Saturday 18 November 2017

It's battle stations

Croker primed for O'Carroll v O'Shea

2 August 2015; Rory O'Carroll, Dublin, in action against Tomás Corrigan, Fermanagh. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Dublin v Fermanagh. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Eoin Noonan / SPORTSFILE
2 August 2015; Rory O'Carroll, Dublin, in action against Tomás Corrigan, Fermanagh. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Dublin v Fermanagh. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Eoin Noonan / SPORTSFILE

Inevitably in the frenetic early moments of tomorrow's match, Mayo will win a ball in a plot of space between the two '65s and just as inevitably, the man in possession will turn, pick out the hulking figure of Aidan O'Shea and go long into the form footballer in Ireland.

Croke Park, sold out long ago and thus packed to its capacity with the tribal partisanship an All-Ireland final often lacks with its big neutral attendance, will sizzle in anticipation for those few seconds whilst the ball arcs and O'Shea readies himself.

Just as certain is that Rory O'Carroll will be the Dublin man closest by and the player certain to spend the most time in O'Shea's company.

"Physically he's a top class player and he enjoys playing there," insists Denis Bastick, O'Carroll's Dublin team mate and a former, albeit brief, owner of the Dublin full-back jersey, back in 2009.

"He likes marking people.

"A lot of people like to go up the field and get scores and get on the scoreboard whereas he's happy enough where he is and he's comfortable in that area and he's happy playing there.

"So the attributes he has, he's obviously strong in the air, physically, he enjoys that man to man battle that he has quite often.

"Some people enjoy space and movement and freedom in their roles," Bastick points out.

"If you look back at all the great full-backs over the years, they're a certain type of people and a certain type of player. He's one of them."

Mostly, it's an unforgiving a mostly, as Bastick found out in the All-Ireland quarter-final of '09, when Kerry started with Tommy Walsh at full-forward but quickly switched Declan O'Sullivan in against an overran, over-exposed and bewildered inside defensive line.

The ratio of drawing attention to one's self on account of things going well against things going right isn't traditionally high.

"You're playing against a lot of top class players," Bastick points out.

Funny breed

"Full-backs, they're a funny 'oul breed. And there's only certain people to kinda like playing there.

"Myself and Ross McConnell both got a stint there and we often laughed that we couldn't wait to get out of there. The likes of Rory O'Carroll, he eats up that position and he loves it."

The emergence of O'Carroll ended a shaky spell for Dublin in a demonstratively important position.

Particularly in a team that lacked a defensive sturdiness in big matches against All-Ireland contenders.

Pillar Caffrey started four different players in the spot in his four Leinster finals as Dublin manager as the search to find and permanent and stable replacement for Paddy Christie drew a serious of square pegs for round holes.

Post '09, Gilroy not only put his faith in O'Carroll's obvious but still raw potential, he redrew Dublin's defensive alignment and granted those in the jerseys numbered two, three and four plenty of cover.

"It was great to get a settled team the next year," Bastick points out.

"And it was great for Rory to have that cover. I think you need that in around the full back line.

"It's an important line and a lot of the opposition's danger men are in there."

Laois' Donie Kingston - in size and shape, the sort of full-forward O'Carroll tends to playagainstt - is a former team mate from their days in UCD and he is adamant that "you wont come across a better back."

"Rory is very strong," he appraises.

Raw strength

"He's very honest as well, he wouldn't be pulling or dragging, it's just raw strength he has.

"That will be a titanic battle and the game could well come down to what way that will swing between either of them."

Notably, the sweepers around O'Carroll have disappeared under Jim Gavin, though he did win his one All Star in 2013, the current manager's first flamboyant and fancy-free season.

But where once the Kilmacud Crokes man could attack the ball safe in the knowledge that breaking it would almost certainly finds its way into Dublin hands, now he is often left one-on-one with his man and any untidiness has gone punished.

O'Shea, it seems at this juncture, looks better built to turn that punishment into a sort of 70 minute torture.

According to Kingston though: "It has to be clever ball in, you can't just lump ball into lads anymore because backs are too good now.

"You just can't do it. It will depend on the day as well, if it's a wet day you can't very well kick too much ball in either because it's not going to stick.

"He was always a serious player," he notes, "but when you score the name is kind of in the headlights then and that makes a difference."

Bastick, who many have earmarked for the sort of deep-lying/sweeper role Barry Moran played so successfully against Donegal in the All-Ireland quarter-final, agrees.

"He is the form player at the moment. Top class and he destroyed Sligo on his own and did a great job against Donegal.

"He was always a top talent," he points out.

"Being in closer to goal you get the headlines when you do all the scoring.

"That's only natural, but he is getting great deliveries in and they seem to be working well for him."

He concludes: "We'll have to figure out how to stop him."

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