Sunday 23 October 2016

Dubs aces are some of the all time best

Connerton embraces Longford's acid test

Dublin players (l-r) Cormac Costello, Ciarán Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly and Davy Byrne celebrate after All- Ireland final victory over Kerry (SPORTSFILE)
Dublin players (l-r) Cormac Costello, Ciarán Kilkenny, Diarmuid Connolly and Davy Byrne celebrate after All- Ireland final victory over Kerry (SPORTSFILE)
Longford manager Denis Connerton (SPORTSFILE)

One sentence from Longford manager Denis Connerton encapsulates the rarefied status of the Dublin football team - and the Everest-like challenge facing all their Leinster rivals.

"There will be Longford children turning up on Sunday," he says, "but they'll be turning up to get the Dublin guys' autographs. Because these are household names."

This Bord na Móna O'Byrne Cup semi-final, at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park, will be his fourth January outing - an unexpected bonus after losing to Westmeath nine days ago.


It will also be Connerton's first encounter with the Dubs since the last game of his first Longford coming - a 2004 third round qualifier in Portlaoise.

Back then, during Tommy Lyons' swansong campaign, Dublin were just about a top-eight team ... they eventually overwhelmed Longford by 1-17 to 0-11, but only after a protracted, misfiring preamble to Ian Robertson's 46th minute goal.

Changed times. Last May, Jack Sheedy's Longford were obliterated by Dublin to the tune of 27 points - 4-25 to 0-10.

This Dublin vintage are, says Connerton, at a completely different level to a decade ago. "Who knows how good these players are?" he muses. "They're probably some of the best players of all time, when you look at the likes of Stephen Cluxton, Diarmuid Connolly, Philly McMahon, the Brogan brothers … all of those guys are fantastic players.

"They've a fantastic team, and the way that Dublin, Mayo and Kerry have pulled away from the rest is alarming at the moment.

"I know that Donegal under Jim McGuinness had bridged that gap; Tyrone are at it now; and Monaghan are trying very hard. But it's very hard to get into that top four.

"There seems to be that three, then somebody from the rest of the top eight trying to get into the top four - and after that top eight it's good luck to everybody else."


Connerton has already grabbed some early-January headlines with his admission that 40pc of those players asked to join his 2016 panel declined the offer. The reasons were genuine - ranging from retirement, injury, emigration, study/work commitments - but others also confided that they had "lost the appetite".

"They look at it - Dublin are in Leinster, who else is going to win that but Dublin? And we certainly would not be able to win the All-Ireland. I suppose that's a massive factor."

Was he surprised by that 40pc figure?

"I was shocked by it. The last time I was manager - and I finished up in 2004 - 100 percent of the guys that were invited came in," he recalls.

"It's really hard to fathom. It's hard to take it on board. It weakens the squad. But I must say, I really want to move on with it. The guys that we have in, we've had fantastic commitment."

Connerton inherits a team newly promoted from Division Four, but he reckons just seven players who started against Dublin last summer should be available this weekend. The group has youth on its side.

"Our aim for this season is to stay in Division Three," he declares, while highlighting the strength of a third tier that includes Kildare, Westmeath, Tipperary; one that has "more a Division Two flavour to it".

Achieve survival, and Longford would be above the cut-off point touted for a potential 'B' championship incorporating teams from Division Four.

He has mixed views on the idea. "It's very hard to sell these. The last time with the Tommy Murphy Cup, it wasn't embraced at all," he points out.

"But something needs to be done. Everybody can't win - there's probably about six teams that can win the All-Ireland, and the rest can't."

For those in the lower ranks, he adds, there should be some competition to justify "all the work that you've done and all the money that's being spent on training", and to guarantee at least four good championship matches.

"How you format that, I just don't know. But I would retain the provincial championships. When you look at last year, Sligo getting to (the final of) Connacht, Westmeath getting to Leinster, I think that's great."


Here's another great thing: the buzz of this Sunday.

"Dublin will bring a thousand supporters with them to Longford," he predicts. "And looking at the games over the last couple of weeks, against Maynooth and Wicklow, we had only about 150 people ... it's like the Leinster championship coming early."

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