The name that never goes away. Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly is set to take the limelight yet again.
Just when we thought he had gone away and had been basically written off for the 2017 season, Connolly’s name has returned to the fold.
He is a figure that trouble has followed throughout his footballing career. His talent is indisputable, there are few players as athletic and as skillful as the man from St. Vincent’s. Few have the vision, the creativity, the finishing ability and the all round skill set that Connolly possesses.
But on many occasions, Connolly has not made the headlines for these reasons.
Back in 2011, he was red carded in the All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal. It was rescinded, but he was extremely lucky to be given the opportunity in that year’s All-Ireland final against Kerry.
In 2012, Connolly was involved in an incident in a Dublin pub that subsequently led to legal charges and a court appearance.
The 2015 championship saw Connolly red carded in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo. Again, Connolly managed to take to the field in the replay after an appeal went right up to the early hours of the morning in the lead up to the replayed game.
The 2016 championship saw another dismissal against Donegal at the quarter-final stage. 2017 then saw Connoly vacate the field early in the National League final against Kerry due to a black card. And the first championship game of 2017 saw Connoly in the headlines for wrong reasons again, as physical interference with the linesman, led to a 12-week ban.
There are six examples of disciplinary issues with Diarmuid Connolly. Now, let it be said that there are a lot more than six positive highlights of Diarmuid Connolly with the football in his hands, there are probably closer to sixty-six.
We have seen masterclasses from Connolly on many occasions. He has scored clutch penalties. Few players can carry the ball and open up defences when he glides with the ball, weaving and solo-running of his left and right foot with exquisite balance.
His Croke Park performance in the All-Ireland club final of 2014 one of the finest ever seen in Headquarters. He kicks points at ease off both feet. He is a team player. And there is no doubt that he has talents that very few footballers have at their disposal.
But now we get to the crunch question; Should Diarmuid Connolly start on Sunday? The answer is, no.
Connolly should not start for three reasons. The first reason is rustiness and a lack of game time. Connolly has not played in 12 weeks. In the meantime, Dublin have played three championship games against Westmeath, Kildare and Monaghan. In those three games, leave the standard of opposition aside for a minute, they have kicked 4-29, 2-23 and 1-19.
This shows that all Dublin’s forwards are on form. Dean Rock, Paddy Andrews, Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan and Ciarán Kilkenny are all in top form. Eoghan O’Gara and Bernard Brogan are making strong impacts from the subs bench and are pushing hard for places in the starting team. Cormac Costello and Paul Flynn are returning from injury and now you are adding Diarmuid Connolly into the equation.
The selection dilemma for Jim Gavin is whether to replace a player in form with a man who has not played in 12 weeks. Talent aside, it would appear that starting Connolly may not be the best call for such a big game.
The second thing that cannot be ignored is Connolly’s disciplinary history. Can Jim Gavin trust the St Vincent’s man to stay on the field?
Tyrone are a tough side. We have seen the niggle in them on many occasions. They will test Connolly’s discipline and temperament as much as they will test his footballing ability. We have seen Connolly against Lee Keegan year after year. He does get targeted and rightly so. And one can be sure that Tyrone will target Diarmuid Connolly should he be picked to start on Sunday.
And this could totally change the pattern of the game. Connolly starting potentially turns this game into a circus. It could become a game littered with off the ball incidents and little focus on the football, where as holding him back allows the game to start on its own merits with the major subplot.
And the final reason for holding Connolly back is due to his game changing ability. Impact subs and strong squads have become the norm at high-level sport. And a player of this talent without a game in 12 weeks is perfectly placed to come on and change proceedings.
Imagine the change in atmosphere, the roar from the Hill, the lift the Dublin players would receive knowing that a fresh Diarmuid Connolly was coming on with less than 20 minutes remaining. Imagine the fear it would put into the opposition?
Imagine the fear it would put into the opposition? Would they opt for a more defensive set-up and will they get dragged into trying to target Connolly instead playing the game as they had started it?
It is a huge call for Jim Gavin, but taking the opposition, his disciplinary history and a 12-week layoff into account. Diarmuid Connolly is best served not starting this Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final.
No Dublin forward is lacking in form enough to be dropped for this huge game. Talks of Connolly have been surprisingly quiet so far this week, but his name is bound to start rearing itself louder and louder as the game draws closer.
Jump to 16:20 on this week’s episode of The 16th Man with Domino’s where our GAA team discussed whether Diarmuid Connolly will, or should, start on Sunday?