| 9.1°C Dublin

vins conn' can play it anyway

THE fact that Diarmuid Connolly has never won an All Star seemed to come equipped with at least middling shock to many observers not long after he was included amongst a sparkling shortlist of three for this season's Footballer of the Year award upon the release of the nominations last week.

The overwhelming likelihood is that the All Star statistic will be rendered void by Friday week at the Convention Centre and there's even an outside chance Connolly will pick up the Footballer of the Year gong, so large is tehe membership of his fan club just now.

Indeed he had, prior to this season, been nominated just twice; in 2011 and '13, All-Ireland winning seasons for Dublin and thus years in which some passable performances tended to get embellished.

But this year was different.

Connolly was consistent throughout and perhaps more importantly from an individual award perspective, you'd struggle to pick just one highlight amongst his 2014 repertoire.

There was his performance on St Patrick's Day, an epic during which he scored 2-5 from play to torture Castlebar Mitchels, during which Armagh's Ciarán McKeever felt compelled to utilise Twitter to express his view that Connolly was "the most natural ball player ever".

Or his injury-time point in Omagh, one which gave Dublin a win and a spot in the league semi-finals, having ridden two challenges, sustained a straight-on shoulder, turned sharply back onto his right foot and pointed from 50 metres.

A feat which propelled Joe Brolly to utilise the same medium as McKeever to declare Connolly a "f****ing genius".

And though they have been largely lost in all the layers of shock of Dublin's dumping from this summer's championship by Donegal, Connolly was awesome that day too. He scored four points from play but two stood out a mile.


Firstly, Dublin's ninth point of the first half, when he dummy soloed to take Anthony Thompson out of the game, then brushed through a gap between Frank McGlynn and Karl Lacey that wasn't there to tee-up a shot with his left foot from a difficult angle.

And one in the second half, bleak though Dublin's chances looked then, when he withstood barrage after barrage, maintained his balance and slotted a hope-giver with his right.

And then, after all that, he becomes an 'internet sensation' just last month with a goal against St Sylvester's in the second round of the Dublin SFC that had to be seen to be believed.

And most did.

He slalomed through four flat-footed Sylvester's men, played a one-two with Mossy Quinn and then casually volleyed the ball into the roof of the net, as though it constituted as routine a finish to such a move as any other.

It's a catalogue of excellence few, if any, footballer could conceivably match in a single season and one which might understandably be occupying a large part of the thought space of upcoming opponents.

"I would think if any county manager was in the market in the morning, he would be a player they would go for," says Ballyboden St Enda's manager, Andy McEntee, himself on the verge of setting up a team to stop not just Connolly, but the rest of the St Vincent's battalion on Saturday in Parnell Park in the second of the day's Dublin SFC semi-finals (5.15; St Jude's v St Oliver Plunkett's/ER, 3.30).

"If you think, in particular, in the game against Donegal, the semi-final, when maybe other guys around him weren't firing, he was the one that kept bringing the fight to Donegal.

"It seems like he can play it any way you like.

"If you want to play it physical, he can deal with the physical stuff. If you want to play a little bit more open, he can deal with that as well. So he's certainly a handful."

Thus far, Connolly has scored 2-5 in the three rounds of the 2014 Dublin SFC but his influence has been much more pronounced than those figures hint.

Quinn, meanwhile, has 3-8 (0-5f, 1 '65) and anyone who has watched Vincent's since Connolly's emergence circa 2007/'08 can attest to the fluency and inter-dependence of their on-field relationship.

"There seems to be a bit of telepathy there between the two of them," McEntee notes.

"And Mossy Quinn has a lot of experience too. He is a great man to be in the right place at the right time.

"He's a real cool finisher.

"He mightn't be in the game as much as the half-forward line or the guys out the field but the end product from him tends to be very high every time he goes out."

Vincent's haven't been beaten in championship football since October 2012 and haven't shipped any injuries or experienced retirements since their All-Ireland win this March, following the return to full fitness of Ger Brennan.


"Every team that plays Vincent's is mindful of Diarmuid Connolly and Mossy Quinn but they have more than that," McEntee suggests.

"They have a very strong all-round unit.

"It seems to me, you concentrate too much on one guy and someone else will come along and hurt you.

"You make your plans as best you can but you have to play your own game really."