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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Connolly saga ends with five minute cameo from the bench

Diarmuid Connolly comes on near the end of the match
Diarmuid Connolly comes on near the end of the match

For a while there, we thought Jim Gavin was going to give us the answer we never once considered to the question we'd been asking and microscopically analysing all week.

Start Diarmuid Connolly or bring him on?

As this game lurched towards the ending that looked inevitable almost from the fifth minute, the moment at which Con O'Callaghan smashed his shot past Niall Morgan into the Tyrone net, it seemed as though Gavin had opted for the hidden, third improbable option: don't use Connolly at all.

In the 66th minute, Eric Lowndes stood on the sideline and received his final instructions from Gavin, a roar went up from Hill 16 that suggested that many of its inhabitants had misidentified the St Peregrine's man for Connolly and others lost themselves in the revelry of it all.

Darling

Wearing number 12, Lowndes replaced Niall Scully and trotted into wing-forward to a rapturous welcome.

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Dublin counterpart Jim Gavin after the game
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte shakes hands with Dublin counterpart Jim Gavin after the game

At that moment, the big screens in Croke Park flashed to Connolly still rooted to the Dublin bench.

Cue many 'Eric Lowndes, Darling of the Hill,' jokes from elsewhere in the ground.

That was Dublin's fifth substitution.

Gavin had one more and with Bernard Brogan and Michael Darragh Macauley also still in reserve, there was no guarantee that Connolly would see his first competitive action in 12 weeks.

Three minutes later, he appeared - finally - on the sideline and took similar orders from Gavin and made his way into a two-man full-forward line with Eoghan O'Gara.

Connolly showed for ball but never touched it in his five minutes on the pitch.

His sole involvement in that time was an attempted tackle on Pádraig Hampsey in injury time and as Peter Harte lined up to take the '45 that turned out to be the last kick of the match, Connolly made his way to the sideline near the Hogan Stand.

Just as David Coldrick blew his final whistle, Connolly jogged down the tunnel, the first man back in the Dublin dressing-room, his day complete without involvement or incident.

"This set of players, they all want to get game-time," said Jim Gavin when asked afterwards whether he had been tempted to use his vice- captain earlier in the match.

He didn't mention Connolly by name or even refer to the St Vincent's player.

But then Gavin wasn't inclined to be specific or generally engage in his post-match press conference about anything yesterday.

"Whether that's the full 70 minutes or seven minutes at the end, that's our biggest strength, they all want to play football," he went on.

"There were 10 players today that didn't get game-time, some of them didn't travel on the team bus and it's hardest on them.

"As I mentioned, their biggest strength is their desire to represent their clubs in Dublin.

"And to represent Dublin GAA, no matter how much time it is."

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