SIX DUBLIN STARS YOU’LL BE SEEING A LOT MORE OF THIS YEAR.
THE Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup is all things to all managers. For some minnow county masterminds, it may represent their only real chance of silverware. For Jim Gavin, it’s something entirely different.
The Dublin manager won’t be judged this year on whether he secures a third consecutive Allianz FL Division One title or whether his Sky Blue juggernaut levels Leinster again. He’ll be judged by the ultimate benchmark. Sam or bust.
That’s what happens when you’re charged with overseeing the deepest reservoir of playing talent in the country; even more so when your red-hot favourites have faltered in chaotic fashion to Donegal last summer.
However, lots of his prospective 2015 panellists have barely kicked a championship ball. Even league opportunities may have been thin on the ground. Thus, you sense, Gavin relishes the opportunities thrown up by an extended O’Byrne Cup run.
Dublin have already won three group games on the spin – in the absence of myriad first-teamers.
Now for Sunday’s semi-final in Meath’s Navan den (2.0), where several emerging young guns are likely to be given another chance to state their case for further league auditions. Here is a potential handful …
THE UNDERSTUDY: LORCAN MOLLOY
THERE is no argument over the long-term ownership of Dublin’s No 1 jersey – Stephen Cluxton is going nowhere. Yet there may be a battle looming over No 16.
Seán Currie filled that brief last season, enduring an initially torrid baptism when thrown into the firing line after Stephen Cluxton’s red card against Mayo last March. With Cluxton suspended, Currie retained his place against Tyrone … Molloy, fresh from helping Dublin to a Leinster U21 title four days earlier, was parachuted in as sub ‘keeper for the day.
The St Anne’s netminder has a glittering underage pedigree. Under Dessie Farrell’s watch he was an All-Ireland winner at minor level (2012) and U21 (2014) and is again U21 this season.
Molloy has started two of Dublin’s three O’Byrne outings – against Maynooth and Laois, sandwiching Currie’s appearance against Offaly.
“You’ve only got one slot, unlike outfield positions, so you’re just trying to give players an opportunity to put their best foot forward,” Gavin said when explaining Cluxton’s recent absence. It remains to be seen who wins the back-up race.
BACK TO BASICS: JOHN SMALL
WHETHER you blame tactics or personnel, the line most indicted amid the Donegal post-mortems was Dublin’s half-back division for going defensively AWOL. Already in this O’Byrne Cup, there have been hints of a more cautious approach.
Gavin has started the same six defenders in all three games, with John Small a solid presence at centre-back, a position that has caused headaches especially in the absence of Ger Brennan last summer.
If Brennan emerges unscathed from St Vincent’s latest All-Ireland odyssey, he could well be the player to whom Gavin returns. But he needs options and Small – centre-back on Farrell’s minor team that lost the 2011 All-Ireland final, and ditto for last year’s all-conquering U21s – is now getting his chance.
Ultimately, Eric Lowndes may emerge as the most likely new half-back option … but he has been cup-tied this month with Maynooth University and, unlike Small, is still U21 so his chances may be compromised.
MIDDLE MAN: EMMETT Ó CONGHAILE
LAST Sunday, watching Emmett Ó Conghaile hit three second half points against Laois, culminating in a booming last-gasp winner, you couldn’t help but wonder if his time with the seniors may be coming.
The Lucan Sarsfields midfielder has been here before, however: he started four out of five O’Byrne Cup ties at the outset of Gavin’s reign, in 2013, and subsequently started against Cork in the first round of that year’s league.
Since then, however, senior opportunities have been thin on the ground and – coming back from injury last year – he had an impact sub role during Dublin’s All-Ireland U21 run. However, his soaring abilities at the kickout were a standout feature of his previous U21 success: he was our Man of the Match in the 2012 All-Ireland final against Roscommon, with Gavin (his then-manager) looking on appreciatively.
“He has a classic style of catching and we encourage that,” said the same boss last Sunday. One scribe present wondered aloud about a comparison to Ciarán Whelan – Gavin agreed they were similar types but warned: “That’s a big name mentioned.”
THE COMEBACK KID: SHANE CARTHY
ANOTHER huge talent to emerge from Farrell’s All-Ireland minor team, Shane Carthy went straight into Gavin’s senior senior set-up in 2013, making several league cameos off the bench and playing the full second half against Tyrone in the final.
The Naomh Mearnóg clubman made the match-day panel for virtually all of the resultant All-Ireland senior campaign, albeit not featuring.
Comfortable at midfield or half-forward, Carthy boasts wonderful athleticism and left-footed accuracy. He played a starring role in last spring’s Leinster U21 win, but then football took a back seat as he underwent treatment for depression – a battle he spoke about bravely to RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke last October. Carthy has now re-emerged with the Dublin seniors, putting in a huge shift against Maynooth and winning a vital late penalty against Laois.
GO-TO ASSASSIN: CORMAC COSTELLO
HARDLY a new kid on the block any more, but Cormac Costello is still only 20 and will be chasing a second All-Ireland U21 title this spring to go with his 2012 minor medal. Costello will also be hoping to make the senior step-up from prolific super-sub (a role filled with aplomb last summer) to first-team mainstay: his first SFC start, against Donegal, ended in frustration, subbed after a scoreless 41 minutes.
THE METRONOME: CONOR McHUGH
THERE is an argument that Dublin don’t exactly need any more scoring machines; that priorities should lie further back the field. And yet … if Conor McHugh keeps doing the business, for how much longer can his claims be ignored?
The Na Fianna raider may be relatively lightweight but he’s a natural predator – underlined by his Man of the Match displays at the business end of last year’s U21 championship, against Cavan (0-3 from play) and Roscommon (1-6 from play). Little wonder, then, that he was named Cadbury Hero of the Future 2014.
Dublin fans have yet to see if McHugh is ready for senior combat, but he has kept the scoreboard ticking for DCU in the O’Byrne Cup – scoring 0-2 (1f) as a sub against Longford, then 0-8 (4f) against Westmeath and 0-7 (5f) against Meath.