O’Donnell and Dublin looking forward to pared-back championship

‘We’re just delighted to have games. Players want to play games’ says towering full back

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell battles with Wexford’s  Micheál Dwyer during the national league clash at Croke Park last spring. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Dublin’s Eoghan O’Donnell battles with Wexford’s Micheál Dwyer during the national league clash at Croke Park last spring. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

There’s no guarantee that he’d have enjoyed it any better on the field but for Dublin full back Eoghan O’Donnell, watching, injured, while the team slumped to a sensational defeat against Laois in last year’s championship, was pure torment.

“It’s a lot more stressful looking on than playing, I can tell you,” he says at Thursday’s AIG Dublin GAA sponsorship launch. “I’d say I’m a bad spectator at all games.”

Injury was doubly frustrating as he had been enjoying a fine year, which was recognised by an All Star nomination later in 2019.

The memories of a humdrum league have been fading over a summer, which produced a great hurling championship in Dublin, and now the drift into autumn brings another encounter with Laois onto the horizon.

O’Donnell was ringside for most of the county championship, working with the local Dubs TV on live streaming. Like most, he marvels at Ballyboden veteran Conal Keaney’s ability to keep going into his late 30s and more than that, perform to the level that keeps his county career rolling.

“He’s coming into a really, really impressive run of form,” says O’Donnell, “so we’ll be very keen to have him back. I haven’t heard anything otherwise and I imagine he’ll be there until we hear otherwise.

“Yeah, it’s a good question because I’m 24 and I feel in bits! I don’t know how he’s doing it at 38.”

One aspect of the county championship that is of direct relevance to O’Donnell has been the move to experiment with two of the imposing half backs, who normally stand sentry in front of the full-back line, in the forwards.

Seán Moran played a key role up front in Cuala’s retention of the title whereas last year’s county captain Chris Crummey did the same for semi-finalists Lucan Sarsfields.

Huge presences

Protesting, tongue in cheek, that his own redeployment in attack had somehow slipped under the radar, O’Donnell is unsure about whether this will transfer to the county when Mattie Kenny puts the team together.

“I don’t know, to be honest. Seán Moran is a huge presence for us in the backs, he’s one of the most composed people on the ball in the game, so he’d be definitely a loss if we were to take him out of the backs.

“Two huge presences. Chris is such a big man and a ball winner. It’s just about getting the balance right, to where he can add the most for us as a team.”

The coming weeks will bring a championship stripped back from its provincial round-robin format and played increasingly distant from the optimal time of the year for hurling. O’Donnell’s not complaining.

“To be honest, we’re just delighted to have games. Players want to play games. During lockdown, we didn’t think we would get games. So obviously you want a cracking day at Croke Park during August for an All-Ireland final. Everybody wants that. But it’s definitely better than nothing, and we’re really looking forward to it.”

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