Wednesday 13 December 2017

The most talented footballer in the country has only won one All Star - and he could miss out yet again this year

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

'I don't read the media too much'.

That was one of the many soundbites given by Diarmuid Connolly yesterday at a press briefing ahead of this Saturday's Dublin county final. Watching Connolly in action for his club is about as rewarding a Gaelic football experience as you can have.

Read more: Diarmuid Connolly explains the thinking behind his costly All-Ireland final sideline ball

You can bet that a good deal of the capacity crowd packed into Parnell Park for last week's semi-final between St Vincent's and Ballymun were there in the hope that they would witness some Connolly magic.

The Dublin star didn't disappoint, pulling up from various angles and distances - both acute and long respectively - to kick four gorgeous points.

Four points that justify the tag regularly applied to Connolly that he is the game's most gifted footballer.

Perhaps the 29-year-old's stance on the media stems from a reluctance to read negative pieces about his on-pitch behaviour.

However, those sort of articles are more than balanced out by the amount of coverage given to Connolly's innate ability, which feature the phrase 'the most talented footballer in the country' so regularly that it has relegated the lofty superlative to a stock cliché.

If you polled every football fan in Ireland, you would be hard pressed to find any who wouldn't include Connolly in a list of the top three or five players around.

Yet, interestingly, he only has one All Star, meaning that there are 159 players who have been rewarded more times by the selection committee than he has.

One Gaelic footballer has nine awards, one has eight, one has seven, three have six, seven have five, 15 have four, 41 have three and 90 have two.

Diarmuid Connolly - one of the top footballers of his era - has one.

So why does a player almost universally recognised as one of the best - if not the best - have so few All Stars?

There is a real possibility that Connolly - despite starring for Dublin in four All-Ireland-winning campaigns - could have no All Stars to show for any of them.

His one selection came in 2014 when he and Paul Flynn picked up awards on the back of an amazing exhibition of long-range point-taking in the losing semi-final effort against Donegal.

Of course, that could change this year, with the 2016 All Star team - chosen by a selection of GAA corespondents - set to be announced tomorrow. There are six starting forward spots. Judging from the betting, Paul Geaney (Kerry), Michael Quinlivan (Tipperary) and Ciaran Kilkenny (Dublin) are nailed on.

The remaining three spots are expected to be filled from Connolly, Dean Rock (Dublin), Kevin McManamon (Dublin) and Peter Harte (Tyrone).

While you could easily argue for Connolly's inclusion, you could do the same for the others who are in the mix - an issue that applies to an inherently subjective selection each year.

When you break down Connolly's unsuccessful All Star bids in All-Ireland-winning years, it becomes apparent why the selection committee have neglected to reward him since Dublin's breakthrough in 2011 - his scoring record from play in the All-Ireland series.

In 2011, Connolly famously scored seven points from play against Tyrone in the quarter-final but didn't add another score to his tally in either the semi-final or the final.

2013 featured a scoreless quarter-final, a three point effort from play against Kerry in the last four and a solitary point in the final against Mayo.

Last year saw the first great championship battle between Lee Keegan and Connolly, with the Dublin forward registering one point from play across two semi-final games against Mayo to add to two points he kicked against Fermanagh. He failed to score in the final against Kerry.

This year saw his most prolific output in the All-Ireland series since 2014, scoring from play in all four games against Donegal (0-2), Kerry (0-3) and Mayo (0-1 and 0-1).

In the fourteen All-Ireland series games played in Dublin's four victorious campaigns, Connolly has kicked 21 points from play, averaging 1.5 points per game, a solid if unspectacular total.

But even more tellingly, he has only scored three points from play in the four All-Ireland finals he has played - so he has as many red cards in All-Ireland series games - and in a selection system that is heavily weighted towards the end of the championship, that fact has undoubtedly gone against him.

Of course, his influence in this year's final extended beyond scores from play - he converted a decisive penalty and was involved in the incident that saw rival Keegan black carded - so you could argue that his all-round contribution was greater than in previous finals.

Connolly deserves an All Star for his efforts but the selection committee are tough assessors and although he would appear nailed on from afar, a closer look indicates that the Dubs star will be in a close fight with some team-mates for a coveted spot on the team.

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