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Saturday 21 September 2019

Mossy: Diarmo could swing it for Dublin

Connolly's ability to play off-script could be the winning of a tight final against the Kingdom

Dublin manager Jim Gavin with Diarmuid Connolly after the 2017 All-Ireland Final win over Mayo at Croke Park
Dublin manager Jim Gavin with Diarmuid Connolly after the 2017 All-Ireland Final win over Mayo at Croke Park

There's a television clip that quickly went viral of Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn, perfectly-captured, in the manic moments after the 2017 All-Ireland final.

The two embrace on the Croke Park pitch near the halfway line on the Hogan Stand side of the ground.

As the scale of their achievement begins to land, Connolly incredulously holds up four fingers to indicate the number of All-Ireland the two have now won together.

Immediately, he's corrected by Flynn.

That one-point victory over Mayo in which Connolly played such a influential part from the bench was, in fact, their fifth All-Ireland.

Given the vigour of the celebrations, it seems odd to reflect that it was the last time Connolly played for Dublin in a Championship match until August 4 in Omagh, almost two years later.

At one stage two months ago, as he made his way to immigration in Dublin airport to be exact, it seemed like it might be his last major act in a Dublin jersey.

So chances are he won't forget his sixth All-Ireland should Dublin beat Kerry on Sunday.

"I was a little bit surprised," confesses Tomás Quinn, Connolly's St Vincent's team-mate, of the latter's return mid-summer post-ESTA.

"I think anyone that says different is probably not being truthful.

Interesting

"The fact is, he was obviously looking to go away for the summer so it appeared he had his mind made up that he was heading away.

"I'm not surprised they were looking for him to come back, just in terms of what he can offer and contribute on the pitch.

"Ultimately I hope it's something they all look back on say it worked out for the best."

Now fully repatriated with the squad, the question of why he left in the first place seems somehow less interesting than why Jim Gavin went to such lengths to bring him back.

Gavin is a pragmatist.

There is almost certainly a scenario the manager has envisaged that will trigger Connolly's introduction on Sunday, although quite what that might look like is difficult to make out at this juncture.

"Diarmuid never plays the game in a safe manner," says Quinn.

That, for clarification purposes, is a good thing according to the former Dublin forward.

"There's guys out there who sometimes think, 'Well I won't take that chance in case it doesn't come off'.

"I think Diarmuid has always played the game with a view to looking at it the other way - 'I'm going to give this ball in and try to make a goal chance'.

"It doesn't come off every time but with the level of skill he has, more often than not it is the right thing to do."

In an age of deep and detailed analysis, playing off-script can be a useful trick.

There were, for instance, a couple of moments in that 2017 final after Connolly came on at half-time that weren't written on any of Dublin's play books.

The first was his raking pass with the outside of his right foot to put in Dean Rock for a goal chance the Ballymun man fisted over.

The second in the 56th minute was even more impressive, a perfect virtuoso moment from the only man on the pitch who had the skill-set to perform it.

Connolly took possession from Kevin McManamon outside the Mayo '45 on the right hand side of the pitch.

He jinked, bobbed and weaved in between Tom Parsons, Kevin McLoughlin and Lee Keegan, drawing the foul, and even spared Rock the hassle of having to kick the free by pointing from range before Dublin's 'advantage' had lapsed.

"He has the ability to run the ball, if that's what the play is," Quinn points out, "but I think if there is a situation where maybe they're not getting quality ball inside or where they haven't got enough ball in to Con or Paul or Dean. "They're three very good ball-winners," he adds, "and Diarmuid can obviously see a pass and pick a pass."

"I expect it to be tight, I expect it to come down to the last 15 minutes.

"I think if Dublin are to get over the line I think they're going to need to rely on their squad, as they have done in nearly every final.

"They're going to rely on five or six guys to come in and make an impact.

"And I think ultimately," Quinn concludes, "when the game is in the balance, he's a guy you want on the pitch with the ball in his hands."

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