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Tuesday 12 November 2019

Could Connolly be the missing piece?

Natural talent of Vincent's ace may be just what Gavin needs to boost drive for five

Connolly in action for St Vincent's earlier this year
Connolly in action for St Vincent's earlier this year

It must rank as the most spectacular modern-day example of slipping a 'breaking news' bombshell into the online ether.

"Oh, by the way, Diarmuid Connolly is back."

This isn't quite how Jim Gavin framed yesterday's sensational development in an interview with 'Dubs TV', the official Dublin county board media channel, but it's not far off.

The news is sure to reverberate far beyond the walls of Parnell Park - all the way to Omagh, Ballybofey, Castlebar and Killarney.

All of a sudden, after a weekend that had already seen the (albeit brief) return from injury of Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy, Dublin have another gilt-edged talent back in the fold as they focus in on five-in-a-row.

Arguably the greatest natural talent of all. And certainly the biggest news-magnet in the capital's footballing stratosphere.

For the record, here's how the Dublin manager broke the news in such a casual manner that Hill 16 revellers, if still recovering from a few celebratory pints after the 13-point win over Cork the night before, might almost have missed it.

"We got James McCarthy back on the pitch," Gavin began. "Eoin Murchan, Jonny Cooper … Diarmuid Connolly's back training with us. Robbie McDaid is back. Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne is with the U20s. Darren Gavin is back as well this week.

"So, there's a whole host of players who are trying to play. And then you have the squad themselves, the guys who played at the weekend. So, there's great competition there for a match-day place … "

In fairness to Dublin's all-conquering manager, he would never be one to broadcast from the rooftops that he has an exclusive story to tell.

Power

Moreover, he would always stress the power of the collective: no one player is bigger than the team or the county they represent, hence there's no difference between a marquee name like Connolly and an up-and-coming player such as Ó Cofaigh Byrne.

Still, there is no mistaking the X-factor that a prodigal Connolly will add to Dublin's thus-far serene Drive for Five.

He also offers a proven Plan B option in attack, be it as creator or executioner, in a summer when the previously renowned breadth of scoring options on Gavin's bench perhaps hasn't been as deep as heretofore.

In the last two outings, against Meath in the Leinster final and Cork in their 'Super 8s' opener, Dean Rock has provided prolific second-half impetus.

However, the suspicion must be that Dublin's erstwhile No 1 freetaker has played his way back onto the starting attack, given the fitful form of Cormac Costello in those last two games.

In that scenario, Costello could end up reverting to his 'super sub' role of old … but as the bar is raised, if not against Roscommon this Saturday then surely in Omagh and beyond, Dublin might need something more off the bench.

Just like Connolly delivered in the second half of the 2017 All-Ireland final against Mayo. Then, his 0-1 from play and priceless pair of late assists (for a Dean Rock point and Rock's match-winning free) provided the all-important difference.

It's worth stressing, though, that 22 months have passed since the St Vincent's clubman helped to seal three-in-a-row. That was his last championship appearance. His last SFC start came in that ill-fated Leinster opener against Carlow, in June '17, that culminated in a retrospective 12-week ban.

His last league appearance came in February of last year, as a 44th-minute sub against Mayo in Castlebar. He opted off the panel soon after and hasn't trained at inter-county level from then until now.

Are Dublin fans asking a lot from a player who has just turned 32?

Perhaps, but even a not-quite-match-sharp Connolly offers a fascinating option as his county closes in on history.

Just a few weeks back, it appeared that Connolly was destined to spend a second summer Stateside instead of illuminating Croke Park. A technical issue with his ESTA scuppered those travel plans; now it appears that Donegal Boston's loss could ultimately be Dublin's gain.

Fasten your seat belts ...

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