Eric Lowndes’ exit plus injuries leaves Dublin’s defence looking threadbare

Eric Lowndes in action for Dublin in their Allianz FL Division 1 South Round 3 victory over Galway at St Jarlath's Park, Tuam. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

Dessie Farrell is facing a mini defensive crisis ahead of Dublin’s Leinster SFC semi-final with Meath this Sunday – with confirmation that Eric Lowndes, a seven-time All-Ireland winner, has left the panel while there are fitness doubts over John Small, Jonny Cooper, Eoin Murchan and Robbie McDaid.

The likelihood, meanwhile, of Stephen Cluxton making an immediate return to the fold remains remote, having again played for his club at the weekend.

Lowndes, who’s understood to have departed the squad prior to Dublin’s Leinster opener with Wexford, played all four of Dublin’s league matches this year – starting once and coming on as a sub in the other three.

The St Peregrine’s man struggled to establish himself as a starter in the team since coming into the squad as part of the same batch as Jack McCaffrey and Ciarán Kilkenny in 2013. He has, however, proven to be a versatile and trusted squad member through Jim Gavin’s reign and into the early stages of Farrell’s.

Lowndes’s last SFC appearance came as a sub in last year’s Leinster final victory over Meath. Before that, his most recent championship start was in the 2019 Super 8s win over Tyrone in Omagh.

But in the anticipated absence this Sunday of McDaid, who suffered a shoulder injury against Wexford, he could conceivably have slotted into the Dublin half-back line.

As it is, Farrell’s options at the back look increasingly threadbare.

Tom Lahiff, who made his debut last year as a midfielder, came on for McDaid following his injury against Wexford.

Unless Farrell receives some good injury news this week, the St Jude’s man could retain that spot against Meath.

Murchan, who started all four of Dublin’s league games, was not part of the match day panel and there was no clear indication from Farrell afterwards as to the extent of the Na Fianna man’s injuries.

Small, meanwhile, has been out since suffering a serious hamstring injury against Kerry in the second round of the league although Dublin are hopeful he will play this summer.

Cooper missed both the Wexford game and Dublin’s last league match against Donegal in Breffni Park.

All three would be certain starters in Farrell’s first choice defence.

Lowndes’s departure increases the huge turnover of players in the Dublin squad under Farrell.

Since Jim Gavin’s reign ended 18 months ago, Dublin have lost Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O’Gara, Darren Daly, Diarmuid Connolly, Michael Darragh Macauley, Paddy Andrews and Cian O’Sullivan, all of whom retired from inter-county football.

Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion and now Lowndes, have since opted out for unspecified periods.

Rory O’Carroll, who came back from four-year absence in 2019, has played in all of Kilmacud Crokes’ league games so far this year and as yet, has not returned to the Dublin panel after a peripheral two seasons.

Kevin McManamon is expected to be part of the Irish boxing team’s preparations at the Olympics in Tokyo later this month.

He has worked as their performance coach in recent years and it remains to be seen whether he will be reintegrated to the Dublin set-up upon his return.

Along with Cluxton, McManamon was expected to be one of the Dublin players attempting to win a record ninth All-Ireland medal this year and while neither has officially retired, it seems increasingly unlikely that they will play a part in 2021.

Cluxton lined out at centre-back for Parnells in their AFL Division 3 North match on Saturday, kicking a point in a 0-12 to 1-6 defeat to Erin’s Isle.