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Dubs out on own – Deegan

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14 August 1994; Down's Conor Deegan celebrates with supporters after the game. Bank of Ireland Football Championship Semi-Final, Down v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

14 August 1994; Down's Conor Deegan celebrates with supporters after the game. Bank of Ireland Football Championship Semi-Final, Down v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

14 August 1994; Down's Conor Deegan celebrates with supporters after the game. Bank of Ireland Football Championship Semi-Final, Down v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

IT'S probably no great shock that Conor Deegan describes Rory O'Carroll as "pig-headed", and means it unreservedly as a compliment.

It's a quality that, outside the full-backs' union, of which both are prominent members, former and current respectively, would hardly contain positive connotation but that's exactly what the former Down No 3 intends when he lists O'Carroll's most endearing qualities.

"With Rory, you have a fella who just wants to stop his man from playing, and who is quite happy to just physically impose on his man all day," Deegan, who wore the Kilmacud Crokes number three jersey with strong distinction in his day, years before O'Carroll's emergence, told the Herald.

"He's quite pig-headed like that. He might get a kick of the ball, he might not. But psychologically for a forward, knowing that all your man wants to do is stop you from getting it... it's a much harder thing to address."

But it is with some anxiety, rather than a complimentary observation, that Deegan says of O'Carroll's likely Dublin replacement for tomorrow's joust with his native County Down, Cian O'Sullivan: "The problem with Cian is that he wants to play a bit too much ball." Though he adds that he is a fan of his dashing, play-anywhere style.

O'Carroll, described recently by Pillar Caffrey as "Dublin's one irreplaceable player", has been ruled out for the Down duel and, dauntingly, the trip to Donegal in two weeks' time, with an ankle injury – a rough place to go without a strong, experience and confident full-back for one obvious reason.

 

Struggle

"If Michael Murphy is on the edge of the square," warns Deegan, "and you don't have someone who can deal physically with him, you will just struggle.

"You have Philly McMahon down the line, but he is coming off a very rough defeat (with Ballymun Kickhams in the All-Ireland club final) and might not be in the greatest mindset. So there are issues there."

And elsewhere.

Ciarán Kilkenny is out for the rest of the league. Alan Brogan could play some part this year, but not for the foreseeable future and in what guise, no one quite knows.

Paul Flynn may miss tomorrow night's match with a hamstring injury and there is no definitive word yet on the fitness of Bernard Brogan, who sat out the Tyrone defeat, depriving the Dublin attack of its true star.

"Let's be blunt about it. Bernard Brogan on form is the best forward in the country. Himself and Murphy," states Deegan, now a respected radio analyst.

"Dublin have been building away without Alan, so he's not really a loss at the moment. And Ciarán Kilkenny is just in the panel. He's a very talented lad and he's going to be a great footballer, no doubt about that.

 

Strong

"But to lose (Bernard) Brogan... no, the players coming in won't carry the same fear. Flynn is a big loss, though. He's a fine footballer. He's a great outlet for Dublin from kick-outs and he's very strong in the air.

"So to lose them is a problem. But you have maybe hungrier guys coming in, pushing for inclusion. But yeah, taking Bernard Brogan out of it... he makes a lot of it happen."

Currently, Deegan holds the senior manager's job with Ballyboden St Enda's and, as such, has watched the resurrection of Declan O'Mahony's inter-county career with interest.

"Jim Gavin seems to have great belief in him," he notes. "He's a very honest guy. He goes for the ball in the air. For me, looking at him, he's a good footballer, he's a good competitor and he's also left-footed, which adds another string to his bow. When you're going into your attack, if you have two right-footed midfielders, you tend to bring the same corner into play the whole time. Throw in a left-footer, and you change it up."

Of his own Down, Deegan isn't optimistic, especially in the absence of totemic duo Dan Gordon and Ambrose Rogers.

Defeat tomorrow and relegation is almost certain and, as he concedes: "You go down to Division 2 and it could take years to get back out of it. In fairness to James (McCartan), I think he has done a magnificent job over the last few years, going back to 2010 and getting them to an All-Ireland final.

"Each year, he has competitively kept them in the top end of Division 1, which is no mean feat.

"But this year, there have been problems. Like, you have no Dan Gordon, no Ambrose Rogers. These fellas are big men, fellas that Down don't have huge numbers of, so to lose those two fellas alone is very hard to replace.

"If they can break even in midfield against Dublin... Down have good footballers, they have pace. They will ask a lot of questions. And they're a different sort of player. They're smaller, their interchange is quite good at times, and they move the ball quickly. They kick the ball well. But I'm probably just looking for positives here," he concludes.

"At the moment, on form and at full strength, Dublin are the best team in the country."


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