Monday 21 October 2019

Conor McKeon: 'Diarmuid Connolly and Rory O'Carroll to come under the Dublin microscope'

Rory O'Carroll and Diarmuid Connolly
Rory O'Carroll and Diarmuid Connolly

Conor McKeon

It wasn’t that Jim Gavin left the proverbial door open specifically for a return for either or both of Diarmuid Connolly and Rory O’Carroll.

It’s that he took the door and frame off the wall, boiling the kettle too for anyone with something to offer Dublin this summer.

“Very much so,” Gavin responded on Sunday to a question, in which both Connolly and O’Carroll were specifically mentioned, about the possibility of additions to his squad for players who hadn’t been part of Dublin’s League panel.

“There are even players there that we saw in the pre-season tournament, in the O’Byrne Cup, that we’re keen to see how they have progressed,” he said, widening the topic.

“There’s a round of club games next weekend that the boys (his League squad) will be playing in. So we have a schedule done out to try and cover as many of those games as possible.

“Then obviously we have the fixtures for the first round of the Championship. So any body – any club player – in either senior (AFL) one or two or any other grade … if they play well in the Championship and we get notification of it, we’ll pop down, we’ll get somebody to watch the player.

“And if he’s doing it, if he’s playing consistently well, we’re going to get them in and have a look at them.”

Again it’s important to note that Gavin didn’t specifically refer to a player in his answer but nor did he preclude anyone.

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And taking his public pronouncements on the issue at face value, it seems as though Gavin would facilitate a return for either Connolly or O’Carroll if either display the interest and necessary form.

Kilmacud Crokes play Ballymun Kickhams on Saturday, April 13 in Parnell Park in the standout game from the opening round of fixtures.

So far, O’Carroll has played only competitive hurling for his club but is expected to be part of the county football champions’ panel for their Group 1 opener.

Given Dublin’s occasional struggles over the past 18 months with direct attack on their own square and the increasing trend of opposition teams attempting to exploit that vulnerability, O’Carroll would seem a natural recall - fitness, form and willingness dependent.

On Sunday in Breffni Park, just as a sluggish Dublin were beginning to put daylight between themselves and Cavan, a floated diagonal pass from Gearóid McKiernan led to a goal from Martin Reilly that made life unnecessarily awkward for Gavin’s team thereafter.

That a manager as tactically aware as Mickey Harte deemed such a ploy worthy of largely basing Tyrone’s attacking game-plan around it  in their victory in Croke Park eight days previously suggests Dublin can expect plenty of it this summer.

The absence of Philly McMahon for all but the last 17 minutes of the League notwithstanding, Dublin have no player in the style of O’Carroll with the Crokes man’s natural aggression to counteract such a threat.

Outwardly at least, the Connolly situation seems more straight-forward.

He has played in both of St Vincent’s Dublin AFL1 games against Cuala and Skerries Harps and a strong performance when the Marino club begin their Group 4 campaign against St Brigid’s in Lawless Park on Friday, April 12 is unlikely to go unnoticed by Gavin.

And after a season when the regenerated Dublin attack was consistent in its makeup, Connolly’s unpredictability and X-Factor may be what they require now in their ‘Drive For Five’.

Dublin’s tally of 9-95 (conceding 6-81) made them Division 1’s highest scorers this spring and their average of 17.4 points per game was only slightly down on last year’s figure of 18.7 and more than the 16.4 they averaged in 2016 when they topped the table.

But with key attackers like Ciarán Kilkenny and Con O’Callaghan yet to find consistent form, Cormac Costello finishing the League injured and trusted forwards such as Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Eoghan O’Gara and Bernard Brogan experiencing diminished playing time, Connolly’s return may be as necessary now as it seems likely.

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