coped very well against some of the best young full-forwards in the country, including Donie Shine of Roscommon and Donegal's Michael Murphy.

This was another stage in his footballing education and Pat Gilroy hoped to reap the fruits of that campaign in 2011.

However, Rory's sojourn in France, which continues until May, means he will miss the key period of Dublin's early season build-up and is unlikely to start tomorrow's Leinster club final against Rhode, of Offaly, because of his lower fitness levels and a slight ankle injury.

Ross, meanwhile, could find an opportunity opening up either as a full-back or corner-back if he chooses to focus on football at inter-county level again.

If Kilmacud win, then they will face an All-Ireland club semi-final in February, and will hope to be booking another day out at Croke Park on St Patrick's Day, so the Dublin cause remains off the O'Carrolls' radar until the club situation is settled.

Rory's trek back from Gien today involves travelling by train the 90 minutes to Paris, then via Metro to the airport, and flying to Dublin.

On the Monday morning, his plan is to be on a flight back to France at 6.0 in the morning.

Meanwhile, Ross, who is doing his HDip in education and is currently on teaching practice at the O'Carrolls' alma mater Oatlands College, will be fully engaged in the Crokes build-up to the game.

Their training routines will be different. Ross will be full-on with Crokes, while Rory admits: "My fitness would be very bad now.

"I just go on runs whenever I can, but Gien is a fairly small town. I can only run through the park and down by the river. It's not the same as doing a proper session and there's no ball work.

"I'll be coming back for the Leinster club final anyway. I won't be starting that, I'll just be there to tog up and warm up the bench. That's about it. As long as Crokes win, I don't mind whether I play or not. As long as the team wins, that's the main thing.

"Regarding Dublin, the basic plan is that I'm away until the start of May, then I come back and get my fitness up and start from there. That's what Pat (Gilroy) said to me and he has no problem with that."

Ross, who came back from injury after Crokes had played a couple of Dublin championship matches, acknowledges that Rhode represent a serious hurdle to Crokes' ambitions.

"There's a good confidence in the panel. After winning Dublin first of all you gather momentum, but after beating Portlaoise and then getting over Garrycastle, it's reminiscent of two years ago.

"But yes, there's great momentum now and we're looking forward to Rhode. It's a huge challenge. We know a bit about them, but two years ago that was a big game for us and probably this year it's a big game for them," he said.

"They've been targeting this match for a while now. Just from reading what they've been saying, they'll be gunning for us after two years ago. They probably should have beaten us that day, but we came through that match and went on from there."

As the older brother, he progressed through the age groups with Kilmacud ahead of his brother, and only when Rory came into the senior side, did the O'Carrolls play in the same team. "It's not like the country where you play three age groups above yourself. In Dublin it's a bit different than that, so we didn't really get the opportunity until two years ago," said Ross.

Timing is everything, and what an honour for the brothers to claim Leinster and All-Ireland honours for their club. "Winning with players that you started out playing U-13 and U-14 is a great feeling. You can't describe it," said Rory.

To win another Dublin title was special, but at one stage in the Leinster semi-final against Garrycastle of Westmeath, it didn't look like more great days were in prospect for Crokes.

Ross played at centre-back, while Rory -- who made the trip back from France -- came on as a substitute after 44 minutes. It was a close call, but the Stillorgan boys showed there was plenty of life in them when it counted.

Ross said: "Worried? Yes, I was worried at half-time. I thought maybe our time was up. We were two points down, and I thought at half-time maybe we were struggling.

"People weren't going well individually, and the whole team wasn't playing well, but we managed to get through and that's the sign of a good team," said Ross.

Trailing 0-5 to 0-7 at half-time, Kilmacud rallied to win by 0-13 to 0-10 and get set for the final.

The pre-Christmas snow and ice scuppered hopes of playing that match before the seasonal festivities, but Ross O'Carroll isn't complaining.

"We probably would have preferred to play before Christmas, so you could probably enjoy your Christmas a bit better, but it's a great thing to have a Leinster final to look forward to," he said.

As for his own situation and whether he will again decide to challenge for a place on the Dublin football team, Ross was non-committal. "I haven't thought about it to be honest. I'm just thinking of January 23 and the Crokes campaign. I can't really afford to think of anything else," he said.

Irish Independent