Wednesday 20 February 2019

'Jim Gavin could have had a private talk with him' - Connolly question remains unanswered as Dublin begin league

Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly during the 2017 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match against Tyrone. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly during the 2017 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match against Tyrone. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Jim Gavin's Dublin team will begin their attempt to win a sixth National League title in seven years this weekend but the big talking point surrounding the four in-a-row All-Ireland champions is whether Diarmuid Connolly will wear the blue jersey in 2019.

The two-time All Star and five-time All-Ireland winner stepped away from inter-county football in 2018, with a brief cameo against Mayo in the league his only Dublin appearance.

2017 wasn't particularly smooth sailing for Connolly either, with the talented forward missing three games after a sideline altercation with a linesman. Dublin manager Gavin opted to use Connolly off the bench in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final and final, with the St Vincent's man contributing hugely to the victory over Mayo in the decider.

However, it now appears that Connolly may not return to the Dublin set-up for this year's five in-a-row bid. Ahead of the start of the league this weekend, The Throw-In podcast in association with Allianz returned this week to Independent.ie, and Connolly's on-going absence was up for discussion.

Michael Verney of the Irish Independent thinks that it is unlikely that the 31-year-old will return in 2019.

"I think it is unlikely that he will be back," Verney said.

"I think he'd be back at this stage and we would probably know. They won the All-Ireland in the first week of September and they were off on their holidays before Christmas. He had a three or four month window to get back into inter-county shape to get back in but I don't think that has happened."

Irish Independent GAA reporter Donnchadh Boyle thinks that after years of being under the microscope, Connolly may have eventually tired of the intense scrutiny that followed his every move.

"Diarmuid has been on the frontline of things for a very long time," Boyle said.

"Like a few players in the past, he is the lightning rod. There is so much interest in these fellas beyond what they do on the football field. It does get blown up a lot more because they are so talented and mercurial. Maybe that just got on top of him. On the other side of it, Jim Gavin has the luxury of being able to [do without him], and not only have Dublin survived, they have thrived. You would have to be emboldened by that."

However, Vincent Hogan thinks that Gavin and Connolly may have quietly decided on a plan of action that could see one of the game's most talented players make a surprise comeback as Dublin look to land an historic five in-a-row later this year.

"He is a unique talent and he is a free spirit," Hogan said.

"For all we know, Jim Gavin could have had a private talk with Diarmuid Connolly and set him some physical challenges over the next couple of months. They won't be making any big announcement if Diarmuid Connolly is going to be involved this year."

Hogan did sound one note of caution around Dublin's continued dominance, however. Although Brian Howard slotted in seamlessly in the absence of Connolly to pick up an All Star and an All-Ireland medal, Hogan doesn't know if Gavin has the same calibre of defensive reinforcements to call upon.

"I think what's interesting about Dublin is that a few of their backs aren't getting any younger," Hogan added.

"They are only flesh and bone like everyone else. There will come a day when the likes of Cian O'Sullivan and Jonny Cooper start burning oil and we have yet to see if Dublin have the defensive standard-bearers to step in there."

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