CONNOLLY REIGNS ‘SUPREME’
St Vincent’s lost to Ballymun Kickhams in the Dublin SFC quarter-final in Parnell Park.
As it stands, that remains their last Championship defeat.
On New Year’s Day, 2013 in St Peregrine’s grounds in Clonsilla, Diarmuid Connolly scored three points (two frees) in Jim Gavin’s first match in charge of Dublin, the annual Herald/Dublin Bus Dubs Stars challenge.
That bit in between stands as the longest break from football Connolly has had ever since.
Save for a two-game suspension after last year’s county final; one which hindered St Vincent’s march to the provincial final in no obvious way, Connolly has been involved centrally in some trophy push or other for club or county.
His silver tally in that period stands at (and still counting) an All-Ireland title and two Leinsters with Dublin, plus two Dublin SFC crowns with Vincent’s, a Leinster and an All-Ireland club title.
Oh, and an All Star.
Even after his pièce de résistance on St Patrick’s Day, surely the pick of a season of outrageous individual performances, Connolly was back in the Dublin starting XV just 13 days later in Croke Park on the night Dublin pulled off a stunning comeback to draw with Mayo.
“He’s that type of player. He’s an athlete. I don’t think physically he’ll waver at all,” says Dublin team-mate, Bernard Brogan.
Far from fatigue, you could draw a reasonably straight line of thinking that Connolly’s incessant exposure to competitive football has actually made him thrive as the months rolled into one another.
“I know he’s going now for two years but the likes of Diarmo, you give him three or four days off and he comes back brand new, his batteries recharged,” Brogan reckons.
“He’s just a supreme athlete. When you see him moving across the ground, even in winter football.”
And to his detriment, Brogan has.
Last Monday week, his St Oliver Plunkett’s/ER team did what evidence had suggested was nigh-on impossible; they kept Diarmuid Connolly to a single point as his total scoring contribution in the Dublin county final.
Trouble was, the ‘other’ four forwards on the Marino team opened up and scored 10 points between them, a statistic not completely unrelated to Connolly.
“I know we did a good job on him but he was still moving and it took a couple of bodies to slow him down,” Brogan admits.
“He opened up gaps for other people and that’s what happens. You try and keep an eye on one and other gaps appear.
“When he’s in that mode, he’s very difficult to stop.
“He’s one of those footballers who can do what he wants. If he wants, he can push on and bring Dublin to a new level and bring Vincent’s on. He’s just a supreme athlete.”
Plunkett’s probably did as thorough a job of minding Connolly as can be just now. But Vincent’s policy of getting the ball to the man in the most advantageous position, not always the best course of action for a club team possessing a talent as rare as his, worked to their eternal benefit.
“All in all, we did a great job on Diarmo and Mossy (Tomás Quinn); their two top men,” Brogan says.
“But in fairness, their other lads stood up. We would have said it with Dublin over the years, if teams are stopping me or whoever, somebody else on the day would step up and do it. And that’s what made Dublin a good team and it’s what makes Vincent’s a good team.
“They’re worthy champions and they’re stepping up again and going at it. They’re not there for no reason. They know how to win.”
On the night, Vincent’s forwards took much of the plaudits but equally, you could single out the performances of defenders Hugh Gill, Jarlath Curley, and Brendan Egan.
Or Michael Savage (pictured, above), whose save from Brogan kept Plunkett’s from opening a six-point lead early on. “That depth is very hard to find in club teams, lads who could take responsibility in club games,” Brogan points out.
“We all know about finals and good players going out and going into themselves and not performing on the day.
“It happens to us all but for lads who you mightn’t think have that responsibility, to be able to do that, that shows massive depth in the team.
“Portlaoise have a massive challenge now. They probably would have looked at it the same way; if you stop Mossy or you stop Diarmo, you’re half-way there.
“But (Shane) Carthy and (Gavin) Burke on the wings are very dangerous. And (Ruairí) Trainor and (Ciarán) Dorney inside, they’re no slouches. You have to keep an eye on them.
“I think if they get over Portlaoise, they’ll have a very good run at it. But this is the tough one next weekend.