Saturday 14 December 2019

Connolly makes his point to Dub masses ... then walks for a black

ON THE BALL: Dublin forward Paddy Small wins possession ahead of Tyrone’s Aidan McCrory. Pic: Sportsfile
ON THE BALL: Dublin forward Paddy Small wins possession ahead of Tyrone’s Aidan McCrory. Pic: Sportsfile

Dublin fans who had made the long journey to Omagh, hoping for a first sighting of Diarmuid Connolly in a Sky Blue jersey since February of last year, weren't disappointed.

As it happened, they got plenty more than a fleeting glimpse.

Connolly was on the pitch for 69 minutes, offering several beguiling reminders that while his involvement in the Dublin squad may have been relatively temporary these past two seasons, class is permanent.

And then, wouldn't you know, he marked his high-profile comeback before his adoring masses with a black card. There was nothing particularly cynical about his pull-down on Ciarán McLaughlin, happening in the middle of a pitch near the end of a match that didn't matter ... but by the letter of the law, it looked a stonewall black.

And so Connolly made his way to the touchline, doubtless glad to be back, whatever about back in the unceasing spotlight.

BLUES BOSS: Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Pic: Sportsfile
BLUES BOSS: Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Pic: Sportsfile

Any words from his boss as he departed?

"I just said well done," Gavin revealed. "I thought he did very well for us. He did well for the team and that's what we expect from our players - and he did that to the 'nth' degree."

It was Connolly's first Dublin start since that ill-fated Leinster opener against Carlow, 26 months ago.


His first SFC appearance since that hugely influential second half against Mayo in the 2017 All-Ireland final. And his first Dublin outing since coming off the bench in Castlebar, back in February '18.

Next question: what chances another cameo against Mayo, in the claustrophobic company of Lee Keegan, this coming Saturday?

It's hard to tell, not just because Gavin was at his inscrutable best during yesterday's post-match briefing, but ... well, let's be honest, how can you make any definitive judgements based on this shadow-boxing 'contest'?

For what's it worth, even at 32 and for a player so long out of the inter-county arena, there were several flashes of Connolly's enduring quality.

Ghosting forward from a rare midfield starting point, Connolly sprayed a few elegant deliveries from his foot-passing repertoire; completed a fine mark to claim an Evan Comerford kickout late in the first half; and then elicited the biggest cheer of the day when he pointed off his supposedly weaker left foot in the 55th minute.

That was his third shot at goal, coming after a first half wide and another undercooked effort.

Generally it was a positive performance from Connolly - with one huge caveat. At times during the first half, such was the space afforded by the opposition, you would almost have believed there was a 15-metre exclusion zone around him.

Connolly was one of six late changes to the 'official' Dublin team, all of which meant just two players who started against Roscommon (Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy) started here. Both of them were replaced.


This was two less changes than the 15 made by Harte, yet the Tyrone boss was adamant that this Red Hand version had been chasing the victory that would have delivered a semi-final date with Mayo this Saturday. Instead, it's Kerry on Sunday.

"There mightn't have been much at stake," Harte agreed, but then he quickly added: "Did people not enjoy that today? Did people not come along here in droves and enjoy that, or were they bored out of their head watching that game?

"It was interesting for the people who were there.

"The players didn't show any sign of 'I wish we weren't here' or 'this is no big significant game' ... they gave it all they had and I think that's lovely on a summer day in Omagh to see 15,000 people here.

"I enjoyed that game today, even if I didn't enjoy the outcome."

Gavin offered a similar argument - and insisted that his six late changes were not a response to the 15 alterations announced by his opposite number.

"You saw what it meant to play for Dublin," he declared. "A lot of fatigued, tired bodies inside there. They gave it everything. That's all you ask. We have such a difficult task each week not just picking the first 15, but the panel of 26."

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