Sunday 18 August 2019

Ciaran Whelan: 'My initial reaction to the Connolly news was utter shock - and it poses a lot of questions'

Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Ciaran Whelan

For Dublin fans it was a ‘where were you when’ moment . . . “where were you when you heard that Connolly was back?”

Last Sunday morning the mobile chimed on several occasions in quick succession all stating as fact or asking similar questions – “U see Connolly is back with Dubs” or alternatively a version of "I presume the rumours about Connolly being back with Dubs is crap?"

My immediate reaction upon confirmation that Diarmuid had returned to the Dublin camp last Sunday morning was shock, utter shock.

We had all heard the rumours towards the conclusion of the league that he was set to return and that he was being closely monitored by Dublin as he was wearing a GPS in club games with his beloved St Vincent’s.

But when he didn’t return for the early rounds of the Leinster SFC, and then when it was confirmed that he was transferring to play for Donegal in Boston, we presumed that was that, the door was closed, the story was over. Finito.

The fact that there was an administrative error or whatever in his visa to travel to States didn’t suggest that the next natural move was to return to the Dublin camp after such a long absence.

It’s a very, very interesting move, particularly by Jim Gavin.

It poses plenty of questions and most will probably never be answered, not publicly anyway, by either party – Jim or Diarmuid.

GAA Newsletter

Expert GAA analysis straight to your inbox.

I’d imagine Jim had to sell the idea of Diarmuid’s return at this late stage to the players and some of them may not have been absolutely delighted from the own personal, perhaps selfish, point of view.

If Connolly goes well in training this week and next,  he no doubt could push some players, old and new, further down the pecking order.

They’ll also be wondering does he really want to be here? If he does then why did he not return earlier, why did he try to travel to the States?

But that’s a manager’s job, to make those really tough calls for the betterment of the team.

There is no doubting Diarmuid’s extraordinary ability but he’s a long time away from the white heat of inter-county action.

No amount of Dublin club football this year will have him match sharp and he’s now in a battle against time to get up to the pace of the game.

I know he scored two brilliant late goals in recent club games against both Kilmacud Crokes and Templeogue Synge Street but what comes next is on a totally different level, particularly if Dublin progress to the semi-finals, where Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone will probably make up the other members of the last four.

A lot of his club football this year has seen him operate, mysteriously, at centre-back and that may not have helped hone his precision passing and point-scoring, off either foot, which Dublin will be looking for if he does feature.

But when Dublin’s back was to the wall against Mayo in the 2017 All-Ireland SFC final, it was Connolly that Gavin turned to and he repaid his manager’s trust in spades.

He scored one of the best individual points in an All-Ireland final in recent history, struck one superb ball to Dean Rock for a point and in the final moments bravely took on the Mayo defence and was fouled for Rock’s dramatic winning point.

His skill, bravery and desire to take responsibility on his shoulders at important times in games was unquestionable and Dublin fans will be hoping that those traits have not waned.

Gavin will have sized it all up and, ultimately, probably decided that the impact he is getting off his bench is not what it used to be and that Connolly is such a versatile player he gives him options in three sectors of the field.

Therefore, whatever happened over the past few months, he still would rather have him on his bench than looking on from the stand on the important days coming fast this summer.

It provides a very interesting backdrop to this Saturday night’s Super 8s clash with Roscommon in Croke Park.

Last weekend’s display against Cork will not have pleased Gavin, despite the late flurry of scores.

It was brought to my attention that Joe Brolly had a cut off my opinion of the Dubs after Saturday night’s game but I think Joe and I were at different games – or else we inhabit different worlds!

Joe emphatically told the country that Dublin had scored 5-18 and won by 13 points (fair play to him because there was no way the viewers would have worked out that all by themselves) and nothing else mattered. However, the context of the game cannot be ignored.

Defensively throughout the field, Dublin stood off Cork for long periods and allowed them work possession as they wanted. And the Rebels created plenty of point and goal-scoring opportunities, with the likes of Paul Kerrigan and Brian Hurley particularly influential.

At times, Dublin were slow to regroup or reset in defence, while they were very poor under the breaking ball around the middle sectors, affording Cork a great attacking platform.

It was a great game, very entertaining, but from Dublin’s perspective – and not for the first time this season – they are not ‘hitting their straps’.

The return of both Jonny Cooper and James McCarthy is a huge boost for the champions, presuming both get back to full match fitness quickly, as it will improve the collective defensive unit.

Dublin have beaten Louth, Kildare, Meath and Cork so far this summer, and I don’t see a Roscommon shock this weekend – they are not the counties to benchmark Dublin’s standards against.

Therefore I think they will have to improve if they are to achieve the five in-a-row.

With regard to Saturday’s curtain-raiser, I think Cork will need to tweak their approach if they are to beat Tyrone.

The Rebels, whose energy levels may be lessened following last Saturday’s duel, play on the front foot but will need to adopt and employ different strategies as the game progresses. Otherwise, Tyrone’s counter-attack game will pick them off.

Herald Sport

The Throw-In All-Ireland Hurling Final preview: Can Tipp's firepower edge clash with the Cats?

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport