Wednesday 17 July 2019

Seven appearances and four points in three years - has Diarmuid Connolly's Dublin career finally come to an end?

Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin in conversation with Diarmuid Connolly. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Will Slattery

Will Slattery

If nothing else, the news that Diarmuid Connolly is to decamp to America for the second consecutive summer at least brings to an end the tedious practice of trying to elicit any updates from Jim Gavin on a potential return.

Connolly last wore a Dublin jersey in a 26-minute National League cameo against Mayo in February 2018. What was meant to be a first hit-out of the year instead looks increasingly like a low-key farewell, a final inter-county bow a long way from the six All-Ireland final days that he often lit up.

Read more: Dublin return off the table as Diarmuid Connolly heads to US for the summer 

On the countless occasions since where Gavin was pressed on whether the mercurial attacker would be back in his panel, the Dublin manager indicated that the door was open. That Connolly will now pull on the Donegal Boston jersey while Dublin attack history indicates that his mind might be made up once and for all.

After all, if the prospect of an unprecedented five in-a-row doesn't bring him back into the fold, what will?

On one hand, you can understand why journalists were so determined to break new ground on the story whenever Gavin was presented to them. Consider that one of the most high profile Gaelic footballers of his generation, a member of a team who are now driving for five, has not only been absent from inter-county football for almost 18 months, but has remained silent on the matter too.

In an era of 24/7/365 media coverage, this is an impressive keeping of one's counsel from Connolly. As a result, few people truly know the reason why he isn't playing for Dublin, which adds a layer of mystery. We don't like unsolved mysteries.

Connolly was never a regular on the interview circuit, which meant that any public utterance was noteworthy. An appearance on the Hill 16 Army podcast in 2017 offered a rare insight into a player who revealed a knowledge of the game - he tipped Brian Howard to have a big year ahead of his All Star emergence - while also acknowledging that he hasn't always been a manager's dream (confirming that he left the panel in 2010 after a disagreement with Pat Gilroy).

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Taking it that 2019 is off the cards, were Connolly to play for Dublin in 2020 - a summer that would see him turn 33 - it would represent what amounts to almost three full years away from inter-county football. Connolly has featured in just seven of Dublin's last 40 matches over two-and-a-half years, playing only 203 minutes with just 0-4 to his name, since he won his second All-Star following the 2016 season.

2018 saw him play those 26 solitary minutes against Mayo but 2017, a controversial summer where he missed three months after making contact with a linesman in the Leinster quarter-final against Carlow, also saw him bank a meagre amount of on-pitch time.

In 2017, Connolly made just three league appearances - 71 minutes in total, kicking 0-2 - and three championship appearances - 106 minutes in total, kicking 0-1. That one championship score and All-Ireland final second half display is what people regularly point at to illustrate just how crucial he was to Dublin's cause, and could be again.

It is highly likely that Mayo would have ended their All-Ireland famine had Connolly not produced such an influential second period, getting on plenty of ball, contributing a gorgeous assist for a Dean Rock point before drawing the foul for the match-winning free.

However, maybe in retrospect the All-Ireland semi-final was more crucial in determining his future. After sitting on the sidelines during his lengthy summer ban, Connolly was back on the bench for the final four clash with Tyrone.

Dublin produced one of their most complete performances under Jim Gavin, blitzing Mickey Harte's side to ultimately win by 12. The game was dead as a contest long before the finish - perhaps a good chance to get some game-time into Connolly ahead of an All-Ireland final?

Connolly was brought on after 69 minutes.

It was an example of Gavin's team-first mentality but for such a senior player, it was derisory day after enduring a summer full of negative coverage. Perhaps that was a gesture that led to Connolly reconsidering his inter-county future, or perhaps in the absence of a declarative explanation, we are just extrapolating a lot from one incident.

But it's hard not to look at how Connolly's story has unfolded over the last three years and draw the conclusion that the memories he created for Dublin fans will have to suffice, and that it's unlikely he will write any further chapters in one of the sport's most illustrious tales.

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