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Injury concerns hang over Con and Clifford: who is more important to their team?

Dublin and Kerry will hope their star forwards can recover from injuries for the All-Ireland semi-final on 10 July.

Con O'Callaghan and David Clifford.
Con O'Callaghan and David Clifford.
Image: Inpho

THE BUILD-UP to the All-Ireland semi-final between Kerry and Dublin will be dominated by injury concerns hanging over their leading marksmen.

Supporters, journalists and pundits alike will be pondering the questions that will be front and centre heading into the clash between the game’s traditional powers: Can David Clifford shake off an ankle injury that appeared to hamper him against Mayo? Will Con O’Callaghan play any part for Dublin, given he was unable to make the match day 26 for the quarter-final?

Clifford and O’Callaghan are the two most feared inside forwards in the country. Both are central to how their teams play. It goes without saying, but without them, Kerry and Dublin are far lesser propositions.

At this stage, the more serious concerns surround O’Callaghan’s participation.

Talk of his injury didn’t leak from the Dublin camp midweek it’s still unknown what exactly the problem is. A hamstring problem has been mooted. 

Dessie Farrell declined to offer any further insight on the problems that prevented O’Callaghan and captain James McCarthy from appearing in the win over Cork.

“I’d prefer not to say if that’s okay,” he said. He did admit that both men face a “race against time” to be fit for the semi-final. 

Speculation that a calf issue threatened Clifford’s involvement against Mayo intensified as last week went on.

Jack O’Connor did little to quash the doubts about his availability by remarking “he should be okay” at a press briefing last Monday. 

He took to the field against Mayo early on his movement appeared to be impacted.

Much of that came down rolling his ankle after inadvertently standing on the ball. His marker Oisin Mullin edged the early exchanges, particularly the one-one-one duals, until Clifford breezed past Paddy Durcan and smashed in a stunning goal. 

david-clifford Clifford goes down injured. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

He finished with 1-3, 1-1 of it from play, but looked below his best. It’s unclear how much training Clifford has managed since the Munster final he missed with that calf injury.

Depending on how damaged his ankle is, he may be forced into more rest ahead of the Dublin showdown. Going six weeks with little training done is far from ideal, even for a player of Clifford’s immense ability. Even the best need the sharpness that training brings. 

Jack O’Connor confirmed the Fossa man will undergo a scan to assess the extent of the damage. 

“He jarred his ankle,” he said. “It was curtailing him and in the heat of battle the adrenalin keeps you going but I imagine he will be very sore tomorrow.

“Obviously David was struggling through much of the first half. The boys worked on him at half-time but obviously he has an injury and, sure, look, we’ll have to wait and see and get it scanned and see what’s the story.”

It was a largely functional performance from Kerry, even if they never looked in danger of losing the game. During the periods when Clifford was quiet, Paul Geaney and Sean O’Shea carried the bulk of their attacking threat and contributed seven points. 

There’s an argument to be made that O’Callaghan is a more important player to Dublin than Clifford is to Kerry. 

Kerry have plenty of quality forward options, even if Clifford is a level above the rest.

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While O’Connor’s forward line showed in the Munster final they can still click through the gears without the three-time All-Star, Dublin look far more blunt without O’Callaghan.  

Take their last two games. With the Cuala ace at 14, they put five goals after a hapless Kildare defence. They failed to raise a single green flag against Cork and didn’t create a single goal chance. Some of that can be put down to Cork’s far superior defensive set-up, but it’s clear O’Callaghan is the key to making Dublin’s attack tick. 

They resorted to the sort of slow, lateral attacking play we became familiar with in their league campaign, which O’Callaghan sat out with an ankle injury.

The long ball option he provides, his ruthlessness and directness are sorely lacking when he’s absent. Farrell’s full-forward trio of Dean Rock, Cormac Costello and Paddy Small underwhelmed for long spells from play on Saturday. 

O’Callaghan is a powerhouse and his presence could be the key to unlocking a Kerry defence that have shored things up considerably this season. 

His tendency do go straight for goal ever time and eschew a handy point makes him a nightmare to mark. It means half-forwards like can time a run off his shoulder, similar to Ciaran Kilkenny’s goal in the Leinster final.  

If he fails to make it back in time for the semi-final, it will give Kerry a significant edge.

The Kingdom on the other hand will wrap up Clifford in cotton wool in the hope he’s fully firing for Sunday week. 

About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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