Sunday 25 August 2019

Alan Brogan: 'I had a conversation with Pat Gilroy about Diarmuid Connolly. We knew we needed him to win the All-Ireland'

Former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Alan Brogan

I couldn’t tell you exactly where or when but I remember having a conversation with Pat Gilroy about Diarmuid Connolly before the start of the summer of 2011.

Diarmuid had come into the squad in 2008 and straight away, we were all struck by how talented he was.

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I’d heard of him when he was a Leaving Cert student the previous year as having attained a reputation as both a footballer and hurler of rare potential.

When he came in with us in 2008, he had most things a forward needs.

Initially, he didn't exactly display all his talents all the time but regularly, he’d do things with the ball that no-one else in the squad could do.

Diarmuid could kick, not just accurately, but incredibly stylishly off both feet.

He had vision and could pick long-range passes most wouldn't attempt but he had the audacity and confidence to always try.

His pace was deceptive because of the effortless, straight-backed running style he has and even then, as an 18-year-old, he was well put together and wouldn’t need the sort of minding most teenagers do when they step up into the senior ranks.

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In his first two years as a Dublin footballer, he showed flecks of his talent but what he lacked, basically, was a bit of experience.

If football was a demonstration sport with marks for artistic merit, Diarmuid would have been an All Star straight away.

But there was a collective team aspect that took him a while to acquire. Diarmuid's all skill and instinct.

In some ways, it's a shame he wasn't around 20 years ago, when football was mostly a man-versus-man game and teams won or lost simply on the abilities of their players to win their individual battles.

You always get the feeling that playing to a rigid system isn’t the best use of Diarmuid's talents and he’s itching to just get on the ball and play the game as he sees it.

Anyway, he wasn't part of our squad in 2010 when we recovered from that Meath loss to make an All-Ireland semi-final but I knew we needed him back and to come good if we were going to win an All-Ireland title.

Obviously, Pat knew it as well. And when we spoke, we chatted about how best to get him more involved in games.

I was handling a lot of ball at that time, playing as a link-man and I'd acquired an instinctive relationship with Bernard.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Cork manager Ronan McCarthy following the match. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin shakes hands with Cork manager Ronan McCarthy following the match. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

But we knew we needed another scoring threat and Pat impressed on me the need get Diarmuid in possession in situations where he could use his skill to cause maximum damage.

We played Laois in the first round of the Championship that year and four minutes in, I got a ball and laid it off to Diarmuid when I probably could have taken the shot on myself.

Eoin Culliton made a good save but less than a minute later, I was in the exact same position and did the same thing.

Diarmuid's shot was saved by Culliton again and suddenly, I was starting to have second thoughts about this new all-inclusive strategy.

About 20 minutes later though, I got another ball and picked Diarmuid out.

Completely unruffled by his earlier misses, he nutmegged Culliton as though it was the most natural thing in the world.

He went on to score 1-3 that day and though he didn't win an All Star, he had a huge year for us that summer, the most impressive moment of it being the 0-7 he scored from play against Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

I don't know what role he's going to have with Dublin now and I’m sure even he or Jim Gavin don't know that either just yet.

This Dublin team move the ball in a very clearly-defined way.

They’re not the sort of team where you'd need to spend hours figuring out their movement, because it’s there in plain sight, but they're hard to stop because they do it so well, so quickly and with such a high levels of skill.

I could see Diarmuid being an option off the bench when the game is broken up from its initial patterns.

He hasn't played or trained at that level for over a year and a half so his match fitness can’t be at the sort of level where he could last for 75 minutes and he’s the sort of player you want on the pitch at the end of the game rather than the start.

There’s always a risk to adding a player to a squad after the rest of them have done so much of the donkey work for the season.

But a lot of those guys have played with Diarmuid for a long time. They're personal friends of his.

There's a bond in that group and given what's at stake for Dublin this year,  anything that can help their cause will be welcomed.

I know a lot of these Dublin players very well and they always put the greater good of the team before their own personal interests.

Diarmuid's one of the most talented footballers we’ve ever seen and regardless of how he got there, he’s back where he belongs.

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