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Thursday 23 November 2017

Dublin can use 'unfair' ban to fuel motivation

Former Sky Blue boss Tom Carr reckons the 12-week suspension is an injustice as Dubs prepare to begin life without Connolly

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly remonstrates with linesman Ciarán Branagan during the Leinster SFC quarter-final against Carlow at O’Moore. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly remonstrates with linesman Ciarán Branagan during the Leinster SFC quarter-final against Carlow at O’Moore. Photo: Sportsfile

Life without Diarmuid Connolly begins this week for Dublin just the same as life without Championship football commences, albeit temporarily, for Connolly.

How big an affect the absence of one will have for the other over Dublin's expected next three matches remains to be seen.

The 12-week suspension, accepted by Connolly last Thursday, now deprives the Dubs of their most talented footballer, the team's vice captain and one of the team's leaders.

"The outrageous scores," says former Dublin captain and manager, Tom Carr by way of identifying the biggest single contribution of Connolly's.

"They drive a momentum and a dynamic. He provides the wow factor to the Dublin team."

Dublin captain Tommy Carr is tackled by Donegal’s Tony Boyle during the 1992 All-Ireland SFC Final in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin captain Tommy Carr is tackled by Donegal’s Tony Boyle during the 1992 All-Ireland SFC Final in Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

For the player, it removes the stage his talents warrant and comes both in a season when he has yet to find true form and at precisely the wrong time of year.

Bereft

"It can leave you feeling bereft," Carr points out, speaking from painful personal experience.

"And I think it leaves you out in the cold a bit. Because it's very stark to be told you won't be playing any football for the summer after probably spending six or nine months preparing for it."

When Carr flicked out his boot in Brian Murray's direction as the Donegal midfielder sped away from him in the 1993 League final replay, he could hardly have envisaged the repercussions.

Referee Brian White dismissed the then Dublin captain, who would later be handed a six-month suspension.

The offence carried a three-month ban but because it was deemed to have been off-the-ball it was doubled, in line with GAA policy at the time.

Carr's suspension, cut to four months on appeal, was due to expire on August 23, the day after the All-Ireland semi-final but Dublin lost to Derry by a point and thus his summer ended before he could taste Championship football.

"It leaves you with a feeling of unfairness and injustice," Carr recalls.

"Frustration. Regret. And quite a bit of emotional turmoil.

"Because it's like everything, when you're used to something and it's what you do and it's taken away from you, it puts it much more starkly into reality of how important it is to you."

Connolly's ban elapses on August 26, the day before the All-Ireland semi-final Dublin could play in should they win Leinster and the subsequent quarter-final.

Carr, for one, isn't so certain about the simplicity of the narrative which sees Connolly walking straight back into the team.

"Practically speaking, it is very hard for Jim Gavin to pick him for that game," he says.

"So in his (Connolly's) mind, what he's going to be saying to himself is: 'The best I can be here is a sub for that game, get my half hour and then prove myself for an All-Ireland final if Dublin get there'.

"Is that a carrot enough to dog it out for the summer? It was for me.

"I was willing to keep going. And in fairness to Pat O'Neill and Fran Ryder they said they wanted me to keep training, that it was good for the team and it was good for me.

"You were living on hope and a lot of things going right. Was it a big effort training three or four times a week and then doing your own stuff outside of that? No. I'd say it wasn't.

"Because what you had in your mind was revenge... 'When I get back on the pitch I'll show them.'

"Your motivation was - and I have absolutely no problem saying this - a bit of bitterness."

Jim Gavin has said on numerous occasions that he doesn't propel his team with any negative energy.

The difference in this case, as Carr sees it, is that Gavin doesn't have to persuade his players of the seige.

"The difficulty with a lot of management is they make up these motivational tools. They're false. At the end of the day, the banging of the table becomes a bit hallow after a while," he says.

"But this is not an invented one. It's real. It's there. It is an injustice. It is unfair.

"The penalty does not fit the crime.

"And what Diarmuid is paying for is his reputation and the previous penalties he has gotten off.

"He's not paying for this current one - let's be up front about that. Because what he did does not deserve the punishment he has got.

"So yeah, he put his hand out once too often and now it is being bitten off him. So is it a motivational tool? Yeah. But there's a balancing act too because you don't want it to be a distraction.

"Diarmuid Connolly has delivered for the team and a number of occasions. And there's a sense of honour in a team where they will want to pay that back."

Whether Connolly will be affected by the shriekier commentary of the ordeal remains to be seen.

Duck's back

"You put a microphone in front of a manager or a player and they say: 'It's water off a duck's back. I don't pay any heed,' Carr notes.

"But of course you pay heed. Of course it creeps in at some stage. And in your deepest darkest moments, you consider what's being said about you. And you wonder if it's true.

"We can get a public perception of a player and you can dislike him and think he's this or think he's that but 99 per cent of cases, if you meet players, they're nice guys.

"They change when they get on to the pitch. But some of the stuff being said about him is scurrilous and untrue."

For now though, Dublin and Connolly must proceed without one another.

Sunday against Westmeath may not provide the truest indication of how the team might cope without their brightest light in the darkest of situations but it's not inconceivable either that the two will be reunited and move towards a happy ending.

As Carr stresses: "I think it's something that can be managed. I don't see this as rocking the foundations for Dublin.

"But," he concludes, "what it does do is take away the wow factor."

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