Sunday 18 February 2018

Diarmuid Connolly should expect 'special treatment'

Mulligan backs Harte's Tyrone to end Dublin bid for three in a row

Diarmuid Connolly is eligible to return to the Dublin team next Sunday for the first time since their game against Carlow at the beginning of June. Photo: Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly is eligible to return to the Dublin team next Sunday for the first time since their game against Carlow at the beginning of June. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Over the course of his interview in Dublin yesterday, it quickly became clear that Owen Mulligan isn't one for standing on ceremony or sitting on the fence.

He covers a multitude of topics during his half-hour with the assembled media to publicise his regular column with Paddy Power and replies with disarming honesty.

A return to inter-county football in the spring with London after his brief cameo earlier in the summer? "Are you having a laugh?"

Can Tyrone live with the three-in-a-row chasing Dubs in Croke Park on Sunday? "I think that they'll beat Dublin."

Returning

And what about the returning Diarmuid Connolly? "He's top class, one of the best in the whole of Ireland, but Tyrone will make sure they target him in their own way. You only have to look at his discipline record. I think Tyrone will pounce on that."

That answer immediately jumps out. As Oisin McConville pointed out last month, these are sensitive times in the GAA. Such plain talking, regardless of how rooted in reality it is, is sure to prompt some sort of moral outrage.

Mulligan goes on to say he'll be in for "special treatment". It's not exclusive to Tyrone and is something that is just a fact of life for top-shelf players these days.

"I don't think he'll start but he's a massive player for Dublin," Mulligan said of Connolly.

"I read one of Alan Brogan's articles where he said he hated Tyrone.

"He hated Tyrone because we targeted him. He was the best player on the field. And that's the way it is now in Gaelic football.

"You target the best players, the score-getters, and we targeted him over the years and them boys would be no different. That's the way Mickey Harte goes about his business.

"The best players have to be cancelled out of the game, and you have a better chance of winning it. He'll be in for special treatment I would say."

He's keen to underline that's he's not calling for him to be taken out of the game illegally but cites Leeroy Keegan's ability to push him to the fringes of the game as an example of how the St Vincent's man can be knocked off his game.

"You see Keegan giving him special treatment," said Mulligan. 

"I'm not on for a man getting a box to the back of the head or a box to the back of the neck but you have to get up close and personal in championship games.

"That's our take on it. That's been the Tyrone way. There are boys there that can do that."

Dublin haven't lost a game in the championship since the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final but Mulligan has no doubt that Tyrone can change that. He went to the Leinster final and saw enough in Kildare's performance to suggest that Dublin will cough up more chances than they have in the past.

"I saw kinks in their armour. I'd never seen teams go through Dublin through the middle but Kildare got through for a couple of chances.

"Only for (Stephen) Cluxton that day, they (Kildare) had two goal chances and it could have been massive. They seemed to go right through the middle.

"Okay, Jonny Cooper wasn't playing that day and he's a big asset, he's an organiser as well as a marker. A couple of other fellas were not playing either.

"If you run at Dublin in years gone by they would have stopped you, they would have hunted in packs, I didn't see that against Kildare.

"I know it's easy to say, Leinster final, it's maybe their seventh (win) in a row. But Tyrone would love to do that. Tyrone would love to go forward like that."

Officially at least, Harte's term is up when their current championship campaign comes to an end after the county board decided to deny his request to extend his stay to the end of 2018.

Cookstown man Mulligan has seen both sides of the Tyrone manager. An automatic selection for years, when his time was up Harte wasted no time in moving him on. There was no room for sentiment but it doesn't change Mulligan's mind that he's the best man for the job.

"I'm very surprised. He's a ruthless man, and I know that first hand. He's totally ruthless.

"But I think you have to respect a man like that. If you're not doing the job, and I was never exempt either, why not drop me, and why not drop the boys he has? He's brought in other fellas there to do the job and that's why he's so respected. 

"I think he deserves another couple of years' contract, with the team he's built there he'll need another couple of years if they don't get over the line this time.

"The supporters see it, I just don't think the county board see it.

"If Mickey Harte doesn't get the job there will be every county having a look at him. Do us as Tyrone people want that? Mickey going to another county and seeing the experience he'll give? They'll be queuing up for him."

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