Sunday 11 December 2016

Diarmuid Connolly's roundabout route gets him to the promised land

Late inclusion vindicated despite scoreless display

Dermot Crowe

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

Diarmuid Connolly only found out he was free to play at 2.30am on the morning of the game
Diarmuid Connolly only found out he was free to play at 2.30am on the morning of the game

Normally Diarmuid Connolly, hailing as he does from nearby Marino, would regard Croke Park as the shortest of journeys, but the days since his sending-off against Mayo made his latest trek seem never-ending. Only in the early hours of yesterday morning, following a successful case to the GAA's independent tribunal, the DRA, did Connolly realise he was free to join his team-mates in their renewed bid to reach the All-Ireland final.

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Dublin, though, judged the risk of distraction one worth taking by starting him. In the time between both matches Connolly held centre-stage and divided option along parochial lines. Had he failed, it was a cause to stoke and galvanise Dublin; if he succeeded, it was a stick to beat them with. Connolly's name had not been included in the panel released earlier but it was anticipated he would be involved. The only question was whether or not he would start. When his name was announced it was met with a loud chorus of boos.

He played but had little impact and for a long period Dublin fretted that this was going to be one of those headless days they encounter from time to time. But by the time Kevin McManamon blasted their third goal with 66 minutes played all that was forgotten and the Dublin following had found its voice. That strike had them seven points clear having trailed by four after 52 minutes, and seven it remained at the final whistle.

Cillian O'Connor's goal appeared to give Mayo an ideal platform to drive on seven minutes after the interval and for a spell Dublin looked clueless. They dragged themselves back, with a goal from Bernard Brogan, relying on opportunism and good fortune when Brian Fenton's effort screwed off his foot. Barely a minute later Brogan wormed his way in from the end line and played a pass across the open goal. Philly McMahon applied the finish; he ended the day with a preposterous 1-2. Dublin won a match in which, for the first time this year, they were in serious trouble. That will stand to them. They also refused to relinquish their lead this time and were ruthless in burying Mayo in the end. On they go to face Kerry, their oldest rivals.

It wasn't a complete performance. Rory O'Carroll's return helped stabilise the defence and Denis Bastick's promotion after an impressive introduction six days earlier was trusted to harden their presence in the middle of the field. Bastick didn't last the game and it was his replacement, Michael Darragh Macauley, who stormed into the match and played a decisive role in the turnaround. Paddy Andrews kicked five points from play in his most outstanding show in a blue shirt. And still there is room for improvement, with two of their starting forwards taken off, Dean Rock and Paul Flynn, after minimal contributions.

Their discipline, which played into Mayo's hands in the drawn match and saw Cillian O'Connor fill his boots with 1-9, also needed to be addressed. It took until the 16th minute for O'Connor to get his first free attempt. When he did, Dublin made his challenge easier through backchat, the ball moved forward, to assist him in getting off the mark. Five minutes later, with Tom Parsons steaming through the middle, Flynn fouled in his effort to break his run. The free was beyond dispute but Eddie Kinsella again brought it forward, presumably for Dublin's response to the call. McMahon took up Aidan O'Shea in spite of O'Carroll's return from injury and was checked for a late first-half foul off the ball that enabled Mayo go in at the break on level terms.

Dublin's dead-ball kicking, like the first day, began on an unsteady note, with Rock fluffing his first effort, and his sole point of the first half was from in front of goal. He didn't improve and was called ashore. The more positive aspects were up front for Dublin where Andrews scored four first-half points and Donie Vaughan couldn't subdue Ciaran Kilkenny, who kicked two, though like the first day he faded.

Connolly had a quiet first half, with his marker, Lee Keegan, bursting up the field to score one of the points of the match. Connolly didn't see much of it in the second half either and finished without a score but he can only get better from there on. The next day he will have less distraction, presumably.

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