Thursday 18 January 2018

Tug of war: Pat Gilroy targets Connolly as player battle with Jim Gavin looms

Pat Gilroy (left) and Jim Gavin (right).
Pat Gilroy (left) and Jim Gavin (right).
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

DUBLIN GAA looks poised for another tug-of-war involving some dual stars coveted by both county squads.

This follows yesterday’s announcement of Pat Gilroy as Dublin’s new hurling manager on a three-year term.

Gilroy has joined a select band of bosses to manage their native county in both codes. And sources believe that fellow St Vincent’s man Diarmuid Connolly – a five-time All-Ireland SFC winner but a former Dublin U21 hurler – is on Gilroy’s radar.  Connolly won his maiden All-Ireland under Gilroy in 2011 and the next four under Jim Gavin. 

But his most recent campaign was truncated by club commitments and then a 12-week ban. The 30-year-old two-time All Star was confined to cameo roles on his return – briefly against Tyrone, but he delivered a big second half against Mayo in last month’s final.

Mark Schutte is another obvious potential option for Gilroy, even though the erstwhile Dublin hurler only joined Gavin’s panel before this year’s championship.

Meanwhile, another four current Dublin footballers - Cormac Costello, Ciarán Kilkenny, Eric Lowndes and dual scoring sensation Con O’Callaghan – all played minor hurling for the county. The expectation, however, is that all four will stay put.

Whenever a new county manager is installed, invariably the next question involves the likely make-up of his team. What youngsters might he promote - or discarded veterans recall? Who will he fancy? Who will walk the plank?

When that new boss answers to the name Pat Gilroy and the position is managing the Dublin hurlers (yes, this is not a misprint) the level of second-guessing goes off the charts.

For all his organisational acumen and man-management pedigree, Gilroy is perceived as a ‘football man’ seeking to transplant those qualities into a hurling set-up.

Maybe it’s just what they need, for he inherits a squad riven by retirements, defections and omissions, whose results graph and confidence are at their lowest ebb in years.

Adding to the intrigue, Gilroy has previously managed two current Dublin footballers (Ciarán Kilkenny and Diarmuid Connolly) who just so happen to be gifted stickmen. 

They aren’t alone. Jim Gavin’s latest All-Ireland-winning squad includes another trio who played alongside Kilkenny in the 2011 All-Ireland minor hurling final (Eric Lowndes, Conor McHugh and Cormac Costello) and then featured in the following year’s minor decider too. 

Emmett Ó Conghaile, until recently a Dublin senior footballer, played for the minor hurlers in 2011. Mark Schutte, until recently a Dublin senior hurler, joined Gavin’s all-conquering collective for this year’s championship.

As for Schutte’s club and county colleague, Con O’Callaghan’s small ball exploits are the stuff of legend after Cuala’s All-Ireland club heroics.

In other words, you’ve more than a handful of Dublin footballers who, in a parallel universe, could be Dublin hurlers. Yet it would appear unlikely that too many would be persuaded to join the latest ‘Giller’ revolution – just yet.

On face value, Schutte looks the most likely – if only because he has recently hurled at an elite level, club and county, and because he had such a peripheral role this summer, confined to a fourth-quarter cameo against Carlow at the start of June.

But the really intriguing conundrum is Connolly’s next move. He is known to be close to Gilroy, having shared the same dressing-room as All-Ireland-winning club-mates with St Vincent’s in 2008, and later as player and manager with the Dubs in 2011.

Might the 30-year-old Connolly, with a full hand of Celtic Crosses in football safely bagged, be tempted to give hurling one big shot, or attempt a dual mandate – especially after his latest discordant summer in blue, truncated by lengthy suspension and a new impact sub role?

Alongside this column you’ll see two teams. One outlines Pat’s Possible Dubs, including a majority who featured during Ger Cunningham’s swansong campaign along with several of the more likely absentees who could be persuaded back, notably Paul and Mark Schutte, Colm Cronin and former All Star Danny Sutcliffe.

Herald Sport

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