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Saturday 18 November 2017

Nolan: I'd leave Diarmo on bench

Dublin are looking 'unstoppable'

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Mayo’s Lee Keegan tussle during last year’s All-Ireland SFC Final Replay at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Mayo’s Lee Keegan tussle during last year’s All-Ireland SFC Final Replay at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Just for a second, it seemed as though this year's All-Ireland final build-up would be a Lee Keegan/Diarmuid Connolly-free zone until Stephen Rochford brought it up the other night on Newstalk.

"It was very coincidental that it all seemed to happen in one week," the Mayo manager said of what was interpreted in that part of the world to be an orchestrated media campaign against Keegan.

Who the conductor of the orchestra was or why anyone was surprised that columnists and analysts had opinions on the football Championship's most compelling sub-plot wasn't addressed.

"Everyone seemed to have an opinion on how Lee Keegan played and they all seemed to be former Dublin players," he added.

"He ends up picking up an unfortunate black card midway through the first half. A lot of it seems very coincidental."

GAA star Kevin Nolan. Photo: Sportsfile
GAA star Kevin Nolan. Photo: Sportsfile

So absorbed were we with the Diarmuid Connolly/Lee Keegan running battle a year ago, the All-Ireland final and replay were almost afterthoughts.

It was the McGregor/Mayweather of 2016, just with a ball occasionally thrown in.

Now?

Connolly's sole public sighting since June has been as a late substitute in a match Dublin had long since won.

Indeed, he hasn't so much as touch a ball in competitive action since the day of his now infamous brush with Ciarán Branngian.

Oddly, Keegan - the reigning Footballer of the Year - has been muted also, although obviously not to the same extent of his old sparring partner.

He missed the replayed All-Ireland quarter-final win over Roscommon with a foot injury but neither before or after that game has he been as threatening in that deep-lying game-breaker role.

There are growing suspicions in Dublin that Connolly may yet be the one change to Jim Gavin's starting line-up from their awesome dismantling of Tyrone.

"He is probably one of the best player, if not the best player I have ever marked, whether it be in-house games, underage, minor, all the way up," says former team mate, Kevin Nolan.

"But, I just think at that level the lads are doing so well within the squad. It's not as if any lad the last day did anything wrong that they deserve to be cast aside for the final.

"It will also have a factor in how Mayo set themselves up. I think JIm will be wise enough as well to try and not mess with, Rochord's head, but his tactics as well.

"There is nothing worse I'd say than having your gameplan set up and you hear of a change named to the starting 15, so personally I would say, 'no.'

Nolan, who won All-Irelands with Connolly in 2011 and 2013, is firmly of the 'not broken - don't fix it' school of team selection.

"I just think tat the lads that are in there have done a good job and they've done enough to hold onto the jersey," he says.

Whether Keegan and Connolly get reacquainted on Sunday week, we won't know until after 3.30.

But Nolan has seen a pronounced rise in quality in the Dublin squad since he left in 2015.

By his reckoning, Jim Gavin has never had it so good.

"There are former players of the year that didn't get on the pitch," he points out, "so the competition is great and there are lads that aren't even on the panel that would start on other county teams.

"Best of luck to the rest of the teams trying to catch Dublin that's what I think at the minute because the way they are looking they are somewhat unstoppable."

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