It was only a matter of time before the main topic of last year’s All Ireland Football Final and replay reared it’s head and became back page news once again. Which is a crying shame considering both players involvement in this year’s Championship has been muted for various reasons.
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly graced the Croke Park surface for a very short spell at the end of Dublin’s Semi Final victory over Tyrone. An event that had been anticipated all summer since his suspension after the Leinster Quarter Final against Carlow. But all that implied to fans and pundits alike was that Connolly’s involvement was not the be all and end all for the Dublin team. And based on the performance of the panel through the provincial and All Ireland series, the St. Vincent’s man was hardly missed.
Lee Keegan’s impact this summer has been less of a talking point to that of his 2016 performance that honoured him the Footballer Of The Year tag. Keegan missed Mayo’s replayed All Ireland Quarter Final against Roscommon with a foot injury, and before and after this his in game influence has not been the highlight many expected.
This week Mayo Manager Stephen Rochford has claimed that an apparent media campaign, driven by former Dublin players in the last week has been orchestrated to influence All Ireland Final referee Maurice Deegan.
The crux of the argument is that Diarmuid Connolly, who many believe is the best natural footballer in the country at the moment, has and is targeted by opposing teams to dull his influence on the game. A tactic that indeed has been openly spoken about by some teams that have faced the Dubs, so not something new or sensational by any extent.
During the recent episode of Newstalk’s “Off The Ball” this week, Rochford claimed it was very coincidental that all this focus seemed to happen in one week. But why anyone would have spoken about it before now seems to have escaped the Mayo manager. The Keegan/Connolly debate to most people’s knowledge hadn’t even been suggested before this.
Like the build up to Dublin’s Semi Final against Tyrone, many experts and pundits are again speculating that Connolly will be named in Jim gavin’s starting 15 for this year’s Final. it’s not the most unthinkable of subjects, but most still believe that, on merit alone, Dublin’s line out won’t change.
Former team mate Kevin Nolan is still of the belief that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
“I just think at that level the lads are doing so well within the squad.” Nolan told the Herald.
“It’s not as if any lad the last day did anything wrong that they deserve to be cast aside for the final.”
It seems to be the most agreeable argument right now, as the Dublin panel have again showed their strength in depth, proving again that one player does not make a team, and showcasing the talent, both young and old, Dublin has to offer.
“There are former players of the year that didn’t get on the pitch, so the competition is great and there are lads that aren’t even on the panel that would start on other county teams.”
Nolan, an All Ireland winner in 2011 and 2013, still holds Connolly in high regard, despite the attention he has received over the last few years but believes nothing will change ahead of next Sunday’s Final.
“He is probably one of the best player, if not the best player I have ever marked, whether it be in-house games, underage, minor, all the way up.”
“I think Jim will be wise enough to try and not mess with, Rochord’s head, but his tactics as well.”
(Keegan Image: SkySports via YouTube)