Monday 19 February 2018

Martin Breheny: Dublin might be better off without Diarmuid Connolly

Star's poor discipline raises serious questions about his value to county's three-in-a-row bid

Diarmuid Connolly argues with linesman Ciarán Branagan last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly argues with linesman Ciarán Branagan last Sunday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If the rules had been applied correctly in O'Moore Park last Saturday evening, Diarmuid Connolly would have been sent off.

Instead, linesman Ciarán Branagan did nothing when Connolly made contact with him while protesting over a line ball decision going against Dublin.

Referee Seán Hurson (Tyrone) didn't intervene either, despite the rules clearly stating that "minor physical interference (laying a hand on, pushing, pulling or jostling), threatening or abusive conduct towards a referee, umpire, linesman or sideline official" is a red-card offence, punishable by a minimum 12-week suspension - as is now being proposed by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).

If Hurson didn't see the incident - and it's difficult to understand how he could have missed it - Branagan (Down) should have drawn his attention.

Either way, Connolly should have been sent off, in which case he would have had the damning distinction of being dismissed in three successive inter-county games.

He came on as a sub against Monaghan at half-time in the final round of Allianz League games in Clones in early April but was back on the bench 15 minutes later, having been black-carded by Joe McQuillan (Cavan).

Diarmuid Connolly being given marching orders in the NFL final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly being given marching orders in the NFL final. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dublin were trailing by three points at the time and in real danger of missing out on a top-two finish. They recovered and won by three points, booking a clash with Kerry in the final a week later.

Connolly started this time but was on the bench after 30 minutes, after being black-carded for a ridiculously unnecessary pull-down on Kerry sub Gavin Crowley.

Discipline

Dublin were leading by two points at the time but eventually lost by one, ending a 25-month unbeaten run and wrecking their five-in-a-row league ambitions.

Joe McQuillan calls over Connolly before issuing a black card against Monaghan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Joe McQuillan calls over Connolly before issuing a black card against Monaghan. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

In the space of seven days, Connolly's lack of discipline had greatly increased the workload on his colleagues as they sought to reach the league final and then possibly cost them the title.

Dublin were never in danger of losing to Carlow last Saturday but he still let his colleagues down by committing a red-card offence, albeit one that went unpunished, for no obvious reason.

It should have been a leisurely stroll to the finish for Dublin but instead Connolly summoned the red mist over a line ball decision.

If his conduct was that combustible against Division 4 opposition who were no threat to Dublin, how would he react if the stakes were higher? All of which raises the question - would Dublin be better off if Connolly were suspended for 12 weeks?

Loyalty is a commendable trait in a squad and while the natural reaction is to defend any member who becomes embroiled in controversy, where does solidarity end and impatience begin?

Two successive dismissals for black-card offences at the business end of the league must have left Jim Gavin seriously exasperated, especially since the second one may have cost Dublin the title.

For Connolly to follow up with Saturday's nonsense suggests that learning lessons does not come easily to him. But then he had good reason not to be too fearful of sanctions. In 2011, he escaped a ban, which would have kept him out of the All-Ireland final, after being red-carded in the semi-final against Donegal.

Even more controversially, he was cleared to play against Mayo in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final replay after taking an appeal against a one-match suspension to the DRA.

It was all very dramatic as the decision only came in the early hours of match day, with the DRA adjudicating on a 2-1 majority that Connolly should be cleared on the basis that he had not been afforded fair procedures in the initial stages of the process.

Connolly might have won on a technicality only but it still took the score to 2-0 for him in two big battles with the GAA's disciplinary powers, results which just might encourage a view that whatever sanctions they imposed, he would always find an escape route.

Dublin supported him all the way in those two cases but how long more can they continue their indulgence?

Would they be better off without him for the next 12 weeks, with Gavin instead looking to his bench for a replacement? We're being told repeatedly that Dublin have by far the strongest back-up forces in the country so why not use it?

Even Bernard Brogan, who came on as a sub last Saturday, is no longer guaranteed a starting position, underlining the amount of attacking talent at Gavin's disposal.

In those circumstances, Connolly might not be anything like as much of a loss as some would have you believe. Besides, if his discipline is so suspect, is it not damaging Team Dublin as whole?

Connolly's supporters argue that opposition are setting out to provoke him and that he doesn't get sufficient protection from referees. That's a tiresome excuse, ignoring the reality that most top-line attackers come in for special attention without reacting, except perhaps by playing better.

Brogan, for instance, took plenty punishment over the years but always remained calm, an attitude that made it clear to opponents that trying to provoke him was a waste of time. Not so with Connolly. And the more he reacted, the more opposition set out to rile him. What's more, it won't change until he does.

His volatility reached intolerable levels last Saturday so a lengthy spell on the sidelines - either as a result of GAA action or Gavin deciding he's had enough of the indiscipline - might well be in Dublin's interest.

Indeed, it might be in Connolly's best interests too, leaving him with time to reflect on whether he wants controversy to accompany him to the end of his career.

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