Sunday 21 July 2019

Michael Verney: 'Gamble of bringing Connolly back may be a step too far in Dubs' drive for five'

'There can be no denying that were it not for the influence of Connolly (p) off the bench in their one-point All-Ireland final defeat of Mayo in 2017 that the Dubs would not be in this privileged position in the first place.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
'There can be no denying that were it not for the influence of Connolly (p) off the bench in their one-point All-Ireland final defeat of Mayo in 2017 that the Dubs would not be in this privileged position in the first place.' Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

The whistle had barely sounded on last year's All-Ireland SFC final when the talk swiftly shifted to Dublin going where no team has gone before.

Songs and T-shirts highlighting their five-in-a-row bid aren't on the market in the capital just yet but the significance of what Jim Gavin's men are trying to achieve is gradually hitting home as they continue to defy common logic since he took charge in 2013.

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With just one championship defeat under his watch - their shock All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Donegal in 2014 - every challenge has been overcome with military precision on their way to accumulating six Leinster titles, five All-Irelands and five league crowns.

This is a special group and a special manager but there can be no sidestepping the magnitude of what they are trying to achieve and everything will have to be on point if they are to cement their place as the greatest GAA team of them all.

The recent RTé documentary "Players of the Faithful' - highlighting how Offaly dashed Kerry's drive for five in 1982 - will have acted as a timely reminder of the perils ahead.

They are fallible - despite the impression given by many - and they face some difficult obstacles to reach the holy grail. One hurdle which must quickly be overcome is the Diarmuid Connolly debate.

There can be no denying that were it not for the influence of Connolly off the bench in their one-point All-Ireland final defeat of Mayo in 2017 that the Dubs would not be in this privileged position in the first place.

There's no doubting his talent and ability to do things few others would dream of with a football in hand but there also comes a time when you eventually have to cut your losses and Dublin may have reached that point with the St Vincent's star.

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They performed with aplomb in his absence last season, winning every available title at their ease and the potential ramifications of his return may not be worth the risk.

Few GAA players have caused such discussion, and all types of nonsensical rumours, but given everything already on their plate for 2019, a comeback for the two-time All-Star attacker, who turns 32 in July, may not be a priority.

When Rory O'Carroll surprisingly exited after the 2015 All-Ireland triumph, it was a case of 'next man up'. The same scenario arose when Jack McCaffrey took a year out before the 2016 championship and they continued to stay winning.

By always strengthening his squad and adding to his starting 15 - something the great Kerry team of the 1980s rarely did - Gavin hasn't allowed the Dubs to stand still.

The burning question remains, however, about how the Dubs would react to losing a central figure like Stephen Cluxton, Brian Fenton or Ciarán Kilkenny - marquee men that look indispensable - for a sustained period of time.

Guarding against complacency has caused heartache for many champions in sporting history but it's something Gavin - who will remain at the helm until 2021 - has controlled superbly by ensuring they are as good at one end of the year as the other.

It's worrying for their challengers when you hear that Jonny Cooper has been sampling professional sporting set-ups (the All Blacks and Saracens) to gain an edge for 2019 and it smacks of a team who have no interest in standing still.

Fresh faces like Con O'Callaghan, Niall Scully, Brian Howard and Eoin Murchan have emerged in recent seasons and maintained standards, while Cormac Costello, Colm Basquel and others will be expected to do likewise.

Defeat for Kilmacud Crokes in the Leinster club final may have been a blessing in disguise as Paul Mannion, in particular, has become a crucial piece of the Dublin jigsaw and it offers a chance to recharge before an assault on 2019.

Given how Gavin and the Dubs have dealt with the media, hype will be at a minimum, but one thing they can't control is the opposition.

No team has come closer to the Dubs than Mayo and with all the regulars on board for another tilt, James Horan's second coming could produce some summer fireworks between the pair.

And what of a new-look Kerry overflowing with underage talent? Having missed out on their own five-in-a-row 37 years ago, it would be sweet redemption were Peter Keane's side - powered by David Clifford - to deny their longstanding rivals from the capital.

He won't say it publicly but Gavin will leave no stone unturned to hurdle every obstacle in their way.

Irish Independent

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