McCarthy dismisses doubts over Dublin’s full-back line

At AIB’s launch of the All-Ireland SFC were, from left, Kerry’s Paul Geaney, Dublin’s James McCarthy, Galway’s Gary O’Donnell, and Donegal’s Ryan McHugh. Picture: Sportsfile

James McCarthy has rejected the suggestion Dublin’s full-back line is a potential area of weakness as they set about their bid for history and the five-in-a-row.

Dublin’s ability to cope with high balls into their defence has been consistently questioned with Tyrone profiting from a more direct approach when they beat Jim Gavin’s side in the Allianz league.

The recent return of Rory O’Carroll, the All-Star full-back in 2015, has been interpreted by some as an acknowledgement by Gavin that they need to improve in this area.

Jonny Cooper memorably railed at the suggestion in mid-2016 that Dublin were ‘suspect under high balls’ and McCarthy offered a similar reaction as they gear up for their opening Championship game in 2019.

“I’m playing with these guys for years, I think we’ve an absolutely great set of defenders, we always had,” said McCarthy, a starter for all six of Dublin’s All-Ireland final wins this decade. 

“It’s been one of the really strong points of our team.

“Look, if you concede a goal any type of way, a few high balls, what team hasn’t? Do I think it’s a weakness? 

"Absolutely not. I think it’s one of the strongest points of our team. But it’s great Rory’s come back as well and he just adds to that competition back there. 

"He’s a really great footballer so I’m not worried about it whatsoever.”

The Ballymun man said the reality is that any team will struggle at times to defend against good deliveries into their full-back line.

“It’s the sum of the parts, it’s like the ‘keeper kicking the ball out — if there are no guys moving for him you’d blame the ‘keeper but if there’s no pressure on the ball going in from out the field, in terms of tackling and hard pressing, if a guy has acres of space to kick the ball in, then no defender’s going to stop that. All the little things add up.”

O’Carroll was at the peak of his powers when he quit Dublin after winning his third All-Ireland medal and his second All-Star award in 2015.

McCarthy said it appears the Kilmacud Crokes man is as sharp and fit as ever and shrugged when it was suggested this is remarkable given the player spent three years overseas.

“I suppose not too many guys have done it but knowing Rory and the type of guy he is, he doesn’t get too flustered and he’s a relaxed guy,” said McCarthy. 

“He’s obviously been doing some sort of training while he’s been away and he’s in good shape. He’ll be fine. 

"Unfortunately, he played against us (at club level) a few weeks ago and he looked very good, very fit and strong.”

Speaking at an AIB event to mark their fifth season sponsoring the football Championship, bank official McCarthy clammed up when the subject turned to another potential comeback: Diarmuid Connolly.

The St Vincent’s man appears to be on the brink of an inter-county return but McCarthy declined to discuss the situation, inviting reporters to ‘ask Jim’ instead. 

Asked if he could say anything about the Connolly situation, McCarthy merely shook his head.

The ultra-talented, versatile defender also played his cards close to his chest about the potential distraction of five-in-a-row talk.

“All our focus is on the first game,” he said, referencing their May 25 Leinster quarter-final clash with Louth.

People are going to mention (five-in-a-row) to you, everyone knows it’s out there, people are going to wish you well.

“That’s the perspective I take on it. It doesn’t add any extra pressure or any of that.”

That tie against Louth will take place in Portlaoise as part of a doubleheader of quarter-final games involving Meath and Carlow.

McCarthy said it’s helpful to know who they’ll be playing after Louth overcame Wexford last weekend.

“At least you have a focus now and you have two weeks to building up to the game and to get ready for it,” he said.

As for the Portlaoise doubleheader, McCarthy said he had no issue with the arrangements.

“We’ll play where we are told to play but it is nice to get out and play in different provincial grounds in the country,” he said.

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