Rory O’Carroll made his Dublin club championship return last night coming in as a late replacement as Kilmacud Crokes defeated Ballymun Kickhams at Parnell Park.
It’s a welcome return for the three-time All-Ireland winner who jetted off to New Zealand ahead of the 2016 championship leaving a big hole to fill in the Dublin full-back line.
Dublin have continued to dominate the inter-county scene in his absence, however, it’s fair to say they never really replaced the teak-tough defender.
Now that he is back on Irish soil, there have been calls for O’Carroll to be included in Jim Gavin’s championship squad in the same way that many fans are calling for Diarmuid Connolly to be welcomed back into the Dublin fold.
Connolly also made his club championship return this weekend, lining out in the unfamiliar role of centre-back as St. Vincent’s swept aside the challenge of St. Brigid’s.
Ever since Connolly’s perceived self-imposed exile from the Dublin set-up, there have been calls to bring him back even though they won last year’s All-Ireland without Connolly easier than any of the five they won with him in tow.
Should Jim Gavin bring them both back in? From the very little we actually know about the Dublin boss it would seem to go against everything he’s about to add new members to the squad on the eve of championship even if they are stars of old.
It looks unlikely.
The fact is at present, Dublin doesn’t particularly need Diarmuid Connolly due to the vast array of options they currently possess in the forward division.
Let’s examine their six starting forwards from last year’s All-Ireland final victory over Tyrone. Niall Scully scored a goal in that final and has proven his worth over the past two years. A lot of Scully’s work goes unseen and he is arguably their best player at linking defence with attack.
Con O’Callaghan has won all there is to win in the last two years and was central to all of it while Brian Howard looks like the next big thing after just one year.
Dean Rock kicked 0-7 in last year’s final and, as always, is a major cog in the Dublin machine. Ciaran Kilkenny was the championships top-scorer from play in 2018 and Paul Mannion is currently in the form of his life.
Who do you drop for Diarmuid Connolly? It’s a tough call to make and while the St. Vincent’s man may well still be worthy of a place in that starting XV, Dublin can navigate their way to victory without him.
It’s a different scenario with Rory O’Carroll, especially following this year’s Allianz Football League.
Dublin fell to three defeats in this year’s league and what many people have long said, is their biggest weakness was continually exposed. The high ball into the full-back line.
Monaghan and Tyrone utilised the high-ball to great effect to sink Dublin while Kerry’s goal game following a high, dropping ball that the Dubs failed to deal with. Obviously, the experimental rule changes didn’t help Dublin’s cause and one would suspect that Jim Gavin paid no heed to them considering that they won’t be in for this year’s championship.
However, it wasn’t just offensive marks that was their undoing. Stephen O’Hanlon didn’t call a mark when he rose highest to claim a pass from Jack McCarron and rattle the Dublin net and nor did Conor McManus five minutes later when they scored a second.
Dublin are without a doubt heavy favourites to do the five-in-a-row, but the gap has most certainly been narrowed in 2019. Dublin’s rivals will have been buoyed by teams success utilising the long ball and will look to exploit that.
Rory O’Carroll is the simple answer to all of this. He is still only 29, already has three winners medals and two All-Stars, he is the quintessential full-back that Dublin need if they are to ensure the ‘drive-for-five’ is completed.
Both Connolly and O’Carroll are excellent talents who would bring value to the Dublin set-up if they return and Connolly may well still be the best footballer in Ireland, it’s just that O’Carroll’s return is more important.