Caffrey backs Connolly to make an impact
By John Harrington
Former Dublin manager, Paul ‘Pillar’ Caffrey, believes Diarmuid Connolly will play a key role yet in the county’s bid for a historic fifth All-Ireland title in a row.
Connolly recently returned to the Dublin panel but didn’t feature in the 26 for Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Phase 2 Quarter-Final victory over Roscommon.
Dublin’s forwards are in great form at the moment and they already have serious strength in depth on the bench, but Caffrey still thinks Connolly can force his way into the reckoning.
“A normal player, no, but Diarmuid Connolly is not normal,” said Caffrey today at the launch of EirGrid’s ‘Managerial Moments in Time’.
“I've often described him as the best player I've ever had in my dressing-room at any stage of my managerial career.
“I think Jim would have sat down and looked at the pros and cons of this with his management team and decided, yeah, Dublin are trying to win the All-Ireland, but they're also trying to create history.
“Something that has never been achieved. The great Kilkenny hurling team couldn't do it. A phenomenal Kerry football team couldn't do it.
“There will be bumps on the road and I think it's best to have all your aces in your tent rather than one or two of them outside.
“Once Rory O'Carroll was available it was a no-brainer. And once Dermot was available to come back it was a no-brainer.”
Connolly last played for Dublin when he made a big impact off the bench in the 2017 All-Ireland SFC Final, and Caffrey believes he can replicate that super-sub role if Dublin are brought to the brink this year like they were by Mayo in that match.
“Jim has been very consistent in picking his six forwards,” said Caffrey.
“Seven forwards have rotated the six positions this year really. Cormac Costello and Dean Rock and the other five are nearly picking themselves.
“I don't see that changing short-term unless there's injuries. Maybe the impact off the bench for Dublin isn't what it was in previous seasons.
“Could Dermot be an X-Factor? If he shows well in training I'd certainly think you'll see him playing some role in the next couple of weeks.”
Dublin have qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals with a match to spare after a 13-point victory over Cork and an 18-point victory over Roscommon.
It’s been all too easy for the reigning champions thus far, and that’s a worry for Caffrey as he looks ahead to an All-Ireland semi-final.
“It is an issue and it would be a fear for me that they're not battle-hardened against the quality of the team they're going to come up against,” he said.
“I think Kerry are coming with a great crop of players and they're going to be looking to take an All-Ireland if not this year then in the very near future and Donegal are a very serious outfit.
“I think the bookies’ odds are crazy. I think Dublin have to put out two big performances in the semi-final and final.
“I think there’s going to be a hiccup along the line. I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a Dublin-Kerry All-Ireland. Once you’re in an All-Ireland, you’ve a great chance.”
Whatever about Dublin’s prospects of winning a fifth All-Ireland title in a row, Caffrey doesn’t agree with the theory that they’re capable of extending that sequence to seven or even eight All-Irelands in a row in the coming years.
He’s adamant that the current team is stacked with once in a generation footballers who are now in their twilight years, and when they hang up their boots in the not too distant future then Dublin will come back to the pack.
“I'd like to think I know a lot about the club scene in Dublin and I'd say some of the players that are playing and have played in the last number of years with this great Dublin squad are some of the best we've ever seen playing the sport in Dublin,” said Caffrey.
“That's cyclical, it's not forever, it's a moment in a lifetime of a team and we're very lucky to be able to witness and see this group.
“I certainly wouldn't see Dublin dominating All-Irelands going forward the way you're talking about, no.
“You've seen with other brilliant teams, it's very, very hard to get defenders up to the level. Particularly if you look at the age profile of the Dublin squad.
“Cluxton can't go on forever, Philly McMahon, Cian O'Sullivan, James McCarthy even Jonny (Cooper) is near the 30-mark now. There is a shelf-life.
“There is an ageing process that naturally takes place. They've done phenomenally well to stay fit and to get as much out of them.
“Things will change over a short period of time.”