Monday 24 July 2017

Vincent Hogan: If you think Connolly deserves to miss the All-Ireland final, congratulations, you've lived a charmed life

To understand where Diarmuid Connolly is now, it might help if you've, occasionally, tripped over the odd Commandment. Nothing especially grave or recidivist, you understand. It's just, if you're pure as the driven snow, you probably see justice as some kind of cold book of statutes. Iron law, in other words. Unmoving. Incorruptible.

Therefore, you cannot possibly empathise with the Dublin footballer. He's of another world.

If, on the other hand, you've the odd pockmark to your story, maybe you take a more nuanced view of his predicament. Because ever since he was a kid in Marino, every day of Connolly's life has probably felt like a step closer to the epoch looming next Sunday week.

And, now that he's on the doorstep, it looks like he might be turned away.

Tonight, a meeting of the GAA's Central Hearings Committee will consider his appeal against the four-week suspension received for an incident with Donegal's Marty Boyle on August 28. If they reject him, Connolly will still have the option of two further layers of appeal.

But this warped time of not knowing must be excruciating for him and his family.

If you're not familiar with Connolly's sin, go 'YouTube' it. From a game that was a quarrelling, bickering mess -- little gusts of lawlessness blowing through from start to finish -- he was identified as committing the most serious crime of all. Which was?

Pushing away a player who had just barrelled into him unprovoked.

Taking the letter of the law, Connolly "raised his hands" and, therefore, had to go. But does it reflect an unorthodox view of justice to ask about the spirit? He clearly wasn't the aggressor and Boyle's reaction of crumpling to the floor like a drunk suddenly at odds with gravity, helped neither the referee, linesman nor -- by extension -- Connolly.

In a game of a thousand crimes, the single jail sentence arrived for late payment of a bill.

Now it seems inconceivable that anyone who has ever played even a sedentary game of five-a-side could look at the footage and see something to justify depriving a man his place in an All-Ireland final.

But GAA history can be an absurd mix of ironies and travesties. Tipperary hurler Brian O'Meara was one of the most principled and gentlemanly of county players, yet missed the 2001 hurling decider because of a little rutting exchange with Wexford's Liam Dunne in the semi-final that would barely have raised an eyebrow between hassled mothers at a supermarket checkout.

O'Meara, who had been on the Tipp team beaten by Clare in '97, never played in another All-Ireland final. He was wronged.

We covet the primal element of Gaelic games, the sense of physical abandon with which players submit themselves to the task of upholding a county's honour. That Tipp team of '01 would have had battles with Clare in Munster that made Gallipoli look a picnic.

And, routinely, we mythologise old, unscrupulous soldiers who took liberties with the law.

Connolly himself would have grown up to stories of a supposedly more elegant era when men were men and Dublin teams might send out stony welcoming parties for flying Kerry captains. Actually, seen as we're in the mood for YouTube, go key in 'Mickey Ned O'Sullivan knockout '75'. Then watch between your fingers.

Compared to that time, the scrutiny of players today is borderline neurotic. Cameras pick up everything.

Yet, rewind to the third minute of that Dublin versus Donegal game last Sunday week and watch the physical and verbal baiting of Connolly and Alan Brogan as a Dublin attack breaks down. Returning to their positions, every second step they take is interrupted by a heavy shoulder charge.

It isn't covert and it isn't sly and, frankly, it isn't even illegal. But it captures the tone of engagement. If you look closely, Connolly is actually smiling as it happens. He understands this to be part of the challenge. The weak thing is to react.

Which, one hour later, is essentially what he did.

So, call him weak. Call him impetuous, headstrong, silly. And, maybe, Dublin being reduced to 14 men as that semi-final see-sawed on a pendulum of high-energy panic was fitting punishment for his single second eruption. If his team had been beaten, I doubt Pat Gilroy would have been all hugs and paternal sighs in the dressing-room.

But, if players are to have any higher status than scratch cards in our minds, can it be reasonable that Connolly misses an All-Ireland final too? Bearing in mind he was eight the last time Dublin played on a September Sunday, this might be his only shot.

And it hangs by a thread.

I am reminded of a story Donal Og Cusack tells of Cork's Munster Championship game with Tipp in '09. It was thunderous stuff, quarters neither asked nor given in Semple Stadium.

Tipp's Micheal Webster was engaged in what Cusack would call a "Punch and Judy" battle with Cork's full-back, Eoin Cadogan. Late in the game, Webster's hurley fell from his hand in the Cork square and, almost without thinking, Cusack picked it up and, stamping his foot down, broke the stick in two.

In his autobiography, 'Come What May', the Cork goalkeeper admits that he wasn't proud of it, but explains the act as something that happens "in a combat situation".

Maybe two hours later, he stood in The Castle pub downtown, sharing "a joke and a chat" with Webster's brother. "That's the GAA," writes Cusack. A communion of minds.

Was Cusack guilty of criminal damage? Technical application can, sometimes, be an ass.

If you see no case for Diarmuid Connolly's redemption now, go soap the stigmata in your hands and be thankful. You've led a remarkable life.

Irish Independent

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport