Saturday 17 August 2019

Kernan says Connolly embodies Ireland goals

Diarmuid Connolly
Diarmuid Connolly
Ireland manager Joe Kernan is all smiles at the EirGrid International Ruless press conference in Croke Park yesterday
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Diarmuid Connolly has made his first international rules squad with Irish manager Joe Kernan insisting his natural passing ability overrides any lack of experience or exposure to the game.

Connolly will link up with a rules squad for the first time this weekend, having been unable to commit to any of the preparations to date because of his involvement with Dublin in the All-Ireland final and St Vincent's, who lost last week's Dublin final.

Kernan feels it's a risk worth taking as he places a strong value on accurate kick-passing.

"He came into it (extended squad) early but we just couldn't get him, unfortunately. He gave a commitment to his club (St Vincent's)," said Kernan. It wasn't his fault Dublin won the All-Ireland, well it was because he had a fair bit to do with it! But that impacted on the club. We had to give him time and we did.

"He was captain of his club, which was a big honour. I spoke to him a couple of times and he felt they were going to go all the way. I left the door open, last week was the last (opportunity) and he rang me and said 'I'm ready, I want to come in.'

"That was two days after losing a county final and having been captain of his club, I thought it was strong of him to do it."

He missed last weekend's final session before hard decisions were made but the management clearly feel he is too good to omit.

"We want to start looking at the qualities he brings. As Bernard Brogan said 'that's great, he's in, that means I'm going to get the ball in here (chest) instead of up there (above his head).'

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"He has been one of the best players in the country for the last two or three years and for us to have somebody like him - intelligent, a good kicker, a good passer of the ball, a scorer, he is everything that we want our team to be.

Dublin dominate the team with five representatives, Brogan, Philly McMahon, Footballer of the Year Jack McCaffrey and Rory O'Carroll joining Connolly.

It's a significant lift to Kernan's management to have nine of the All Star football team on board after some high-profile casualties, Donegal's Michael Murphy and Neil McGee and Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh, the most decorated Irish rules player, among them.

In addition to the Dublin quartet, Mayo's Lee Keegan and Aidan O'Shea, Monaghan's Conor McManus, Tyrone's Mattie Donnelly and sole Kerry representative Donnchadh Walsh have made the final cut.

Tommy Walsh has not made the cut this time, Kernan outlining at yesterday's announcement that he "couldn't give the commitment" having travelled to Australia for a wedding after the All-Ireland final.

It will be the first time since the 2005 series that the Irish squad doesn't have an AFL-based player. Zach Tuohy and Pearce Hanley were on the management's minds while Ciaran Sheehan and Ciaran Byrne may also have featured.

"Zach wanted to play and there were two or three boys coming back from injury but their clubs wanted them back out in Australia to train pre-season, which was a bit disappointing.

"Pearce had a bit of an injury, he had an operation, but the clubs wanted fellas like him back to do the proper rehab out there. Zach was a prime example, his club had a bad year last year so they wanted him back for pre-season this week."

The selection has skill and good kicking in mind and Kernan is confident the blend is good without any simmering summer rivalries being at play.

"I've been there myself. I had battles with Tyrone for years as a manager but you know what, the best players I ever took in when I managed Ulster were the Tyrone players," he reflected. "We hear these myths about 'oh, I hate him and he's not good.' When they cross that white line they just want to play football. And, truth be told, we are all the same.

"We went out last week for a few beers and we were only on the bus and the noise on the bus was good - because there was craic. If we got on the bus and nobody was talking, we'd maybe have to rethink a few names."

Longford's Michael Quinn has been included despite having a Leinster club semi-final for Killoe against Portlaoise the following day.

Kernan said it "disappointed" him that he couldn't include any player from his own county, Armagh.

The Ireland squad

Killian Clarke (Cavan), Gary Brennan (Clare), Eoin Cadogan, Paul Kerrigan (Cork), Paddy Mc Brearty (Donegal), Bernard Brogan (captain), Diarmuid Connolly, Jack McCaffrey, Philip McMahon, Rory O'Carroll (Dublin), Donnchadh Walsh (Kerry), Paul Cribbin, Eoin Doyle (Kildare), Colm Begley, John O'Loughlin (Laois), Michael Quinn (Longford), Lee Keegan (vice captain), Aidan O'Shea (Mayo), Darren Hughes, Conor McManus (Monaghan), Ciarán McDonald (Tipp), Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte, Niall Morgan (Tyrone). Standby: Gearoid McKiernan (Cavan), Colm O'Neill (Cork) Paddy O'Rourke (Meath), Kieran Hughes, Dessie Mone (Monaghan), Ray Connellan (Westmeath), Enda Smith (Roscommon).

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