Tuesday 15 October 2019

Dermo adds weight to Dubs bench press

Jim's marquee subs used to haunt rivals - not any more

Cormac Costello in action for Dublin against Cork during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Phase 1 match at Croke Park.
Cormac Costello in action for Dublin against Cork during the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final Phase 1 match at Croke Park.

Diarmuid Connolly is back, that much is known. What has yet to be deciphered is how profound a role he will be asked to play over the coming weeks of the 'Super 8s' and beyond.

After all, here is a 32-year-old forward who hasn't started a championship match since June 2017; whose last SFC cameo came in that year's All-Ireland final; whose last league appearance came off the bench away to Mayo in February '18; who hasn't even been part of an inter-county panel since leaving the Sky Blue fold soon after.

To actually see Connolly's name in the match programme this Saturday, when a wounded Roscommon come to Croke Park, would appear unlikely.

On the presumption that Dublin have already qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals by the time they rock up to Healy Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend, maybe there could be a window of opportunity for Jim Gavin to include the prodigal prince of Marino among his match-day 26.

Either way, the presumption must be that - initially at least - if Connolly is to have a discernible impact on Dublin's Drive for Five, it will be as an impact sub.

Safety net

And maybe that's no bad thing ... because the four-in-a-row champions might actually need a genuine super-sub once the Sam Maguire bar is raised and the safety net removed next month.

A few months back, in the preamble to championship, all the talk was that Dublin's potential Achilles heal might be located in a full-back line susceptible to aerial assault.

To date, there has been little evidence to support this assertion. Luke Connolly's second-half penalty for Cork last Saturday (which stemmed from running hard at the Dublin defence, not route one) was the only goal conceded in their four SFC outings to date.

Maybe that supposed vulnerability might yet be exposed by Tyrone (in Omagh) or by Donegal, Kerry or whoever at the semi-final stage.

In the meantime, observers have started to wonder if Dublin might ultimately be caught by another unrelated weak link - a bench that has long been lauded as one of their greatest strengths under Gavin?

So far this summer, Dean Rock has been the star turn of Dublin's back-up brigade, shooting 0-9 (four from play) despite only spending 52 minutes, injury-time included, on the pitch.

But it's fair to surmise that Rock only found himself on the bench in the first place because of an earlier injury that KO'd his involvement against Louth and Kildare. Now, back to full fitness and back in the scoring groove, he might well reclaim his old starting berth.

Talk of a Rock recall have been fuelled by a form dip from Cormac Costello, who has failed to sustain his back-to-back brilliance (against Louth and Kildare) and was duly replaced against Meath and Cork.

In this scenario, it's conceivable that Costello could return to his super-sub role of old. Freed from free-taking responsibilities, he might even rediscover his early-season sparkle.

But who else - bar Rock or Costello - might deliver timely scoring impetus off the bench?

Of the 2-13 contributed by Dublin subs, Rock has delivered 0-9. The two goals were scored by Michael Darragh Macauley and Philly McMahon, at a time when their Louth mis-match had long since morphed into a turkey shoot.

Neither is a forward and, besides, both of these veterans started against Cork at the weekend.

The forward subs listed against Cork were Rock, Paddy Small and Kevin McManamon (who all finished the game), Paddy Andrews and Eoghan O'Gara.

McManamon has been confined to one converted free during his three cameo appearances. It's a far cry from when Kevin Mac was at the vanguard of Dublin's renowned bench press: the player's place in Sky Blue football lore has been enshrined by his late-summer goalscoring heroics, most memorably in the 2011 All-Ireland final, 2013 semi-final (both against Kerry), 2015 semi-final draw and replay (against Mayo).

Then again, McManamon will turn 33 in December.

The flip side is that Connolly is just seven months younger - and even before opting off the panel, his game-time in blue since the start of 2017 had been fitful.

Yet with Paul Flynn in retirement and Connolly such a versatile Plan B option, a half-forward ball-winner and ball-carrier, visionary playmaker and finisher to boot, his surprise comeback could fill a void that previously didn't even exist.

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