I didn't really follow the footballers when I was growing up - Connolly
Dublin star admits he was more of a hurling fan as he reveals interest in mixed martial arts and yoga
Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30
On Monday afternoon Diarmuid Connolly took himself off down to 'the Sheds', a popular gathering place for swimmers off Bull Island on Dublin's northside not far from his Clontarf home, for a recovery session.
It's a regular post-match habit for him when his schedule and the weather allows it. The soothing salt water brings calm to his body and perhaps to his mind too, you sense. Sea swimming he lists as one of his favourite pastimes.
Once again he had been in the wars the day before, reacting to his hair being tousled by Westmeath defender James Dolan by grabbing him in a headlock and dragging him to the ground.
It's become a recurring theme for him on the football field and one he says he is learning to "embrace" better. But teams are sensing a weak spot in his temperament and consistently going for it now.
Ironically, doing yoga and watching mixed martial arts are other interests he lists away from the game that he has grown to dominate in recent years.
"It's not something I pursue, I watch it!" he qualified. "Aren't we a nation of band-wagoners? Obviously, if Conor McGregor is doing well, I like to watch it. I like to follow it a little bit as well."
After a staggered first four years as an inter-county footballer, Connolly has really soared since scoring a hat-trick against Mayo in a league match in 2011.
But by his own admission he was a reluctant inter-county footballer and wasn't as taken by the 'blue dream' as so many other city kids. In one of his first interviews in a 10-year Dublin career, Connolly, of Kilkenny and Clare parentage, outlined how hurling had priority in his schedule.
"I was actually more of a hurling fan as a young fella than a football fan," he recalled. "I didn't follow them (footballers) that much. I played hurling all the way up, even at U-21 level with Dublin, but there was nobody really pushing me towards football, that was just my own choice."
There was a fledgling soccer career too that promised much but was eventually passed over.
"My next door neighbour, Fran Pearce, was involved in Belvedere," he explained. "I didn't play underage, I went down at U-14 to Fairview Park, did a few trials and played two seasons with them before moving to Home Farm.
"But my big love was GAA, it was never really going to be soccer. A lot of lads were focusing on getting over to England and making a career over there but that was never my focus."
Connolly admits being "overawed" during his early years in the Dublin dressing-room and twice left the squad before being coaxed back.
"When you're a young lad coming into a dressing room with massive leaders like Ciaran Whelan, Alan Brogan, Coman Goggins, Stephen Cluxton, these guys. . . You're trying to learn. You can't expect yourself to go straight in similar to the likes of Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack (McCaffrey)," he said.
"This is my 10th season, 2007 was my first season going into it. You're kind of a little bit overawed. It's your first time training with a Dublin team. It's your first time running out in Croke Park with 80,000 there. It's a completely different experience but one I'm really enjoying still."
Last Sunday gave him his ninth Leinster football medal, each one carefully placed in a frame by his mother at the family home.
"It's a meaningful thing. That's our goal at the start of the year, to win the National League and then it's to push on and win the Leinster Championship. It was probably tougher to win a Leinster Championship back then," he acknowledged, recalling his early days.
Of all the games he has played, he has taken most from the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final against Donegal when he was sent off.
"You learn. We played against Donegal in 2011 and we learned so much from that game. It was a surprise for us. Now everyone is doing some sort of a hybrid or some sort of a defensive structure, and it just takes time to break it down," he said.
Connolly refutes the suggestion made by former colleague Alan Brogan that the game comes too easy to him.
"I don't know if you've read John Kavanagh's (Conor McGregor's coach) book. He says in it 'there's no such thing as a natural athlete.' I mean, you have to work," he said.
"Some people are more gifted than others, but you have to work on your game and try and tweak things here and there."