Media savvy Diarmuid Connolly symptomatic of Dublin's winning mentality

The Dublin forward gives nothing away and is one example of the winning culture Jim Gavin has created

BY Cian Roche 15:00 Saturday 22 April 2017, 15:00 22 Apr 2017

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

"It's going to be the same here right?"

Diarmuid Connolly walks from one group of reporters to another all itching to ask him about the same thing: his black card against Kerry in the Division 1 League Final on April 9.

The 29-year-old's disciplinary record is under the spotlight. Red cards against Donegal last year and Mayo the year previous are brought up once again to give credence to points put to the Dublin forward.

This year, Connolly was black carded in league outings against Monaghan and Kerry after his extended break from inter-county football.

With Connolly, Jim Gavin has one of the most talented forwards in the country. Widely regarded for his skill, it comes as no surprise that Connolly has become a marked man for Dublin. Gavin knows to get the most out of him, he must embrace all elements of his game.

Marked Man

In instances last summer - against Westmeath in the Leinster final for example - we saw teams attempt to ruffle Connolly's feathers (or hair).

Westmeath's Kevin Maguire, Ray Connellan and Kieran Martin tangle with Diarmuid Connolly during last year's Leinster final at Croke Park. Image: ©INPHO/Tommy Grealy

The 'narrative' surrounding last year's All-Ireland final was the battle between Mayo's Lee Keegan and Connolly, which culminated in an alleged smear campaign against the Mayo defender.

Keegan was a player who made it his mission to negate the impact of Connolly and did so to good effect in the All-Ireland final last September.

The 2016 Footballer of the Year was black carded in the first half of their All-Ireland final replay and his threat was taken out of the game.

In instances regarding his own discipline and decisions against others, Connolly tends not to comment. He prefers to do his talking on the pitch and makes no apologies for that.

Furthermore, he does not care for the opinions of the media. Gavin has - as he has with his entire team - trained Connolly to deal with reporters. The Dublin forward is rarely drawn into mud-slinging in the public sphere.

Former Dublin goalkeeper John O'Leary spoke this week about Connolly's need to improve his disciplinary record if he wants to be considered one of the greats of the game.

"That's external stuff, I can't control that. I actually didn't read John O'Leary's piece, but someone said it to me downstairs.

"I can't really comment on something I don't know. I don't know what he said."

He's then probed about his on-field discipline and the number of cards he's garnered throughout his time in the game.

"Yeah, it's been well documented. Again, I can't control that. That's up to the referee.

"You guys can make what you want of it. At the end of the day it's two black cards [referring to this year's league campaign], that's all I can say about that."

Finely Tuned

At the launch of the Beko Club Bua award scheme on Thursday morning, Connolly showed up and spoke at length with both print, online and radio media outlets.

He no doubt answered the same questions and had the same points put to him.

But he was never drawn. He sat and listened to each question, relaying answers almost from memory.

This group of Dublin footballers are different. On the pitch, they do have that "hard edge" that Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice spoke about prior to the league final two weeks ago.

Jim Gavin consoles Diarmuid Connolly after his red card against Donegal last year in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

They play with aggression, skill and an almost unrivaled determination to win. There's a reason why they've won back-to-back All-Irelands and three of the last four titles on offer.

Under Jim Gavin they have set a new record of going unbeaten in league and championship games, smashing Kerry's which stood for 84 years.

Gavin has kept panel members at their very best and each player knows that even if they don't make the starting XV, they could be needed at any moment for their team. He can spring various All-Ireland winners from the bench to change a game.

Off the field, they are just as finely-tuned. No players ever come out against the team and none criticise the manager. Their focus is solely on themselves.

"I don't read the papers, I don't listen to the radio so I'm oblivious to all the stuff," Connolly admits.

"Someone said something about a John O'Leary article, I don't read the stuff. You can read the good stuff and you can read the bad stuff so it'll all chip away at you so I just don't bother."

And that's it. You can probe and ask as much as you want, but that's about the extent of what you'll get.

'You should read the papers and listen to the radio, otherwise we're out of a job,' one reporter jokes to conjure a response as sharp as his skills on the pitch.

"Spotify is my game, lads," Connolly retorts walking away.

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