Rory O’Carroll unlikely to return for Dubs this season, says club-mate Cosgrove
All Star full-back is expected to remain in New Zealand until after the summer
Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll is currently living in New Zealand. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
For all the strength and depth of Dublin’s football panel there remains one conspicuous absentee: Rory O’Carroll. Not forgotten but gone for over a year now, the three-time All-Ireland winner and two-time All Star is unlikely to see any action in 2017 – even if he wanted to.
According to Ray Cosgrove, Dublin’s 2002 All Star and the full-back’s club mate at Kilmacud Crokes, O’Carroll (27) has no immediate plans to return from his lengthy sojourn in New Zealand: despite concerns at the time, Dublin’s defence hardly suffered much last year, Jonny Cooper ultimately filling the pivotal number three position which O’Carroll had made his own since his first All-Ireland triumph in 2011.
“I don’t think he’s going to be back for the summer, no,” says Cosgrove. “He’ll probably arrive back later on in the year, but he won’t – I don’t think so anyway – be an option for 2017.
“He’s still a young guy but it’s a big ask, to step out of intercounty football for two years. If you look at Paul [Mannion], who went to China with UCD through study, it took him a good while to get back to the form that he was in previously.
“And you have able bodies there. That full-back line was Dublin’s so-called weakest link last year and the guys stepped in. Mick Fitzsimons coming in for the All-Ireland final replay, putting in a man-of-the-match performance.
“So anyone who takes that amount of time out, thinks they are going to walk back in to a set-up like that, will find it’s going to be a tough ask, to be perfectly honest. He has the ability to get back into it, but does he want to? That’s the other side of it.
“He has the medals in the back pocket, does he have the motivation and the drive when he comes back? Certainly, whoever is in charge, he’ll have to earn his place back in the team.”
Dublin manager Jim Gavin will welcome back Jack McCaffrey, who also sat out 2016, for Sunday’s opening game in the defence of their Allianz Football League title. Dublin haven’t lost a league or championship match since March 1st, 2015 (against Kerry), and will put that 29-match unbeaten streak to the test against Cavan on Sunday as part of the bigger quest for a fifth successive league title.
Cosgrove doesn’t think another league title is straightforward for Dublin. Having twice come close to an All-Ireland final with Dublin, in 2002 and again in 2006, he suggests this is “the strongest Dublin panel we’ve seen in 30 years” but that a few league defeats, perhaps even on Sunday, may actually serve the bigger quest of winning a third successive All-Ireland.
“I know from talking to some of the lads before Christmas that the decision was made to have a good rest, give some of the older guys time off.
“So I don’t think the priority for Jim and the rest of the management team is going undefeated throughout the first few games in the league. If they take a defeat early on, get the train back on tracks for the latter stages of the league, or straight to a final, he’d be happy enough with that.
“The ultimate goal for Jim and rest of his squad is the three-in-row. It’d be nice to win another National League but I don’t think Jim will be too concerned if the unbeaten run comes to an abrupt end. Jim is going to be judged on August, September, as to how successful the year is going to be.”
Former Meath All-Ireland winner Colm O’Rourke has also suggested Dublin would be better served by a low-key league: the only problem with that, says Cosgrove, is the fact the Dublin players have now developed such a positive winning mentality that they may have forgotten how to lose.
“They’ll want to keep winning, to get as many medals in their pocket as they possibly can. The squad will certainly get stronger as the league progresses, so you can certainly see the team getting an awful lot stronger, fellas vying for championship spots. We saw what happened last year, there was three lads dropped for the final, so fellas will need to get into a jersey and stay in it if they want to be selected come the championship.
“They’re a very motivated group of players, and Jim won’t let them stand still. If they’re not producing the goods, they’ll be looking over their shoulder, there’ll be somebody there to take the jersey. So it’s a constant pressure. But I think if they get the balance right come the latter stages of the league, this Dublin team will certainly be pushing on for the summer time.”
With or without Rory O’Carroll.