Saturday 1 October 2016

Diarmuid Connolly: I love challenge of the blanket defence

Published 17/04/2015 | 02:30

Diarmuid Connolly (second from left)
Diarmuid Connolly (second from left)

Many may regard the ubiquitous blanket defence as the scourge and ruination of modern Gaelic football but Dublin forward ace Diarmuid Connolly says: Bring it on.

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"To be honest, I enjoy the challenge of a blanket defence or guys 'parking the bus' or whatever they want to do," he confessed yesterday. "It's a different focus, a different challenge. You look forward to breaking that down.

"Blanket defences, all-out attacking football, it doesn't matter," the St Vincent's star insisted. "You have to be able to adapt your game and try to overcome what's in front of you.

"Anyone who plays a blanket defence - you see it in soccer too - they're playing within the rules of the game. All we can do is go out and try and beat that."

Donegal are credited with inventing the most extreme version of it and Dublin's hopes of retaining Sam Maguire came a cropper against it in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

Connolly was involved in one of that game's pivotal moments when he had a chance, on the half-hour, to give the Dubs a seven-point lead but his shot came back off Donegal goalkeeper Paul Durcan's legs.

Yet he was insistent yesterday that the incident did not scar him or make him second-guess himself since.

"It was a good save. I probably should have put it in the right-hand corner rather than going across the 'keeper but it's not something that haunts me," he added.

"It's a shot at goal. If it goes in, we're another three points ahead. If it goes wide or it's saved, we're still in the game.

"I think we were winning the game at that point so, in my opinion anyway, it wasn't a major turning point. The two goals they got after half-time were.

"A lot of other things happened in that game that could have been a bit different but weren't.

"Obviously it's an All-Ireland semi-final and it is hard to take at the time but we're just looking forward now," he added as the Dubs look forward to defending their league title against Cork on Sunday week.

Like Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton, Connolly usually avoids the media but, as captain of Marino's two-in-a-row county SFC champions, he gave a rare interview yesterday to help promote the upcoming Dublin club championships.

His legendary club St Vincent's, with whom he has also won two All-Irelands, are chasing a three-in-a-row that hasn't been done in the capital since Na Fianna in 1999-2001.

Connolly, who also plays senior hurling for the club, was still a teenager when he emerged to win the first of those All-Ireland club medals in 2007-2008 and his then veteran team-mate Pat Gilroy was credited with harnessing his talent, and discipline, at inter-county level.

"It was a bit of a shock, to be honest, that he was asked to do the county management afterwards," he admitted. "But yeah, he helped me along the way.

Friendship

"He was a guy I could actually speak to, not only on a management basis, but also as a friend. We had a good friendship - we still do."

Club and county success has meant an exhausting schedule for the teak-tough half-forward in recent years yet Connolly, somehow, has managed to avoid injury during a stellar career that finally earned him a long-overdue All-Star last season.

"I don't get tired. I actually love playing football, especially on a sunny day like today," he grinned.

"I've been very lucky, I've actually never broken a bone in my body in my life and never pulled a muscle, only had a couple of soft-tissue issues.

"Some guys deal with fatigue better than others but a lot of preparation and pre-hab and recovery comes into play when you are playing for such a long period."

Yesterday's launch was tinged with poignancy due to the sudden death of Vincent's stalwart Dave Billings just 24 hours earlier.

"He brought me into the Dublin set-up when Pillar Caffrey was the manager and I was only 18," Connolly recalled.

"He was a really good coach and a massive influence for me and a lot of people.

"He gave me great guidance in the game, on and off the field. I know his sons Cathal and Neil very well because I played hurling and football with them all the way up with the club.

"I was actually only speaking to him on Saturday. I met him on Collins Avenue, cycling on his bike.

"He was an exceptional man."

Irish Independent

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