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Friday 9 December 2016

Ray Cosgrove: Forwards must be protected

Former Dub star Cosgrove believes Mannion is now finding best form

Ray Cosgrove
Ray Cosgrove
Paul Mannion celebrates after scoring Dublin’s goal during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Donegal at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

It was Stephen Rochford's very forceful contention on Saturday night that "Lee Keegan or any Mayo player was not under instruction to target any Tyrone player."

Which would, by the process of elimination, imply that Keegan took it upon himself.

"I watched the two games on Saturday night and there was a lot of off-the-ball stuff. You can tell that players are being targeted," says former Dublin star, Ray Cosgrove.

"Whether that's coming from the top down…whether players are being told by management to get into somebody's face and try and get them to react…it does seem to be something that is more prevalent this year than in the past."

"Whether that's because it's highlighted more in the media and The Sunday Game…there are more incidents of forwards picking up soft yellow cards in tussles with defenders.

"So there is a bit more provocation this year. But when it's marquee forwards, the likes of Diarmo and Seán Cavanagh, it makes the headlines."

Smart

Last year, Keegan admitted publicly that he had deemed it preferable to haul Diarmuid Connolly down in the incident which led to the Dublin player's sending off in the drawn semi-final between the two and accept the consequences than allow Connolly join the play.

It would, given the current implication of the rules, seem a smart call.

"Linesmen have got to play a bigger part in it," Cosgrove reckons.

"They should be bringing these off-the-ball incidents to the referee's attention.

"The referee can't watch everything that's going on. But with linesmen and umpires, they should be able to bring it to their attention that a forward is being man-handled, his runs are being checked or whatever it may be.

"You want to come to Croke Park to witness the genius of Diarmuid Connolly. You don't want to be looking at him sitting up in the Hogan Stand.

"He's an absolutely fantastic footballer. The couple of scores he got on Saturday night were outrageous.

"I want to be coming to Croke Park watching those sort of players and those sort of scores.

"That's the stuff that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

"You don't want to see them picking up soft yellow cards. You want to see them on the field, that's the bottom line."

Jim Gavin has broached this very theme in each of his last two post-match press conferences and on Saturday night, he avoided mention of Michael Murphy's closed-fisted hit on Brian Fenton which, he might easily have noted, was far more befitting of a red card than Eoghan O'Gara's wholly less forceful 'strike' on Neil McGee.

"You need to be cognisant of the fact that Dublin have some mean defenders too. It's not always Dublin forwards being isolated," Cosgrove points out.

"Philly McMahon did a great marking job on Michael Murphy and on Aidan O'Shea last year. Jonny Cooper is very tenacious.

"The boys are dogged defenders as well. So what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

"Jim has played the game at the highest level and he knows, as well, that marquee players are going to get a bit of attention.

"It's how players react to that on the field, that they don't let their team down, that they answer that by putting the ball over the bar rather than reacting."

On a different theme, Cosgrove was encouraged by what he saw from Kilmacud Crokes clubmate, Paul Mannion on Saturday night.

Mannion, who managed to win a spot in Gavin's starting team in his first year as a senior in 2013, returned to the Dublin squad this year after a season out, visibly stronger.

He was, in Cosgrove's eyes, "probably trying too hard to stake a claim earlier in the year."

"When I recognised the Paul Mannion of a couple of years ago, when he clipped those couple of scores.

"The goal was typical Mannion. He left a couple of Donegal defenders for dead. So he's going to ask questions of Jim and the management team.

"Earlier on in the year, you could tell that Paul was working really hard but he was probably trying too hard to stake a claim.

Bulked

"But certainly, he made a massive impact on Saturday night. And he's going to work hard over the next three weeks and he's going to vie for a starting position in three weeks against Kerry.

"If you could see a before and after picture between 2013 and the physique he has now, he's really bulked up.

"Now, he's physically strong enough to hold a man off. A couple of years ago, he was probably too light at that stage.

"But he's worked really hard in the gym.

"His speed, his balance when he's soloing the ball, they're probably some of his biggest attributes.

"He's just hitting form at the right time," Cosgrove added.

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