Sunday 17 December 2017

Is Diarmuid Connolly the best current footballer without an All Star?

Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly will be hoping for his first All Star award this year
Dublin forward Diarmuid Connolly will be hoping for his first All Star award this year
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

The omission of Diarmuid Connolly in the GAA.ie Team of the Year has caused consternation and again re-ignited the debate surrounding the end-of-season awards.

Regarded by many as one of the most naturally gifted footballers in the land, he could not find a place on the half-forward line that contained team-mate Paul Flynn, Aidan O'Shea and Donegal's Ryan McHugh.

The merits of the afore-mentioned trio are not questionable. Flynn is on course for a fourth successive award, while on the other wing Ryan McHugh's impressive debut campaign burst into life with a spectacular performance in the semi-final. Breaffy clubman O'Shea was another towering performer before a clash of heads curtailed his involvement in the agonising defeat to Kerry at the penultimate stage.

However, have the trio been as consistent throughout the campaign as the gifted St. Vincent's man? Judging by the reaction to the team announcement yesterday, it appears many punters have their doubts.

Whether the GAA.ie awards are replicated when the powers that be decide the GPA All Stars remains to be seen, but similar to the fact that it seems astonishing that Colm Cooper has never been officially crowned Player of the Year, Connolly's omission since becoming a household name is hard to fathom.

The basis for All Stars is vague in the extreme. Do positions only matter when there is a lack of serious competition? Should National League form have any influence in deciding between players? Should club form be a factor if required? With the development of modern-day tactics and strategies, is the traditional formation too dated to select the stand-out performers?

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Diarmuid Connolly, St Vincent's, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal

Even Connolly's biggest critics – which often seem more influenced for incidents off the pitch – would surely concede the play-maker has been in top form since the start of the year. Previous criticism of drifting out of games and discipline issues couldn't be levelled in his direction in 2014. His All-Ireland winning club form carried through to the National League and subsequently the championship.

Read more: St. Vincent’s crowned champions courtesy of Connolly masterclass 

While the Dublin juggernaut racked up huge early summer tallies, it was noticeable that Connolly's scoring return was modest, just 1-04 en route to yet more provincial success.

However it was his movement, range of passing and temperament which set him apart and like all athletes at the top of their game, his performance level soared rose as the season continued.

Monaghan will testify to his class, scoring 1-02 in atrocious conditions in Croke Park and a constant threat as the Dubs moved onto a highly-anticipated clash with Donegal.

The semi-final won't be remembered fondly by many from the capital and Connolly even had a chance to seal the contest in the first half with Paul Durcan coming to the rescue when a seven point margin could have been curtains for the Ulster champions.

That shouldn't detract from a masterful performance. Few players take Jim McGuinness' side for four points from play – some collector's items - before the supply soon dried up in the second half.

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17: Diarmuid Connolly

In 2011,  after Pat Gilroy led the Dubs to Sam Maguire, the All Star half-forward line compromised of Darran O'Sullivan, Alan Brogan and Paul Flynn. Last year Flynn was joined by Colm Cooper and Sean Cavanagh.

Allowing for the fact that players have been accommodated in the past (the GAA.ie team had Michael Murphy at midfield) and Connolly has spent time in the full-forward line, his omission over a number of seasons is all the more puzzling.

Murphy and Aidan O'Shea are likely to battle it out for a place on the 40. Ryan McHugh, who found the going tougher against the Kingdom in the final, Paul Flynn, Odhran MacNiallias and Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh are likely to be Connolly's biggest threats for a place on the starting team.

The All Star selection never ceases to provoke debate, but time will soon tell whether Connolly's wait for personal recognition continues.

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