Sources close to Dublin hurling regime reject Michael Carton’s criticism

Fears of a schism within Ger Cunningham’s camp after former defender’s comments

Ger Cunningham: overseeing a period of transition in Dublin hurling. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The assertion by former Dublin hurler Michael Carton that an 'unheard of' number of senior players have left the camp in recent seasons has been rejected by a reliable source close to the senior management set-up.

Carton, who hurled for Dublin for 12 years, was among a number of dissenting voices who expressed their unhappiness with the direction the Dublin team has taken under Ger Cunningham, who succeeded Anthony Daly in October 2014.

Carton made his remarks in an interview on Off the Ball on Tuesday night, during which he also specified the departure of Tommy Dunne from his coaching role as a particular disappointment which, he felt, epitomised the 2015 season characterised as having a 'toxic atmosphere' and defined by 'tension' within the management.

“Straight away you thought like, ‘what’s going on here’. We were never given any clarity and we were promised another hurling coach of that calibre, which would be very hard to find in Ireland really. And it never happened.”


However, an explanation given to this newspaper yesterday holds that outside circumstances meant that Dunne was unable to attend Dublin training as regularly as he had hoped to and he vacated the role on cordial terms with the management team.

Carton left the Dublin panel in July 2015 shortly before the team was due to play Limerick in a championship qualifier and has not returned.

Venting a number of frustrations in his radio interview, he explained that he decided to leave when it became apparent to him that Cunningham and the selectors saw him as a reserve full back for the championship.

“I think the county board are happy enough for the Dublin footballers to be winning All-Irelands and for the hurlers to survive in Division One in the hurling,” he said.

In recent weeks, a number of seasoned Dublin players have either opted out or have not been named on the preliminary squad released by Cunningham last week.

Optimistic note

“It’s unheard of in inter-county hurling, the number of players who have left the panel. There have to be questions asked,” Carton said in relation to the composition of the new panel.

Much was made of the fact that only six starters from Dublin’s historic Leinster championship winning side in 2013 remain on that panel.

However, a source close to the current management pointed out that the new squad contains ten players who were involved that year; Gary Maguire, Liam Rushe, Eamon Dillon, Niall McMorrow, Ryan O'Dwyer, David Treacy, Dotsy O'Callaghan, Mark Schutte, Oisín Gough and Paul Schutte.

It was also pointed out that just two of the team which started Dublin's most recent championship game against Cork – Paul Ryan and Johnny McCaffrey – are not involved in the new winter panel.

At a media event this week, two-time All-Star and current Dublin centre-back Liam Rushe had endorsed this view and sounded an optimistic note about the composition of the new panel.

He said that while he was surprised by one or two omissions from the selection, overall the emphasis on younger players reflected the trend within GAA panels.

He also stated that the 2013 Leinster championship-winning side might have peaked as early as 2011.

“It seems like every autumn now or every winter you pull out the score and so and so has been dropped from a panel. That’s the way it is. Managers pick their panels and things moved on and people have different opinions on it.

“That team peaked . . in 2011. We were at the height of our powers. We could have been as good in 2011 and were decimated with injuries and in 2013 we got lucky with a run. Thanks be to God we didn’t have a cruciate that year . . . we were averaging two a year up to that point.”

Stark contrast

Rushe’s perspective stands in stark contrast to that of Carton’s and could reflect the divergent viewpoints of different generations of players.

Former All-Star Peter Kelly was among those who decided to opt out this year and in a different interview voiced his unhappiness with the direction that the squad was taking.

Kelly has been compromised by injury problems under Cunningham’s reign and his last full competitive game for Dublin was against Cork in the league semi-final in Nowlan Park in 2015.

Kelly is one of the most high-profile absentees from this year's panel along with Paul Ryan and Johnny McCaffrey. Danny Sutcliffe, another of the 2013 All-Star crop, would appear to be opting out for a second consecutive season. Niall Corcoran, contrary to reports, decided to retire from the inter-county game,

Carton’s comments have led to speculation that there is disharmony within the Dublin squad, a suggestion that was dismissed by Rushe.

While the Dublin management did not wish to respond to Carton’s perspective, a source said that they believe the new panel was intended to retain the core experience of the Leinster championship-winning side of 2013 while bringing through the next generation of Dublin hurlers.

The county are the current Leinster under-21 champions. Dublin’s season will centre around their tough and eagerly anticipated Leinster quarter-final match against Galway next summer.