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'The best I ever played with' - Ger on Dermo

Brennan says Dubs will miss Connolly on and off the field

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St Vincent’s captain Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly after winning the Dublin SFC in 2014

St Vincent’s captain Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly after winning the Dublin SFC in 2014

St Vincent’s captain Ger Brennan and Diarmuid Connolly after winning the Dublin SFC in 2014

The thing about Diarmuid - or Dermot, as Ger Brennan calls him - is that extravagant ball skills were just one part of the mercurial Connolly mix.

"He had it all," says his long-time comrade, first and last with St Vincent's, and for a large chunk in between with Dublin.

"He would have worked hard. If you look at a snap of him after we won the club All-Ireland in 2008, and have a look at him now, he's certainly a couple of kilos of lean muscle heavier. And that just added to his ability to power away from players, to win his own primary possession.

"Someone like Dermot is impossible to mark and dispossess once he has the ball in his hands. He creates all sorts of havoc and a nervousness in any sort of defence.

"And I think a lot of Dermot's game, certainly after Pat Gilroy took over Dublin, was Dermot's ability to work back and to track and to tackle. That characteristic was something that all Dublin players developed under Pat Gilroy, and obviously Jim Gavin added to it as well.

"Yeah, he's the full package. It was a blessing and great experience for the likes of myself to have played with him."

Watershed

It begs the question what Dessie Farrell's Dublin will now miss in his absence? True, Connolly is 33 and has started just one inter-county match since that ill-fated win over Carlow in 2017 - a career watershed that spawned a 12-week ban and an avalanche of media scrutiny, which was merely exacerbated by his subsequent absences.

But now, officially, he has gone for good. Brennan is quick to stress that Dublin will miss him off the field, and not just on it, for his "experience" and "know-how" and continual quest to improve standards.

Yet that doesn't make him unique. What made Connolly stand out from the crowd was his rare amalgam of vision and technique. Not alone could he pick a pass that few others would see, he'd execute it with military precision. As for his scoring exploits, he was never afraid to defy the percentages: cue a raft of inspirational points from difficult positions, on the run, off either foot.

You ask Brennan to pinpoint standout games and two quickly come to the surface, first up the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final when he plundered 0-7 from play against Tyrone.

"I remember listening to Mickey Harte and some of his Tyrone players speak after that; they felt if they were able to shore up the two Brogans, that 'we have a good chance of getting over this Dublin team' … then Dermot unleashed himself in all his power and skill."

And then there was the 2014 All-Ireland club final. Brennan skippered St Vincent's that day. In truth, he and 13 others could have taken a back seat and just savoured the spectacle as Connolly scored 2-5 from play and provided almost the same again in assists.

"I felt bad for the poor fella from Castlebar who ended up trying to mark him for the 60 minutes," Brennan recalls.

Testament

"Like, some of Dermo's scores and goals … it was outrageous. And when we needed him in the big games for the club, he always performed which is a testament to him."

Yet he only won two All Stars. Was consistency an issue, or is this omission more a reflection on the selectors?

Brennan demurs that he views more merit in winning a national medal over an All Star award. "I don't think Dermot really cared too much about them … I wouldn't say it mattered or motivated Dermot, to be honest. That said, how he didn't win more is beyond me."

Next question: was he unfairly maligned over the controversies that were a feature of his later career especially?

"I would say it's totally unfair, that attention," Brennan argues. "The type of player he was, those guys are always going to receive more attention from the public than the worker bees, like myself I suppose!

"But the Dermots of the world, he just wasn't as interested in the media side of things," he continues. "And again, probably similar to some of the All Stars, it was something that I guess didn't particularly motivate him. He just wanted to play football and hurling, and kind of live his life quietly.

"That, in itself, creates a bit of a mystique. But there's no mystique there really … he's playing an amateur sport, obviously at an elite professional level, but he's entitled to his peace and quiet as well, and I suppose that was invaded on occasions and probably exploited by some oppositions."

Feisty

His feisty duels with Mayo's Lee Keegan became the stuff of cartoon legend. "Lee again is another guy I've met a couple of times off the pitch - a lovely person but a tough nut on the field," Brennan reminds.

"And once you cross the white line, you have to have your game face on. I think Lee and Dermot had some great battles over the years … in fairness to Lee, he's the only guy I can think of that managed to somewhat hold Dermot's influence on a game. But other than that, there's not been many able to get near him."

Your best ever teammate?

"Hands down, the best player I ever played with."