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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 27 May, 2020

Conal Keaney is 'probably the greatest servant to Dublin hurling that's played'

Eoghan O’Donnell hailed the impact of his 36-year-old team-mate.

WHEN DUBLIN FACE Laois this weekend in the All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final on Sunday afternoon, one of their former players will be hoping to see them beaten.

Ex-Sky Blues defender Niall Corcoran is part of Eddie Brennan’s backroom team in Laois and should be able to provide some valuable insight into Mattie Kenny’s side. 

36-year-old Corcoran won Allianz League and Leinster titles as a player with Dublin in 2011 and 2013 respectively. He still lines out with his club Kilmacud Crokes where he also works as a full-time games promotion officer.

His club mates Oisin O’Rorke, Fergal Whitely and Ronan Hayes all appeared in the thrilling win over Galway that sealed Dublin’s progression out of the province.

“Niall Corcoran was a great servant to Dublin hurling and he’s putting his hand into management now which is great,” says Dublin defender Eoghan O’Donnell.

AIG Insurance GUI & ILGU Cups & Shields Launch Eoghan O'Donnell was speaking at the AIG Insurance GUI & ILGU Cups & Shields launch. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“I think the way it’s gone, with so much video analysis, every team knows everything about everyone anyway. I don’t think that will be an extra element, both teams will be going out to try and win as much as they can.”

O’Donnell is touch and go to appear this weekend as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury. With a potential quarter-final showdown against Tipperary arriving a week later, the 23-year-old is unlikely to be risked in a game Dublin will be expected to come through unscathed.

The Whitehall Colmcilles man is a pillar of one of strongest back sevens in the country but he was forced off after just 15 minutes against the Tribesmen in round 5 of the Leinster round-robin.

With Kenny’s second-choice full-back Cian O’Callaghan also nursing a long-term injury, corner-back James Madden came in for O’Donnell, and Shane Barrett slotted into the edge of the square as Dublin kept their first clean sheet of the summer.

Eoghan O'Donnell and Chris Nolan O'Donnell in action against Carlow in the Leinster SHC. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“I got a lot of stick after the Galway game because it was our first clean sheet in three or four games and it was the game I wasn’t playing!” he laughs.

“It’s a learning curve the whole time. It’s great.

“As a 15, we’ve really grown massively. In terms of the backs we have, Paddy Smyth is one of the greatest corner backs in the game at the moment. He just doesn’t make a mistake or put a foot wrong.

“For someone so young, he’s experienced beyond anything anyone expects of him. He’s grown every match. Playing alongside someone like that. James Madden came in and was well able to rise to the occasion and perform.

It’s great to have lads around you like that. When you have competition there, you can’t rest on your laurels. That competition is in training and matches.”

Laois have just seven days to prepare for this game following their Joe McDonagh Cup final win over Westmeath last Sunday. 

O’Moore County manager Brennan may have ruffled a few feathers in Dublin following their league semi-final loss to Limerick back in March.

Dublin’s tactic that afternoon to flood the middle third with bodies kept them in the game, but it wasn’t an encounter for the purists. 

Brennan took to Twitter, criticising the “ugly hurling” on offer by the Sky Blues, later describing the clash as “rugby with hurls”.

After coming through the province at the expense of Galway, O’Donnell doesn’t expect his side to take Laois for granted with a quarter-final place up for grabs.

“I think motivation in our camp is at an all time high to be honest,” he says.

“We narrowly beat Laois in the Walsh Cup, we beat them by a point in the league so there was absolutely no wiggle room there at all.

“It’ll be huge. This is knockout hurling. It’s do or die at this stage.” 

O’Donnell hailed the impact of veterans Conal Keaney and Alan Nolan. Both were cast aside by former manager Ger Cunningham but have returned to play major roles under Pat Gilroy and now Kenny.

“You don’t have to look past the Galway game to see how important they are. Conal Keaney was probably man of the match. Alan Nolan got a point from 110m.

Conal Keaney celebrates after the game Conal Keaney celebrates after the win over Galway. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“They are two huge players for us. In terms of vocal, Alan Nolan would be one of our most vocal in a positive way. He has a lot of experience and has a great way of putting himself across the room.

“The kind of lads that when they speak, people listen. It’s just great to have them in the set-up at the minute and the way they’re going, you’ll see them there another couple of years.

“We always knew Keaney had something in him. He’s probably the greatest servant to Dublin hurling that’s (ever) played. But to rise to the level he did against Galway was something else, and Keaney wasn’t one bit surprised.

“He sets himself high standards to reach every game, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the next game if he reaches a high standard again. That’s the person he is. He’s a credit to himself, his club and Dublin.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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