Monday 16 September 2019

Could Pat Gilroy convince Diarmuid Connolly to throw his lot in with the Dublin hurlers?

Pat Gilroy has taken over as Dublin hurling boss for a three-year term

Pat Gilroy would pull off a major coup if he convinces Diarmuid Connolly to change codes
Pat Gilroy would pull off a major coup if he convinces Diarmuid Connolly to change codes

Conor McKeon

WHEN Ger Cunningham was appointed Dublin hurling manager in October 2014, he spoke about the potential benefits to his new team making hurling a more enticing option for dual players.

“We’ll have to earn that right,” he said, “hopefully they see an opportunity to win an All-Ireland medal with the hurlers, and that at some stage in the future they might consider it.”

Ultimately, he never brought Dublin closer than an All-Ireland quarter-final and several players with potential in both codes who passed through the ranks in Cunningham’s three years were ceded to football.

But even allowing for the magnetic draw of football success, Cunningham failed thoroughly in the baseline task of coaxing the best hurlers in Dublin to play hurling for Dublin.

Some defected, fed up with Cunningham’s management style or in the words of one of the first to go, Michael Carton, unable to stick it in such a “toxic environment”.

Others were dropped, apparently for agitating against Cunningham with others were simply cut just to make room for a new wave of players, many of whom in hindsight were undercooked.

But the unforgivable fact was that by the time Dublin crashed out of this year’s All-Ireland SHC in Thurles, there was as much talent outside the squad as within.

After being handed a three-year term as boss, Pat Gilroy's forces of persuasion will need to be stronger.

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The 2011 All-Ireland winning football manager could begin foraging for hurlers in completely different places.

It is likely that he will ask some interesting questions to some of Dublin’s recent All-Ireland winning footballers over the coming weeks.

The most alluring ones are unlikely to bend, though.

The idea of Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny hurling for Dublin would appear to be gone, if not necessarily forever, than certainly for the foreseeable future.

Ditto Eric Lowndes.

Cormac Costello, mostly because of injury, hasn’t had the sort of sustained impact at senior football level as expected, although he is probably just a less troublesome run of luck away from doing so.

Then there’s Diarmuid Connolly.

Gilroy and Connolly won an All-Ireland club SFC together with St Vincent’s in 2008 and Dublin in 2011 and they remain close.

More pertinently, Connolly had a turbulent season with Jim Gavin’s squad this year, replete with a 12-week suspension, a central role in the controversy of the summer and a place only on the bench for last month’s All-Ireland final.

Whether winning the final and playing such an important part in that victory, albeit an abridged one, soothed Connolly’s frustrations, only he knows.

At 30 years of age, with five football All-Irelands already trousered and with Gilroy as manager, it is definitely a case of now or never for Connolly and hurling, if he does feel that pang.

Mark Schutte will collect an All-Ireland senior football medal at the medal presentation in early December to go alongside the All-Ireland club hurling medal he won with Mattie Kenny and Cuala last St Patrick’s Day.

His brother, Paul, never rejoined the hurling squad after that club win and though just 28, has stated he is retired from inter-county hurling.

They could both return to the fray.

The same goes for Seán Treacy and Colm Cronin (citing studies), both of whom enjoyed promising starts to their inter-county hurling careers before deciding they didn’t want to be part of Cunningham’s group.

Both were key men for the Dalkey side in winning this year’s All-Ireland and the evidence of their performances suggested bigger and brighter things and higher level.

What is impossible to predict is how those same Cuala players will react now that Kenny has been overlooked in favour Gilroy.

Danny Sutcliffe will be a priority.

An All-Star in 2013 (along with Liam Rushe and Peter Kelly), Sutcliffe hasn’t hurled for Dublin in more than two years.

This summer, he represented New York in the Connacht SFC but despite his sabbatical from inter-county hurling, Sutcliffe possesses the innate talent to make an immediate impact if he agrees to return.

Gilroy must also decide over the coming weeks which of the older brigade to bring back and which of the men Cunningham blooded just a little too soon this year are worth persisting with into his first season in charge.

The likes of Johnny McCaffrey, Paul Ryan and Peter Kelly all have plenty more hurling in them, even if Kelly has been cruelly luckless with injuries.

Gary Maguire, ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan and Ryan O’Dwyer meanwhile, have all yet to make any decision about their futures public.

For Gilroy,  the work begins now.

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