SENAN CONNELL was thrown a real curve ball on Saturday night when asked to name his Dublin forward line for the bigger battles that lie ahead.
The Sky Blue forward-turned-eir Sport pundit struggled to get beyond a couple of nailed-on starters - not because there are so few options, but because there are so many.
To date in this Allianz League campaign, Jim Gavin has used 15 different forwards - either as starters or off the bench.
We’re including All Star Diarmuid Connolly, even though his seasonal baptism off the bench - against Roscommon at the weekend - came as a direct swap for midfielder Brian Fenton.
But we haven’t included Con O’Callaghan for the simple reason that his dual involvement with the Cuala hurlers and Dublin U21 footballers has precluded any Division 1 game-time this spring.
O’Callaghan amassed 2-5 (2-2 from play) in last Wednesday’s Leinster U21 semi-final against Longford. In another county, he’d be a senior shoo-in.
But in Dublin? The young prodigy might just have to wait his turn in the queue.
Paul Curran describes the selection dilemma facing Gavin, his former Dublin teammate, as “an absolute headache”.
But the Herald columnist adds: “It has been well managed. Fellas seem to be very happy with whatever role they are asked (to do) ... it’s an extraordinary set-up really, everyone seems to be very happy in it. And when they get their chance, they normally produce. They’re all primed and ready.”
No one more so, perhaps, than Paul Flynn and Bernard Brogan. This decorated duo can each count four Celtic Crosses and four All Stars in their trophy cabinet. They’ve seen it and won it all.
And yet there has been a suspicion, of late, that either or both might find themselves reduced to impact-sub roles this season.
Both struggled to emulate their stellar consistency of old last year. Flynn has been hamstrung by legacy injuries. Brogan, for so long the inside talisman, was dropped for last year’s All-Ireland final replay.
But both made their first league starts of the season on Saturday night. And both looked positively reborn.
True, a down-at-heel Roscommon coming to Croker was the perfect comeback setting. Flynn had enjoyed three relatively substantial cameos against Donegal, Mayo and Kerry. Brogan, by contrast, was given just a few fleeting minutes in Tralee.
But on Saturday night, Flynn was on fire. For a wing-forward to amass 1-6 from play is a pretty startling statistic of itself. Just as impressive, though, was the sight of the Fingallian flyer moving so freely for so long.
Meanwhile, Brogan fulfilled the inside target man brief to a tee. His 0-3 haul only told half the story: the manner in which he won possession and, while swamped by yellow jerseys, offloaded to Flynn for his goal was vintage Brogan.
��Flynn’s workrate reminded me of years gone by - he was like a greyhound, up and down the pitch,” says another former Dub, Ray Cosgrove.
“And what really impressed me was Bernard’s honesty off the ball, chasing ball down. Bernard knows, since the All-Ireland final, that there are other options - if you are not playing to the system, you are not going to be in the team. He wants to earn that jersey back. It’s a luxurious position that Jim is in.”
Both Cosgrove and Curran have been taken with Niall Scully’s consistently positive contributions. Along with Dean Rock, he is the only forward to start all six league games thus far.
But Curran still has a hunch that, come championship, the Dublin attack will have a familiar look.
Reflecting on Flynn and Brogan’s weekend impact, the 1995 Texaco Footballer of the Year says: “People were thinking that these fellas are near the end and they might play mini-roles ... but that’s not going to happen at all.
“Those two will be pushing, big time. If they played the way they did last weekend, then they’ll start, I would think.
“I don’t think he’ll be looking at too many changes from last year,” Curran continues. “We’d expect (Paul) Mannion to push, but he hasn’t really in the league yet. I still think you’re looking at a similar forward line to last year. You’ll have Brogan, Flynn, Connolly, (Ciarán) Kilkenny, Rock – and then there’s one other.”
The myriad options are detailed above. Both Cosgrave and Curran have an inkling that O’Callaghan could yet be the springer this summer.
“We’ve seen very good young fellas coming through in the last couple of years – like (Cormac) Costello, (Conor) McHugh, Mannion, who haven’t really cemented their place on it,” says Curran.
“But I think O’Callaghan now, if he gets a chance, could certainly push in there ... he’s just very, very talented. But he also has the physique. He’s a strong boy. Jim does like to have his fellas really conditioned and ready – and I mean ready, ready.”
Last word to Cosgrove. “There must be some craic,” he concludes, “in the A versus B games!”
(List based on number of league appearances)
1 NIALL SCULLY: 6 starts (replaced once). Scored 1-5.
2 DEAN ROCK: 6 starts (replaced twice). Scored 0-36 (32f).
3 CIARÁN KILKENNY: 5 starts. Scored 0-3.
4 EOGHAN O’GARA: 3 starts (replaced twice) and 2 sub appearances. Scored 0-1.
5 CONOR McHUGH: 3 starts (replaced three times) and 2 subs. Scored 1-9 (2f).
6 SHANE B CARTHY: 3 starts (replaced twice) and 1 sub. Scored 0-2.
7 KEVIN McMANAMON: 2 starts (replaced once) and 4 subs. Scored 1-1.
8 PAUL MANNION: 2 starts (replaced twice) and 2 subs. Scored 0-1.
9 PADDY ANDREWS: 2 starts (replaced once) and 1 sub. Scored 0-3.
10 PAUL FLYNN: 1 start and 3 subs. Scored 1-7.
11 JASON WHELAN: 1 start (replaced) and 2 subs. Scored 0-1.
12 COLM BASQUEL: 1 start (replaced) and 1 sub.
13 BERNARD BROGAN: 1 start and 1 sub. Scored 0-3.
14 CORMAC COSTELLO: 1 sub appearance. Scored 0-1f.
15 DIARMUID CONNOLLY: 1 sub appearance. Scored 0-1.
16 CON O’CALLAGHAN: Yet to feature because of Cuala hurling and Dublin U21 football commitments.
The league has nearly always been the unloved cousin in the GAA. For many years it was 'only the league' as managers and players looked forward to the championship. Sometimes it even appeared as if it was in some way a hindrance to success later in the year.