Rory O’Carroll's return opens up possibility of Dublin recall
Kilmacud full back resumes training with his club after three years away in New Zealand
Rory O’Carroll lifts the Sam Maguire Cup after Dublin’s All-Ireland football final win at Croke Park in 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill Rory O’Carroll and teammate James McCarthy celebrate Dublin’s All-Ireland win at Croke Park in 2015. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
It’s just over three years since Rory O’Carroll, fresh from winning a third All-Ireland medal and a second All Star, declared himself at peace with potentially never playing for Dublin again.
“I’m open to the idea I could play again and I’m open to the idea I may never play again,” said O’Carroll, departing soon after for New Zealand.
On Saturday, O’Carroll returned from the opposite side of the world and the early indications are that the powerful full back has rediscovered his grá for Gaelic football.
According to Kilmacud Crokes’ joint-manager Johnny Magee, a former Dublin defender himself, the 29-year-old was in the gym on Sunday and was due to train with the county champions last night.
Suddenly, a myriad of questions are being asked; Does O’Carroll wish to play for Dublin again? Is Jim Gavin interested? Could he possibly be the same player he was in 2015?
“By all accounts he’s in good shape, which didn’t surprise me,” said Magee. “He’d be very self-driven and would be the sort of fella to always mind himself. But the difference between being in good shape and being match-fit and match-sharp is huge. He hasn’t played at a high level for an awful long while. It’ll be very interesting to see what his touch is like over the next couple of weeks.
‘Expressed a desire’
“In fairness to him, he’s expressed a desire and a want to get back in so it’s up to him now. After the success we had winning the Dublin championship, he sent a couple of messages to the lads and to the team and was in regular enough contact. He had that respect and that good will towards the team so we’re looking forward to seeing him.”
Crokes played Ballyboden St Enda’s in the league on Sunday, drawing 1-10 apiece, and are scheduled to play Ballymun Kickhams later this month before the championship begins.
They’re in what Magee termed a “group of death” in the Dublin championship along with Ballymun Kickhams, St Sylvester’s and Na Fianna, just the platform from which to impress Gavin.
If O’Carroll is interested in resurrecting a once-brilliant county career, it will simply be a waiting game, until his form and fitness tallies up with what Gavin expects of an county footballer.
Could a player who did so much to kick-start the drive-for-five with his performances in 2015 even play some part in them finishing the job this summer?
‘Jim Gavin knows’
“It’s not beyond achievable,” responded Magee. “Jim Gavin knows Rory is back. I’m sure they’ll have a look at him. But there’s a big step up from being in New Zealand for four years and not playing at a high level to getting competitive again even at club level in Dublin.
“The step up to county football then is massive. Is he going to be able to do it? It wouldn’t surprise me but it’s way too early to say. Rory doesn’t need that pressure on him either. He’s just happy to get back playing for ourselves and to put himself in a position to try to start for us. Maybe down the line Dublin is a possibility but I haven’t a clue if that call will come for him.
“Naturally, those links are going to grow legs and gather momentum. It’ll be, ‘Will Rory be back? Won’t Rory be back?’ I think he’ll just take each club session as it comes.”
O’Carroll may draw some inspiration from the performances of Tommy Walsh with Kerry this spring. Walsh hasn’t played in the Championship since 2015 either, failing with a second coming in the Kerry colours after a period in the AFL.
Quit the game
It’s a giant leap, of course, but could the former Dublin full-back even mark the big full-forward at some stage, two players who quit the game at their peak and relocated to the other side of the world?
An alternative scenario is that O’Carroll, having won virtually every possible honour in football, may fancy a few years hurling with Dublin.
He has played up to under-21 hurling level with Dublin, won a county title, and competed for UCD in the Sigerson Cup. By teaming up with the Dublin hurlers he would join his younger brother Bill in the setup.
Another possibility is that O’Carroll has no interest in being an inter-county player and putting his life on hold again. As a young Dublin footballer, he left the panel after his debut in 2009 to travel to Asia, and studied in France for a period in 2010/2011 before leaving completely in early 2016.
“Rory’s his own man, that’s for sure,” observed Magee.