Sport Hurling

Monday 11 December 2017

Prodigal returns armed with hope and potential

Dublin's injury crisis gives Ross O'Carroll another opportunity, writes Dermot Crowe

Ross O'Carroll: 'has the potential to be a major addition'
Ross O'Carroll: 'has the potential to be a major addition'

ON Tuesday night, Ross O'Carroll resumed training with the Dublin hurlers, returning like the prodigal son after a relatively fleeting and typically injury-pecked spell with the capital's footballers.

With a tidy resumé of fitness races behind him, nobody is prepared to draw too many conclusions -- himself not least; he declined to talk about this latest career transition. Lower back and associated hamstring issues have seen him on the treatment table frequently over the last four years. If he can get fit and stay that way then he has the potential to be a major addition to Anthony Daly's attacking options.

Daly is not a medic but he may leave this job better versed in the field than when he arrived. Long-term casualties Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney and Tomás Brady are all earmarking returns at some stage later in the year, though no two cases are identical and there is a constant risk of a setback stalling recovery. Underlying it all is the natural concern that the player may not be the same force, not right away at least, but in this regard Henry Shefflin is an encouraging example for those struggling to keep the faith.

The Dublin manager is not as pleased as he would be were his players fit, but he is filled with admiration by the drive being shown in pursuing their goals. Keaney is currently on the bike as he strives to rebuild his knee. More precarious tests lay ahead. He will have to start running in straight lines, then increase the stress levels by running in figures of eight, constantly upping the demands and the pressure on the joint. David Treacy, engaged in an ongoing war with his hamstrings, is back training and may hurl in one of two challenge matches Dublin play this weekend, against Gort and Loughgiel, two All-Ireland club semi-finalists.

Liam Rushe is also recovering from a broken hand but he will be fit for the league opener on February 26, away to Galway. Having the league a few weeks later this year, owing to a less crowded Division 1, allows Dublin a bit more time to heal their wounds.

In 2007, well before Daly came on board, Ross O'Carroll had already established himself as a promising inter-county forward, premiering alongside Dotsie O'Callaghan with an eye-catching repertoire of long-distance point-scoring and an uncompromisingly physical presence in combat. That summer he scored Dublin's first goal in their Leinster under 21 final win over Offaly and Tommy Naughton introduced him to the senior side.

A late O'Carroll goal against Wexford looked to have earned a Leinster championship replay until Barry Lambert scored a winning point from a free. Along with O'Callaghan, O'Carroll tormented Wexford the following summer when the sides drew, before Dublin went down in the replay. In Daly's first year, 2009, his appearances were more intermittent and when they faced Limerick in the All-Ireland quarter-final at Thurles, O'Carroll had only returned from another injury-enforced break.

That day ended the season on a disappointing note. O'Carroll scored an excellent point from out on the sideline, and at a time when Dublin were not blessed with forwards, particularly hardy ones like him, it was no surprise to see Daly aghast when he heard he was switching codes that winter.

Kilmacud Crokes' run in the All-Ireland club championship gave O'Carroll prime exposure and he attracted the attention of Pat Gilroy, eager to find a solution to Dublin's four-year-old full-back tease. But injury again foiled O'Carroll's prospects and his brother Rory, ironically, would later stake an impressive claim on the position.

"Ross had played fairly well for Crokes in the championship and was one of their better players and obviously we knew he wasn't getting a run in the football," explains Daly. "And we put out the feelers and he kind of expressed an interest. I think it was a busy year for him last year in college and he still has certain commitments in that line. So he played in a challenge against Offaly before Christmas and in another against Clare. We asked him would he be interested in having a cut.

"I said, 'look we'll bring you into the training panel and see how it goes'. You don't know how far back his hurling has gone. He looks leaner anyway. Everyone should be made do a year of inter-county football training! But he has been two years out."

Dublin play the winners of Laois and DIT in the Walsh Cup two weeks from today. "Ross was togged the day of the All Ireland football final and got through a good campaign with Crokes so you never know; he may have turned the corner, he may know how to handle it (injury). You have to learn to adapt. To allow your body to adjust. Alan McCrabbe has an ongoing hip injury but at the moment he is not out running. He is on a specific programme to have him at his best in May, June and July. No point in having him out doing 40-metre runs in fields at the moment, he is just not able for that."

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