Thursday 22 August 2019

'Grandad' Keaney key for Dubs - O'Donnell

Dublin hurler Eoghan O’Donnell. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin hurler Eoghan O’Donnell. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Given his standing as one of hurling's best defenders and his regular assignments to pick up the opposition's danger man, it's crazy to think that Eoghan O'Donnell played in attack up until minor level.

The Whitehall Colmcille powerhouse was "actually very small" during his teenage years and operated as a corner-forward until Dublin minor boss Shay Boland thought it wiser to move him to the opposite end of the pitch. It was a switch that allowed him to flourish.

"I haven't really got a man-marking task this year, which has been more enjoyable, that I can express myself and try to play my own hurling and I think that's a credit to the team we've developed," O'Donnell said.

"We don't necessarily have to man-mark that much because we've such a strong set of backs that we fancy whoever we go out against to do a man-on-man battle. Paddy Smyth is probably the most consistent player in the whole campaign so far.

Calibre

"He just hasn't put a single foot wrong and for a corner-back at that age it is just exceptional.

"Not to be bigging him up too much, but when you're playing alongside someone of his calibre it really gives you the freedom to go out and take risks yourself, as you know you're covered."

O'Donnell is touch and go for their preliminary All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Joe McDonagh Cup winners Laois this Sunday with a hamstring injury and Dublin manager Mattie Kenny is likely to hold the 23-year-old in reserve.

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Should they negotiate their way past Eddie Brennan's side, they will face Tipperary the week after in Croke Park with the chance to dispel the talk that their best performances are saved for Parnell Park.

One of the main reasons the Dubs are still competing for the Liam MacCarthy is the virtuoso performance of veteran Conal Keaney in their barnstorming defeat of Galway and he is clearly held in high regard by O'Donnell.

"He absolutely is someone you really look up to. He might be one of the greatest servants of Dublin hurling ever. To have someone like that around is great," O'Donnell said of Keaney at the launch of the AIG Cups and Shields.

"He's the type of person that when he talks everyone just shuts up and listens, which is probably the highest compliment you can pay him.

"There's a joke around that Lee Gannon, a very good up-and-coming player from my club, he was born in the year when Keaney made his debut. That's just exceptional, for Keaney to still be playing. So he's the grandad of the team."

Defensive colleague Chris Crummey echoes those sentiments.

"He defies all those myths around age and people have to retire when they get to 30. It's rubbish now, he's nearly 37," Crummey said.

Keaney and goalkeeper Alan Nolan are the experienced soldiers on Kenny's side and they offer more than just experience on the pitch.

"They're great for just focussing on the next task in hand. You'd be thinking of 'oh, All-Ireland final' whereas they're saying 'Laois are Joe McDonagh winners, they're a quality side, this is what we have to focus on next'," O'Donnell added.

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