‘Weak’ Dublin team a match for O’Byrne Cup rivals

‘I’d say Dublin’s weak team could be quite strong,” says Longford boss Denis Connerton

Longford’s Francis McGee in action against Dublin’s Jarleth Curley, Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy during last year’s O’Byrne Cup clash. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

Longford’s Francis McGee in action against Dublin’s Jarleth Curley, Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy during last year’s O’Byrne Cup clash. Photograph: Tommy Grealy/Inpho

 

  The news that Dublin will be fielding a significantly weakened team for the O’Byrne Cup isn’t bringing much comfort to the opposition, especially the one manager who actually beat them in last year’s competition.

For Longford’s Denis Connerton, the semi-final victory over Dublin in January 2016 possibly didn’t get the full credit it deserved – again because Dublin were considered to have fielded a somewhat “weakened” team. But still, that remains Dublin’s only non-league or championship defeat in their otherwise 29-game unbeaten run which goes back to March 2015.

The back-to-back All-Ireland champions, in a different group to Longford, open their 2017 campaign against DCU in Parnell Park on Sunday.

However manager Jim Gavin and most of his All-Ireland panel are on a team holiday in Jamaica (former Dublin All-Ireland winner Paul Clarke will take charge instead), and several other more senior players are either college-tied or club-tied. 

“I honestly didn’t know Dublin had a weak team,” says Connerton, with only a hint of jest. “In fact I’d say Dublin’s weak team could be quite strong. Dublin always have a lot of players working very hard to get into the first 30 or whatever development squads they have, so I’m sure they will have lots of top class footballers available to them. 

“They might be players that we mightn’t be familiar with, but I’d say we could be by the end of the season.” 

Longford open their campaign away to Kildare on Saturday and could yet end up playing Dublin again in the semi-final. Last year’s win in Pearse Park, 1-12 to 0-9, is certainly still fresh in Connerton’s mind, yet he understands as well why some people wrote if off. 

“Well obviously we don’t play them in the national league, and didn’t get to play them in the championship. And some people might be thankful they don’t meet Dublin too often. 

Second chance

“As for the result, of course we were delighted with it. Unfortunately we couldn’t kick on, and lost the final to Meath. That was a disappointment, and we lost the first round of the league as well. 

“Still, I’d say 2016 was relatively successful. Got to the final of the O’Byrne Cup, retained our status in Division Three, losing out on promotion on points difference. Our Leinster championship campaign was disappointing, but Offaly were quite outstanding on the day. We resurrected our season in the qualifiers, and it was great to get the second chance, beating Down, and then Monaghan. 

“In the old system, players would have been sitting around, drowning their sorrows, so it was great to redeem themselves. We went out against Cork, but we’d never played them in the championship before, and that was great to get them down in Pearse Park too.” 

Longford, ironically, may actually be more “weakened” themselves. Even with the unlimited substitutions, he’ll just about have the panel of 26): “We wouldn’t be as well prepared as we were this time last year. Michael Quinn is out for the next few months, as he’s recovering from surgery, and we won’t have Brian Kavanagh either, until after the league, because he has to undergo surgery as well. 

Valuable competition

“But for us, it’s a very valuable competition, terrific to have competitive games at this time of the year. It’s preparation for the national league, primarily, but it gives us three games in eight days, and while that’s difficult for teams with small squads such as ourselves, at the same time everyone wants to be playing games, instead of just training all the time. And also against different teams and in different venues.” 

Connerton, incidentally, is not taking much comfort in the introduction of the mark, either: “We played one challenge game, and to be honest I didn’t notice any major chance. It’s there for a reason, I just haven’t quite figured out that reason yet. I feel we need to leave our game alone, let it settle down a bit, because there’s nothing wrong with it.” 

The Dublin hurlers, meanwhile, get their Walsh Cup campaign underway this evening against Carlow at Parnell Park, manager Ger Cunningham without as many as 20 first-choice players. Still, not much comfort for the opposition.

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