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Sunday 19 May 2019

Rory’s calm leading presence will lift team - Carr

Former Crokes boss is backing O'Carroll to make Dubs impact

BATTLE FOR THE AGES: Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll, battles in the rain against Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy during the 2015 All-Ireland SFC final in Croke Park. Photo: Dáire Brennan/SPORTSFILE
BATTLE FOR THE AGES: Dublin’s Rory O’Carroll, battles in the rain against Kerry’s Kieran Donaghy during the 2015 All-Ireland SFC final in Croke Park. Photo: Dáire Brennan/SPORTSFILE

It was with a very specific purpose in mind that Paddy Carr phoned Jack O'Connor in late December of 2008.

A couple of weeks previously, Carr's Kilmacud Crokes team had beaten Rhode in Parnell Park to win the Leinster club title and fix themselves into an All-Ireland semi-final with Corofin.

That match was notable for another reason - it was Rory O'Carroll's first adult game of football.

At half-time, Rhode were six points up, Crokes were a man down after Cian O'Sullivan's sending off and after 25 minutes, O'Carroll had been set loose on Niall McNamee who had, until that point, torched Paul Griffin.

"I knew that this young fella had the talent and the temperament to handle that situation," recalls Carr now, "and he played a big part in steadying things."

Crokes won the second half by 2-4 to 0-1 with O'Carroll's fire-blanket routine on McNamee working to perfection.

"That was in early December. We had to face Corofin in semi final in February and I was trying to think of a way to test this lad if we were going to use him."

So Carr rang O'Connor and they set up a challenge match between Crokes and Kerry in LIT with the stipulation that Kieran Donaghy play full-forward.

"I remember Donaghy coming up to me after the game saying to me 'who is this young fella?' chuckles Carr.

Thus a terrible beauty was born.

It is the uniqueness of O'Carroll's personality that still tickles his former club manager, an almost comically independent streak that meant Carr wasn't hugely surprised when Rory walked away from the Dublin squad in early 2016 and similarly, leads him to believe he can defy the odds and make it back to play some part in Dublin's potentially historic summer.

He can recall quite clearly the conversations he had with an incredulous Pat Gilroy a few months after O'Carroll won an All-Ireland club title in just his third senior football match.

It was nakedly by then clear then that O'Carroll had a future in a position Dublin hadn't adequately filled since Paddy Christie was in his pomp.

In 'Pillar' Caffrey's four Leinster finals as Dublin manager between 2005 and 2008, he fielded four different players at full-back.

So Gilroy wasn't inclined to look past the then 20 year-old with the physique and character traits to be Dublin's number three for the next decade.

So O'Carroll's inter-county debut came in just his fourth senior football match of any description, Dublin's Leinster SFC semi-final destruction of Westmeath.

That set up a Leinster final with Kildare but by that stage, O'Carroll had decided to spend the rest of the summer in South East Asia.

"If ever you could say there was a man who was his own man," Carr says knowingly, "it's Rory."

In spring 2011, he set off on an academic sabbatical for France, leaving Carr without his full-back for another All-Ireland semi-final against Crossmaglen Rangers and Gilroy deprived of his for Dublin's entire League.

"One of the core tenants of Rory's ability and talent is his temperament," Carr stresses. "It's possibly his strongest quality.

"In a pivotal position like that, he radiates that. There's a calmness about Rory and it's that's a really precious thing, he radiates calm

"It's what you want in leadership on the field, he completely backs himself.

"It's a quality you can't put into a lad. It's courage. Moral courage.

"You can't coach that into guys. They either have it or they don't."

"All great footballers will tell you," Carr goes on, "when they look back on their careers, those who are honest will talk to you about what they admired in their team mates.

"And with Rory, they all talk about his presence.

"If you have a warrior beside you with that sense of presence, that lifts his team mates."

A couple of weeks back, Carr went went to Parnell Park to see two of the teams he managed; Crokes and Ballymun Kickhams meet in the first round of the Dublin SFC in what was O'Carroll's first competitive match in almost three and a half years.

They bumped into each other afterwards.

"What I was very pleased to see was that he hadn't changed," Carr says and it is for precisely that reason that he can see O'Carroll working his way back into contention for a spot in Jim Gavin's team later this year.

"Technically and even in terms of sharpness, they're all things that can be honed in time," he says.

"There's no question about that. But on the other side of the equation, Rory has something that could be a key benefit and that is his hunger."

Quite what to expect from O'Carroll in the short term is difficult to precisely predict but Carr is confident about something at least.

"I would expect him to do what he's always done," he asserts, "which is fight like a terrier to have himself ready for that challenge when it arises."

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