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Sunday 11 December 2016

Football doesn't come so easy - Connolly

For all the talk of his extravagant talent, Dubs star says hard work is key to success

Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann, Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Kerry’s Peter
Crowley at yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC Series launch at East Pier, Dun
Laoghaire. Picture Credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tyrone’s Tiernan McCann, Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Kerry’s Peter Crowley at yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC Series launch at East Pier, Dun Laoghaire. Picture Credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Meet Diarmuid Connolly - Dublin footballer, multiple medallist, supremely gifted hero or hate figure (depending on your county allegiance), maverick genius, publicity-shy enigma, or whatever term you think best applies to a person you probably don't know.

And that includes the media, given a rare chance to interview Connolly at yesterday's launch of the All-Ireland SFC series at the GAA's National Games Development Centre in Abbotstown.

What did we learn? Well, he was more into hurling than football growing up. He scarcely believed that his first decade with the Dubs would yield nine Leinster titles. Contrary to what some of his outrageous on-field cameos might suggest or what some people (including his former teammate Alan Brogan) might tell you, football doesn't come that easily to him.

Oh, and he appreciates he's part of a rather special group.

Back-to-Back

But does that group require back-to-back validation to be regarded as great? "I don't know. I don't think we'll realise if we're a great team until it's all over. At the moment we're just focussing on the quarter-final."

He knows the 'back-to-back' conversation is out there but he's not an active participant.

"Absolutely not," he says. "I know there's a lot of talk about it. Someone asked me earlier on (about being) defending champions. We're defending nothing. We're going out to win a quarter-final and hopefully move onto a semi. That's where we're at. We're going to attack this Sam Maguire."

That's as close as you'll get to a bold statement of intent. You ask about Brian Cody's familiar mantra that it's always about this year and he agrees, saying: "You have to focus on what's in front of you and not look into the past or look too far into the future - or else you take your eye off the ball."

Still, he can't avoid questions bringing him back to his formative years with St Vincent's. "I was actually more of a hurling fan as a young fella than a football fan," he says - having a Kilkenny father and Clare mother helps to explain his small ball passion.

"I didn't actually follow (the Dublin footballers) that much, to be honest with you. Then I kind of got moved into the football side of things and that's when I really started to focus on Dublin GAA really."

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly. Picture Credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly. Picture Credit: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Soccer was another pursuit - he played for Belvedere and then Home Farm.

"But my big love was GAA, it was never really going to be soccer. I know a lot of lads down there were focussing on getting over to England and making a career over there, but that was never my focus."

Connolly continued to hurl up through the ranks, including at U21 level for Dublin (won Leinster U21HC in 2007), and still does so with Vincent's. He wasn't pushed into football by any person or event: it was, he says, "just my own choice really".

And, you might add, an inspired one.

At this stage does he even know where his nine Leinster medals are?

"I do actually, I usually give them to my mother. She has them in a big frame."

Is there any room left?

"There are a few hooks left."

Connolly is adamant that Leinster remains "a meaningful thing" for this Dublin panel although, harking back to his 2007 arrival on the senior scene under Paul Caffrey, he accepts: "It was probably tougher to win a Leinster championship back then."

Extravagant

Speaking of easy or tough, he doesn't buy Alan Brogan's recent suggestion (in his Herald column) that, such is his extravagant talent, it is "almost like he gets bored with the easy stuff".

"Sometimes it might look easy to some people, but it's hard work," Connolly insists.

"If you see the training we put in; if you see the hours we put in in the gym and on the training fields. When you go out and play in Croke Park, it's not easy! It was 24-25 degrees on Sunday (against Westmeath) and it was a helter-skelter game." He adds: "I don't think it's a fair comment. It might look easy for Alan sometimes, but it's hard work on my part!"

To the suggestion that he's a natural talent, this MMA fan quotes from the book of John Kavanagh, coach of Conor McGregor, and the line "There's no such thing as a natural athlete."

He expands: "Some people are more gifted than others, but you have to work on your game and try and tweak things here and there, and be the best that you can be. It's pure and utter hard work."

And with Dublin, now faced by a blanket defence almost every game, the tweaking never stops. "If you ask any footballer, they want to play man on man ... but, let's be honest, no one plays like that any more," he reflects.

"You learn. We played against Donegal in 2011 and we learned so much from that game. It was like a surprise for us. Now everyone is doing some sort of a hybrid or some sort of a defensive structure, and it just takes time to break it down. You just have to learn and grow and try and break it down as best you can."

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