Thursday 22 August 2019

David Kelly: 'Connolly's return won't define Dublin's campaign but he can still have an influence'

Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is shown a black card by referee Joe McQuillan late in the second half. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly of Dublin is shown a black card by referee Joe McQuillan late in the second half. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Towards the end of the first-half Dublin were in the process of doing neither one thing nor the other in possession, aimlessly going nowhere while Tyrone shadowed them with feigned interest.

If that didn't sum up the entire draining exercise for the souls and minds of those in the 15,315 crowd, then what Diarmuid Connolly did next perhaps might have.

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Before matters lapsed completely into the comatose, Connolly decided to assume some responsibility from his floating, quasi-quarterback role.

He took a shot. It missed the target by a long way; a bit like the day itself, a championship game thieved of all intensity and integrity.

He would start the day, but not finish it and by the end we had learned little more about either Tyrone or Dublin.

Principally because although these two counties may yet meet again in an All-Ireland final, these two teams will not.

The future impact of Connolly, the signature starring role in yesterday's much-changed cast list, remains uncertain.

He may have a better chance than Bernard Brogan, as the legendary forward emerged from a kind of wilderness and scored a point, but it may prove a valedictory effort.

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Connolly provides much more to Gavin's side, should they need to call upon it against Mayo or in a potential final.

Yesterday failed to definitively answer the question, simply because it wasn't asked.

At one stage we were reminded of that remarkable period against Mayo in the 2017 final when Connolly wriggled free from Kevin McLoughlin, Tom Parsons and Lee Keegan. He did the same here. But a different day, a diffident trio of tacklers.

This would have given challenge games a bad rep; there were more wides kicked than frees awarded.

Dublin had already made manifold changes before making a half-dozen more before the throw-in; even down town in Seán Og's, the singing was interrupted only to confirm that the prodigal Saint of Vincent's would be starting in midfield.

His first touch was greeted from the mini Hill at the Gortin Road end of Healy Park as if it were the provider of an All-Ireland final-winning point.

Ciarán McLaughlin then thundered into his shoulder - it would not become a predominant theme, as there was hardly a tackle worthy of the name after that.

However, the pair's early exchange would bookend Connolly's championship return. As if pre-scripted, he made a pantomimic exit in the final few minutes, ignobly rugby tackling McLaughlin to the floor on the half-way line.

We ask Jim Gavin did he have a quiet joke with Connolly in the aftermath as the pair exchanged rueful, almost playful smiles when his day was ended.

"I just said well done. I thought he did very well for us. He did well for the team and that's what we expect from our players and he did that to the Nth degree," he said.

Talk outside the camp about talk inside the camp presumes disquiet at the return of one who less than a month ago was clutching a boarding pass in one hand and his passport in another.

Gavin was unmoved when asked to assess whether it was a big decision to draft Connolly into a starting berth after such a brief renewal with a side he hadn't featured in for over 18 months.

"No, I think Diarmuid loves Dublin and we love him. Circumstances change for all players," he said.

It might not be clear what part Connolly might play, but he still looks the part in sky blue.

Twice in one minute, an audacious outside of the right boot delivery to Cormac Costello and then on the recycle a low grass-scraper to lure Paddy Small reminded us of his beady eye for distribution.

However, a sloppy turnover when David Mulgrew tackled all too easily hinted at a player unsuitable for such a hasty repatriation; on the other hand, a soaring leap to clutch a 33rd-minute mark from the excellent Evan Comerford did not.

All the while, the symphonic reaction of the crowd sounded each high and low, jarring jeers or celebratory cheers. The choir decreed it a mixed day.

As Dublin upped the third-quarter tempo, so did he, haring immediately into a first threatening run of the day, and setting up a point for McManamon.

His own score, with the left, was sweet.

Connolly's performance made it feel like things had never changed, but the point is that Dublin have.

The style has already been set for the summer and Connolly can only embellish it, not become its established core.

Not even the best magician in the world can produce a rabbit out of a hat if there is not already one there.

Jim Gavin's only test yesterday was of foresight; Connolly's return will help his cause, but not define it.

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