Christy O'Connor: Dynamic duo's Dubs return will make Kerry sit up and take notice

Jack O'Connor's Kingdom were worthy All-Ireland champions but Dublin have now got Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey back
Christy O'Connor: Dynamic duo's Dubs return will make Kerry sit up and take notice

Jack McCaffrey shoots past Monaghan's Ryan Wylie to score a goal in 2017. Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

LAST Monday morning, the GAA Joe Twitter handle posted a tweet about the decision of Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion to return for Dublin for the 2023 season.

It was just a four second video clip of the Ricky Gervais’s character, David Brent, from ‘The Office’ a mockumentary sitcom following the day-to-day lives of office employees of a fictional paper company.

The reaction of Gervais was posed beside the heading ‘Division Two counties when they hear Paul Mannion and Jack McCaffrey are back’. The clip shows Gervais giving a look of disdain before loudly declaring: ‘Oh, f***ing hell.’

Undoubtedly, the return of McCaffrey and Mannion for 2023 has completely altered the dynamic around Dublin. With Con O’Callaghan having missed the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, a game Dublin lost by one point, the prospect of having three of Dublin’s best players back on the field has already forced some bookies to slash Dublin’s All-Ireland final odds.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Mannion and McCaffrey haven’t really featured for Dublin since 2019, which is a significant period of time away from the inter-county game.

Kilmacud Crokes' Paul Mannion and Darragh Spillane of Cuala in action last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo
Kilmacud Crokes' Paul Mannion and Darragh Spillane of Cuala in action last weekend. Picture: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

McCaffrey’s game was primarily built on searing pace and energy. Will he be able to rediscover that explosiveness, especially if he hasn’t been developing those muscle groups to the same level he needed to, after nearly three-and-a-half years away from the elite level?

Nobody expected McCaffrey to return but Mannion’s position is different because there has been far more focus on him. 

He didn’t start a single championship game for Dublin in the 2020 championship but his loss to Dublin was obvious in the following year’s championship, especially when he was burning it up with Kilmacud Crokes in the club championship.

Injury prevented Mannion from lining out in the All-Ireland club final in February but he already seemed content to have removed himself from the constant grind of the inter-county season.

“It’s not just a training thing,” Mannion said in June 2021. “It’s around the clock, week to week.”

The discussion around whether Mannion may or may not return was such a constant source of debate over the last year that he may have finally decided to end it in the way everyone wanted him to.

That may not exactly be how Mannion would have wished it to be but, considering he is so friendly with McCaffrey, they have made a pact to go back together.


They also have a deep loyalty to many of the current Dublin squad, who the pair are still very friendly with. Kerry’s All-Ireland win in July may have also reignited the spark, especially when Kerry potential domination in the coming years is a real threat to Dublin.

“There’s definitely a realisation that this isn’t the end of us by any means,” said David Clifford after the All-Ireland final. “We are just getting started.”

You can imagine how those comments were viewed in the Dublin camp.

Getting both players to return would have been an easier sell for manager Dessie Farrell now than in the past.

Winning another All-Ireland in the current circumstances, when Dublin haven’t even reached a final since 2020, may be far more appealing prospect than when Dublin were gobbling up All-Irelands during their relentless crusade in the last decade.

On the other hand, the return of Mannion and McCaffrey, and the myriad of reasons which may be behind it, may purely be down to the independent thinking which always defined both players; it may just suit them now, which wasn’t always the case in the past.

After he retired in 2020, McCaffrey boldly stated in a podcast with Bernard Brogan his disillusionment with having to face a replay in the 2019 All-Ireland final, and the thought of a further three weeks of preparation.

No other player would have been so honest – even if they thought that way – around Dublin’s crowning glory of the five-in-a-row.

Yet McCaffrey always did things his own way. He was Footballer of the Year at the end of 2015 when deciding to spend time in Africa, working with GOAL, before travelling part of the continent in 2016.

Mannion always followed his own path too. He missed out on Dublin’s 2015 All-Ireland success when moving to China for the year. In an interview in 2018, Mannion spoke about the positive impact that experience has had on his outlook, both on and off the field.

Dublin were a machine but there was still huge humanity behind the steel frame. Diarmuid Connolly’s brilliance always added to the mystique and public fascination with him but, while his departure in 2018 was huge news, it certainly wasn’t unique to the group either.

Rory O’Carroll was the best full-back in the country when he decided to leave it all behind in 2016 and travel to New Zealand.

Their culture under Jim Gavin promoted rounded, smart, worldly and very impressive young men. That was clearly obvious in Michael Dara Macauley’s ‘Laochra Gael’.

That culture that began under Pat Gilroy grew under Gavin, but sustaining that culture, especially when there was so much transition in the squad, was a huge challenge for Farrell.

The manager’s hand was tied by the loss of some of the greatest players of all time over the last couple of years. Most of those retirements were a natural part of the cycle with age and excessive mileage but the loss of Mannion and McCaffrey was always harder to take considering how much more the public felt they still had to give.

But now they’re on the way back. And the whole championship – not just Dublin’s prospects - should be far more exciting for their return.

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