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Connolly can be Dubs' playmaker

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BY now, three days after the event, we suspect you've read enough about Diarmuid Connolly's finest hour. So instead, let's talk about Ciarán McDonald.

Cast your mind back to 2001 and the All-Ireland club SFC final between Crossmolina Rangers and Nemo Rangers.

At the time, the Cork city superpower led the Andy Merrigan Cup roll of honour with six titles – six more than all Mayo clubs combined.

But Crossmolina broke their county's duck with a thrilling 0-16 to 1-12 victory. Afterwards, in a rare outbreak of media engagement, a delighted McDonald even spoke to reporters en route to the Cusack Stand dressing rooms.

As he waxed lyrical, those same reporters were mentally conjuring up 'intros' paying homage to McDonald's central role in that historic day for club and county.

He scored seven points, four from play, but that was only half the story. Up to that point, McDonald had been primarily known (to a national audience) as an inside finisher. But for Crossmolina, he was their conductor-in-chief, the man who pulled the strings on the '40'. And this feat he achieved quite magnificently against Nemo.

Memories of '01 came flooding back as Curve Ball watched, increasingly spellbound, the unfolding drama of the 2014 All-Ireland club football final.

We can think of no greater tribute to Diarmuid Connolly's performance for St Vincent's against Castlebar than to say it eclipsed – by some distance – McDonald's 13-year-old masterclass.

MEMORABLE

Up to last Monday, we rated the latter as the most memorable individual display we had witnessed in a club football final. Not any longer.

But there are parallels – and potentially priceless lessons for Jim Gavin.

In 2001 we saw a beguiling glimpse of what McDonald could become if entrusted with a playmaking brief for his county. It rarely happened on any sustained basis until 2004, when he was already 29 and John Maughan handed his fellow Crossmolina native the No 11 jersey.

Mayo went on to reach the All-Ireland final, where they lost heavily to Kerry, but McDonald's form over the summer was sufficient to earn his first – and only – All Star. Two years later, his semi-final heroics against Dublin, crowned by that inspired winning point from under the Hogan Stand, propelled Mayo into another All-Ireland (where a Kerry-inflicted déjà vu beckoned).

In summary, McDonald will always be remembered as something of a maverick talent (the type that routinely attracts vaguely disapproving adjectives like "mercurial" or "enigmatic", not to mention that ridiculous "Goldilocks" jibe from one Sunday Game pundit) ... but when he was in the zone there was a poetry to his football, allied to a sometimes-overlooked raw strength that meant he couldn't be bullied by the hatchet men. And his best days? At No 11, no contest.

Which brings us, via a circuitous route, to another player who has been described as mercurial and who at different stages of his career – in the same season or sometimes the same match – has both entranced and infuriated Dublin fans.

TALENT

Why the latter? Because they know Diarmuid Connolly can play football from the heavens when the planets are aligned but it hasn't happened often enough. Even Ger Brennan, his club skipper and fellow Sky Blue, admitted after Monday's 2-5 tour de force: "Does he do that as much as he could do it? That's something for him to work out, but he is a super talent."

In fairness, Connolly's body of work to this point clearly eclipses what McDonald had achieved by the time he reached the club summit in 2001. He has won two All-Ireland senior titles with Dublin, and two with his club, on the field of play. In recent times, he has become more consistent and less prone to disciplinary mishaps when playing for his county.

But now, as this 26-year-old enigma approaches what should be his peak, we are all waiting and wondering can Connolly reprise the magnificence of last Monday when he returns to the Dublin fold.

Clearly, it is within his gift. Just like the earlier incarnation of McDonald, he has featured as an inside raider – but he has also proven his credentials as an inter-county wing-forward.

However, as St Patrick's Day gloriously underlined, albeit against club opposition, he has all the prerequisites to excel in a more central role: vision, pace (he glides where others gallop), accuracy off either foot, power and physique too.

Now Dublin are in the market for a new centre-forward, after Ciarán Kilkenny's season-ending ruptured cruciate. The solution could be staring them in the face.


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