Kieran Donaghy makes total recall for Rory O'Carroll
‘It’s not like he has to learn how to get his touch back. He’s going to be in at full back’
Rory O’Carroll in action for Kilmacud Crokes. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Now that he’s retired his Kerry jersey and wired up to Sky Sports there’s nothing Kieran Donaghy has to hide, so first things first: if Dublin are to capture that elusive fifth successive All-Ireland it means going back to the future with Rory O’Carroll.
Donaghy singled out O’Carroll for several reasons, and he should know – having been marked by him on several occasions, before O’Carroll left for New Zealand in early 2016, before returning home in March. At 29, he’s already displayed his old defensive qualities for Kilmacud Crokes, and Donaghy sees no reason why Dublin manager Jim Gavin wouldn’t recall the three-time All-Ireland winner and two-time All Star.
“Oh, yeah, I expect he’ll be straight back in,” says Donaghy. “If you’re going for five-in-a-row, you get one chance, and you don’t know what injuries Dublin lads will pick up, plus lads fall in and out of form.
“They have been vulnerable at fullback, but they’re versatile as well. Mick Fitzsimons goes to full back, Philly McMahon goes to full back, Jonny Cooper goes to full back. It’s not their full back that’s the issue, or it’s not the high ball that’s the issue, although that’s the only area where they’re not completely excelling.
“But if you want a round peg for a round hole, that’s Rory O’Carroll, and he gets everyone else around him. It’s not like he has to learn how to get his touch back or his kicking or his form. He’s going to be in at full back, dogged, hopping off you, tight, a good leader . . . and he’s well liked within the group, a very solid guy. So yeah, it would make no sense for them not to call him in.”
Speaking in Croke Park as the latest addition to the Sky Sports punditry team for 2019, Donaghy also referenced the return of Kerry defender Mick McCarthy, who came out of retirement to help Kerry win the 2009 All-Ireland. If it’s all for the betterment of the team there can never be any spite or anger.
“You don’t know what’s going on in the guy’s private life. He mightn’t like the whole hype, he might have gone away because it suited his life then. But the fact is that he’s playing in the club championship in Dublin, if you’re the manager and he’s got three All-Irelands, he has to be a big option.
“Like, Mike McCarthy left us, now he was older and he was retired, he was only 30 but he wanted to retire. None of us wanted him to retire, the manager didn’t want him to retire but that’s what suited his life best in 2006. In 2009, Mike Mac landed into a training session in May and gets an All Star at centre-back and helps us win an All-Ireland in 2009. We were all delighted to get Mike Mac back.
“Players look past that stuff when they’re going for five-in-a-row. He strikes me as a good team-mate, just by the way he plays, and from having marked him, his communication, his authoritativeness back there, all that would lead me to believe that he’s a good team-mate. He’s a good, honest, hard full back, has everything you want in a full back. He’s going to test you mentally, physically, and yeah, I think every team would take Rory O’Carroll at full back.”
Things might be a little different with Diarmuid Connolly, who hasn’t played for Dublin since opting out in the spring of 2018: “It just depends on the vibe between him and his team mates, and between him and his manager. Whatever is there is the reason he wasn’t on the pitch last year and why he hasn’t been on the pitch so far this year. If it’s a small thing where somebody has to put their pride aside, if it’s not a big catastrophic issue, then that small thing has to be buried, for the greater good, for the five-in-a-row.
“Could Connolly do that? Absolutely. On three weeks of training? Absolutely. But now is not too late. I’ve come in now for the last three years with Kerry, I’ve started the last game for Kerry (in the league) each of the years, it’s not like you forget how to play the game.”
As for Kerry’s own chances of taking out Dublin, Donaghy was a little less sure: “I do think they have a chance. I don’t think they played well against Mayo in the league final, and were still just a point down with a minute to go. That’s because Mayo didn’t let Kerry play well, but I think there’s a good bit more in Kerry than what we saw on league final day.
“But I don’t think Dublin are coming back. What happens when any team is successful, other teams start copying them, push up like them, and most teams have gone away from the 15 men behind the ball, concede every kick out, even Tyrone, who were the ultimate at that. That’s what teams are figuring out, and getting better at that, rather than Dublin coming back into the chasing pack. If Dublin get to the semi-final, I think they’ll really be ready to win the five in a row, and somebody else will have to show up big.”
Sky will again show a total of 20 live games (14 exclusive); the coverage begins on Saturday May 11th, when Kilkenny take on Dublin in the opening round of the Leinster hurling championship in Nowlan Park.