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Connolly drives Vins

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Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

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Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

CERTAIN Croke Park finals are recalled for the collective heroism of the winners. Others go down in the annals for another reason: An individual grabs the game by its throat and refuses to let go until he has shaped, not alone the outcome, but how it will be remembered for posterity.

This year's AIB All-Ireland club senior football final belongs to the latter category. Many years from now, when GAA historians chronicle the story of how St Vincent's overcame the the dogged resistance of Castlebar Mitchels, they won't have to ponder too long about the title.

It will be called 'The Diarmuid Connolly final'.

Dublin GAA fans are well acquainted with the prodigious gifts bestowed upon Connolly. He can do magical things off either foot. He can glide past opponents as if they aren't there. He can unlock a defence with a visionary pass that most players wouldn't even see, let alone execute. And when he's in the zone, he can make the art of scoring points and goals look ridiculously easy.

Yesterday, he did all of the above and Castlebar simply had no answer.

St Vincent's scored 4-11 and Connolly managed almost half of that tally – 2-5, all from play.

He had the final pass for their two other first half goals, converted by Michael Concarr and Ciarán Dorney.

On a day when his partner in pillage Tomás Quinn had a surprisingly subdued scoring contribution, it was Connolly who created the opening for Mossy's one point from play. His fingerprints could be found on another two Vincent's points – for Ruairí Trainor in the first half and Shane Carthy late on.

And, then, deep in injury time, he drew the foul that led to their final point, a Kevin Golden free.

Do the maths: By our estimation, Connolly was directly involved in 4-9 of his club's 4-12 total. And that doesn't even take account of arguably his finest creative assist, an angled through pass that set up a 17th minute goal chance for Dorney, saved by Castlebar custodian Ciarán Naughton.

Has Connolly ever been better? We can think of just one occasion that comes close, the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone, when he tallied a jaw-dropping seven points from play.

His club skipper and Sky Blue team-mate, Ger Brennan, mentioned that very masterclass.

"I think we've seen performances from him like that before," Brennan recounted. "In 2011, in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone, he kicked points from all over the park. I think he has the ability to do that.

"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. I'd echo what Tommy (Conroy) said, the workrate of the players was great around him. They created the space for Diarmuid and he maximised that with his accuracy."

And his audacity. This was never more obvious than in the 53rd minute, when he ran at the heart of the Castlebar defence, briefly lost control of the ball, but then – in a sublime millisecond – dinked it back into his grasp. Cue the perfectly angled finish, far beyond Naughton, without even breaking stride. Two minutes later, he latched onto Quinn's clever low pass, and swivelled onto his left foot for another effortless point.

His despairing shadow, Eoghan O'Reilly, was eventually released from his torment, too late in the day, the damage long done.

"We knew that we had to stop Mossy Quinn (left) and Diarmuid Connolly (far left) in particular," losing boss Pat Holmes reflected. "I thought Tom Cunniffe did very, very well on Mossy, but we just didn't have any answer to Diarmuid Connolly today. Look, it's not the first time; he's often done that for Dublin against top-quality inter-county players as well."

MERCURIAL

Connolly has been called 'mercurial' more often than he cares to remember because sometimes he doesn't deliver on his full potential and, other times, he gets embroiled in on-field scrapes – such as the red card in the dying minutes of the Dublin final replay against Ballymun last November, as a result of which he was suspended for their first two outings in Leinster.

Yet, if there was even a hint that he 'owed' his team-mates a big performance because of that suspension, the books were balanced long before the final whistle.

Those of us in the media who follow Connolly's exploits in Sky Blue or the white-and-blue of Vincent's cannot claim to know the man. He doesn't do interviews and – surprise, surprise – he didn't break that habit of a lifetime yesterday.

Then again, you might say, what more could he add to the unscripted eloquence of what he had just created?

He doesn't talk the talk. Yesterday, in his finest hour, he walked the walk.


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