GAVIN HAILS RETIRING HERO CULLEN AND A LIKELY STAR OF TOMORROW, Ó CONGHAILE.

GAELIC football’s perennial state of flux was evident on the teamsheets in Portarlington – and also in the post-match reflections of Jim Gavin.

Inevitably he was asked about the retirement of Bryan Cullen, the man who skippered Dublin to All-Ireland victory in 2011.

Almost as inevitably, the Dublin boss was asked about the second half contribution of Emmett Ó Conghaile, whose three points from midfield included an injury-time winner to deny Laois a morale-boosting share of the O’Byrne Cup points.

On the subject of both players – one a departing hero, the other an All-Ireland U21 star for Gavin in 2012, now hoping to showcase his senior credentials after a couple of years on the fringes – he was effusive in his praise.

“Bryan, first and foremost, is a role model for any of these players now trying to break onto the squad,” Gavin remarked.

“If there is one player I would reference it would be Bryan Cullen, both as a defender – which he was when I first met him with the U21s in 2003 – to an attacking player as he developed later on in his career.

“In both positions and roles he was exemplary. His collection of medals and trophies is a testament to his work on the field of play. Off the field of play, he finished a doctorate last year in the middle of preparing for a league and championship campaign; it was just phenomenal what he did and how he managed his time. We wish him the very best … he is an exemplary individual and an absolute gentleman.”

Cullen was already a Dublin championship starter in his late teens, so the inter-county mileage was high. He also has a busy professional life working as a strength and conditioning coach with the Leinster rugby academy. But he has yet to turn 31, which begs the question: could he have kept going for longer?

“I’m sure he could have, absolutely,” Gavin replied. “I mean, physically he was in great condition. Mentally he’s strong as well and he has all the technical attributes that you’d want in a senior footballer.

“But he’s got a professional life outside of his sport, Gaelic football, and he wants to go back and play some football with his club. That’s for each individual to make those decisions.”

Speaking of which, there should be word on Alan Brogan’s future Sky Blue intentions in “the next couple of weeks”, according to Gavin.

One player setting out on his senior journey is Ó Conghaile. On yesterday’s evidence, he could well challenge for a February start.

“He developed with the senior squad last year and pushed very hard for a place in the championship team. He had a good league with his club and championship too,” his manager pointed out.

“He’s very good at taking his scores and is one of the best high fielders we have technically – he has a classic style of catching.”

A Ciarán Whelan in the making, perhaps? “They are similar types of players,” Gavin agreed, before offering the following cautionary caveat: “That’s a big name mentioned for Emmett to be compared to. He has a good bit to go, but he’s a great worker off the field of play and he’s very diligent.”(The Herald)

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