Monday 20 November 2017

Stopping Diarmuid Connolly is not even half the battle Ballyboden face

Today Connolly will be the most marked and gaped at player in Parnell Park as he rides into the county final against Ballyboden on the back on another sublime performance.
Today Connolly will be the most marked and gaped at player in Parnell Park as he rides into the county final against Ballyboden on the back on another sublime performance.

Dermot Crowe

Even if it were true, that if you stopped Diarmuid Connolly you stopped St Vincent's, the task requires an exceptional command of discipline and diligence, and plenty of luck.

It has been achieved. Achieved admittedly by elaborate marking strategies and two, and sometimes three, men placed on or near him - yet achieved nonetheless. But of course it has been proven time and time again that when you contain Connolly, somebody else takes the limelight and can sink your hopes. On the club circuit, where his easy brilliance is magnified, this applies all the more.

Today Connolly (pictured) will be the most marked and gaped at player in Parnell Park as he rides into the county final against Ballyboden on the back on another sublime performance. Five points from play decorated his team's comfortable semi-final win over Na Fianna, with 22 points chalked up by the team in total, to follow the 2-21 they accumulated in the quarter-final win over Lucan.

They have been tossing them aside. Before that Ballymun were equally unable to halt their progress.

In last year's final Oliver Plunkett's managed to stymie Connolly's influence and, of course, spoiled the entertainment for the spectator in doing so. They also kept a tight rein on Mossy Quinn. But they couldn't hold them all and the space afforded to other players was fatal, for they are no duds, and the less heralded Ciaran Dorney and Gavin Burke shared six points from play.

Plunkett's had held Connolly to one, and Quinn managed none from play. They didn't concede a goal and Vincent's score of 0-14 was relatively modest by their standards. But they still found a way through.

For those reasons, Vincent's are expected to complete their first three in-a-row, when they meet Ballyboden at Parnell Park (throw-in 4.0), since the 1970s, a decade in which they managed to do it twice over.

Last year they had seven points to spare over Ballyboden when they met in the semi-final. Connolly had a field day then too. While Vincent's have been favourites throughout this year's championship, their odds have narrowed further since the penultimate round. Compared to their clinical disposal of Na Fianna, which was never in doubt, Ballyboden's two-point win over Clontarf was laboured and unconvincing, achieved with three late scores.

The claim by the St Vincent's manager Tommy Conroy that Ballyboden might be slight favourites - hamming up their win over Clontarf on the basis that they had to play half of it with 14 men after the sending off of Michael Darragh Macauley - is audacious even in the grand tradition of talking up the opposition. Granted, when you look at it that way, it was a spirited show of survival. But favourites? Tommy knows nobody will buy that line.

If you were partial to the view that semi-finals are for winning, the method secondary, maybe the trouble Clontarf caused will afford Ballyboden the springboard to a much better performance, more in keeping with earlier form. In the previous two rounds they eliminated last year's finalists, Oliver Plunkett's, and Kilmacud Crokes. On both occasions they had to deal with forms of adversity. In early October they were level five times with Crokes, only taking the lead when Andrew Kerin scored a penalty with three minutes left. Against Plunkett's they conceded an early goal to Bernard Brogan and trailed for the most part, before Kerin hit the winner in the final seconds.

Kerin was the match winner, with 2-4 from play, when Boden won their last county title, defeating St Jude's by two points in 2009.

Only 11 weeks had passed since the harrowing defeat Dublin suffered to Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, their lowest point before the resurrection led by Pat Gilroy and carried on by Jim Gavin. Ballyboden's first county final appearance since then comes at an infinitely better time for the followers of Dublin football, with three All-Irelands gleaned.

To win, Ballyboden will need a level of midfield dominance that a partnership of Macauley and Declan O'Mahony is capable of offering, and more of the same faith that has seen them come out of sticky situations earlier in the campaign.

They will also be encouraged that the St Vincent's defence has been prised open often enough to give a team hope, most recently for two goals by Na Fianna, who also created other goalscoring chances. Among their attacking options is Dotsy O'Callaghan, whose transfer from St Mark's was mainly to play hurling at a higher level towards the tail-end of his county career. O'Callaghan has indicated his intention to continue playing for Dublin next year, and he might have pocketed a county football medal by then. But if his team-mates give St Vincent's an early run on them, as has happened with previous opponents, it may well spell doom. This is a challenge like no other.

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