Vincent's unearth a Diamond
St Vincent's 0-16 Palatine 0-8 Leinster Club SFC Quarter-Final
Long after the final whistle, Diarmuid Connolly was still signing autographs on the Netwatch Cullen Park pitch.
But this was not a day where the All Star had lit up proceedings on that very same field. In fact, he had made a premature exit from it a full hour earlier.
Connolly's 19th minute black card was an obvious talking point after yesterday's AIB Leinster club SFC quarter-final, but it was not the game's pivotal moment and nor was he the standout Vincent's forward on view.
That honour fell to the relatively unheralded Cormac Diamond, whose performance offers another clue as to why Dublin's finest are favourites to repeat their most recent All-Ireland winning heroics, from 2014.
Diamond may possess a glittering surname but he's not a marquee name. However, when his club required some forward propulsion against a game but limited Palatine, and their most celebrated star man was removed from the fray, the former Dublin minor (2010) rose to the occasion.
Both before and after Connolly's departure, the Vincent's No 12 was a diamond in the rough-and-tumble of an admittedly prosaic contest.
His team had started in a blizzard of early scores - four in four minutes - and he accounted for two of them.
The visitors duly lurched into a barren period of 22 minutes; the famine was finally ended by Diamond.
The 24-year-old completed his five-point haul with two more eye-catching scores in the fourth quarter.
All five came via his trusty leg boot. He reserved the best until last, right on the hour, when he cut inside a Palatine defender to get away a pressurised shot from distance. It sailed over. Game long over.
Curiously, that move was launched by Tomás Quinn, of all people, at corner-back - one final indicator of his soaring performance graph during that second half. The veteran sharpshooter failed to score before the break (we even had a most un-Mossy-like wide, via the upright, from an angled 13m free) but he landed five thereafter, including two from play and a booming long-range free.
Shane Carthy was their other star man in offence, landing 0-3 from midfield, but you still couldn't label this as classic Vincent's.
They won by double scores but it took until the middle-section of the second half, and a necklace of five unanswered points, to kill off any lingering threat of a Carlow ambush.
Their latest provincial road trip will take in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Sunday week when the trailblazing minnows from Mullinalaghta St Columba's await.
Tommy Conroy knows the bar will be raised from here on, but the Vincent's boss pronounced himself relatively happy as his team kickstarted their quest for a third Leinster title in four seasons.
"We're just happy to be getting into the next round," Conroy insisted. "The first half, I thought we were doing a lot of things well but we'd a lot of basic errors which is unlike us. We gave the ball away and, once we sorted that out, I thought the performance in the second half was a lot more solid."
He reckoned there is still a higher gear that Vincent's are capable of reaching.
"And probably, as this goes on, that's going to be tested more and more," he added. "There were scores that we should have been a little bit more composed on that went wide, so there's an awful lot to be improved on for the next day."
And yet, according to Palatine's joint-manager, Mick Lillis, Vincent's are still the benchmark.
"People will probably look at that today and say, 'Ah, they could only beat Palatine by seven or eight points, they're not as good as they were' … I'll guarantee you, they will be the team to beat in Leinster. There's still good teams left in Leinster, but I don't think there's anybody better than Vincent's," he surmised.
And yet Lillis insisted that Palatine's half-time deficit of 0-5 to 0-3 was a "poor reflection" on the amount of possession and opportunities they had enjoyed.
"I felt we were the better team in the first half, if you took the first five or six minutes out of it," he maintained. "But you get opportunities and you either take them or you don't take them. They've seriously good players, and we found it very hard to get in for scores."
Neither manager spotted the first half incident, away from the play, that resulted in a yellow card for Palatine's Shane O'Neill (who had ended up on the turf) and a game-ending black for Connolly.
Referee Niall Ward made the call after consulting with one of his umpires.
"I don't know if it's buttons being pushed - he's going to be marked very tightly because of who he is and the talented player that he is," was Conroy's philosophical take.
"I'm sure when the opposition sit down they're saying, 'how are we going to stop this guy?' That's part and parcel of the game and I think he understands it as well."
Lillis, for his part, declared: "I'm sorry actually that Connolly was sent off, because I think he's an easy target at times. He's a real quality player. The punters came here today, they wanted to see Connolly as well, and I just think he's a bit unfortunate."
Still, there was always the consolation of watching Diamond shine in his place ...
SCORERS - St Vincent's: Cormac Diamond, T Quinn (3f) 0-5 each, S Carthy 0-3, E Varley, A Martin, R Trainor 0-1 each. Palatine: S O'Neill 0-3 (1f), J Kenny, J Kane, S Reilly, C Crowley, B Kelly (f) 0-1 each.
ST VINCENT'S: M Savage; C Wilson, J Curley, M Concarr; B Egan, G Brennan, Cameron Diamond; D Murphy, S Carthy; G Burke, D Connolly, Cormac Diamond; R Trainor, E Varley, T Quinn. Subs: J Feeney for Connolly (black card 20), A Martin for Murphy (34), A Baxter for Varley (41), K Golden for Burke (48), J McCusker for Trainor (55), F Breathnach for Brennan (57).
PALATINE: C Kearney; M Rennick, C Lawlor, C O'Doherty; J Brennan, C Crowley, S Reilly; N Reid, J Kane; S O'Neill, C Moran, D Reid; C Crowley, J Kenny, T Kenny. Subs: P Reid for J Kenny (40), J Reid for Reilly (54), B Kelly for O'Neill (59).
WIDES: Vincent's 11 (8+3); Palatine 6 (3+3).
YELLOW CARDS: Vincent's 3 (Varley 6, Burke 34, Brennan 52); Palatine 2 (O'Neill 19, P Reid 54).
BLACK: Vincent's 1 (Connolly 19); Palatine 0.
REF: N Ward (Westmeath).
ATT: 1,500 (estimate).
MAN OF THE MATCH: Cormac Diamond (St Vincent's).