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In a class of his own

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Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's celebrates with the cup. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's celebrates with the cup. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's, in action against Tom Cunniffe, Castlebar Mitchels. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's, in action against Tom Cunniffe, Castlebar Mitchels. Photo: Caroline Quinn

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Tomas Quinn, St Vincent's celebrates with the cup. Photo: Caroline Quinn

SOME years back, when Mossy Quinn was just a toddler in inter-county terms, he undertook a question and answer session with the Dublin county board's website.

Included amongst the queries was the obligatory 'one to watch from your club?'.

His answer was Diarmuid Connolly.

Then a gifted kid with St Vincent's, with whom he'd just won a Féile Peil na nÓg title in 2000, Connolly was already being spoken about in excited timbres within the walls of Páirc Naomh Uinsionn, as much – it's worth mentioning – for his skill with a hurley as with a football.

Yesterday, upon receipt of a sixth national crown (two All-Ireland SFC, two All-Ireland clubs, the aforementioned féile and an All-Ireland Colleges Senior "A" hurling championship with Dublin colleges in 2006) he reached, smoothly and gracefully, into the outer extremities of his immense ability for what probably ranks of one of the great Croke Park performances.

Best forward in Dublin?

"Yeah," says Quinn with the qualifier: "I'm obviously biased.

"I see him at close range so much. I've said it for years. When he performs, he's up there with the best in the country. The goal and the challenge for him is to perform week-in, week-out.

"It's been coming. He has given us a couple of hints of that with his performances and we were just happy we got him here. Because Croke Park is a different venue. I've said it all year, Croke Park suits him down to the ground."

In the semi-final against Ballinderry in Newry, Connolly's first half performance was notable purely for its meekness yet in the second, he exuded the sort of bright qualities with which he painted a masterpiece in Croke Park on Monday, scoring three points when Vincent's needed them most.

DECLINED

After the final whistle on St Patrick's Day, he apparently declined the Man-of-the-Match award, something he had done in the past with Dublin after what ranks now as his second best Croke Park display against Tyrone in the 2011 All-Ireland quarter-final.

His rationale back then, and presumably now, was, according to a former manager, that Connolly doesn't believe in Man-of-the-Match awards. That, in a team game, such prizes are mere affectations.

"We all know what he's capable of. I don't know. Pick any superlative you want. Pick a superlative and put my name to it. He was that good out there," Quinn admitted.

"He was just when he's like that, he's different class. I don't know, I don't think he's markable when he's playing that well in Croke Park, particularly in a club game.

"Inter-county defenders struggle with him when he's like that. In club football, he's just head and shoulders."

When Vincent's last won the Andy Merrigan Cup in 2008, Connolly was considered merely the most promising talent in Dublin, rather than the most talented player in the county, as he is currently.

Vitally though, he has grown into a leader with club and county in the years in between and it is testament to Connolly's character and/or psychological make-up that in the four senior All-Ireland finals split evenly between club and county, he has yet to have a bad one.

PERFORMANCES

His performances on the biggest days have all ranged from very good to Monday's magnum opus.

Last year, Jim Gavin made him vice-captain.

This season, Connolly could well fill the number 11 shirt abdicated by Ciarán Kilkenny.

Not that he wasn't one of Dublin's best players lining out on the left wing of Dublin's half-forward line last year, but with such balletic balance and ambidexterity in his kicking, surely a central posting – one where Connolly is also more likely to drift into goal-scoring zones – is a more useful port of call for his talents.

"Again, he has the talent to play anywhere in the front six," Quinn points out. "He can play inside, he has the talent, he can finish. Outside, he has the athleticism and the football to go with it.

"I think you need vision to play at eleven and he obviously has that. It's a great option for Dublin to have. I'm sure they'll look at him in different places and do what's best for the team and he'll roll with it.

"And that's the brilliance of his character. Other players of his ability might say 'no, I want to play inside' or 'I want to play at eleven'. But if he's asked to play at ten or twelve, he'll play at ten or twelve and I suppose when you're that good, you can do it.

"That's always been the challenge for him, to do it week in, week out," Quinn continues. "We've always seen the talent he has. But it's to produce that every week.

"I thought he got that last year. In ten or twelve, it's hard to do that role in Croke Park every week. Maybe if he's freed up in a different role, you might see the scoring side of him. But I don't think he minds. He's good enough to play either of them."


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