Football

Did a brutally excessive ban mark the beginning of the end for Diarmuid Connolly?

Darren Cleary
Darren Cleary

02:28 16 Jan 2019


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One of the greatest players ever to grace a field is unlikely to line out for his county in 2019, it will be his second summer watching from afar as Dublin look to make history.

Former Dublin footballer Senan Connell finds it hard to see Diarmuid Connolly back in blue this summer.

As tough as that is for Dublin fans to digest, as sad as it leaves the neutrals who enjoyed watching the mercurial talent, if Connolly has come to the conclusion that his playing days with Dublin are over, then who are we to question it?

The 31-year-old has been the most scrutinised GAA player in the country for much of the last decade, if he is no longer an inter-county footballer has the time come to stop treating him as one, to stop talking about him as one, and stop asking why he isn't one?

The St Vincent’s man walked away from the panel last spring having featured in just one Allianz League game as a sub.

The greatest player never to win the Player of the Year award played half an hour’s football for Dublin in 2018.

A footnote in an early season Allianz League game may become the curtain call for Connolly.

Few fans would’ve predicted that it could be his final outing in the famous Dubs jersey when he came on for Michael Darragh Macauley during the 2-10 to 0-12 win over Mayo in February 2018.

The beginning of the end came in June 2017, a brutally excessive ban for what the rules list as a ‘minor’ infraction.

The Dubliner got 12 weeks for his tussle with linesman Ciaran Branagan in the Leinster SFC win over Carlow. Suspended for the next game, it was the first time that Connolly would not start in over five years. Jim Gavin, at that point had presided over  26 championship games in charge of Dublin, he selected Connolly to start every time.

Before the Leinster SFC semi-final with Westmeath in 2017, Connolly had started every game since the 2012 Leinster final.

The reason for his absence in that game was suspension, he was sent off in the win over Wexford before slotting back into the XV for the All Ireland quarter-final clash with Laois which began a run of 28 championship starts for Dublin in a row.

When his excessive ban was exhausted he returned for the semi-final clash with Tyrone, but a meaningless cameo with the game already assured was unlike to have offered much satisfaction.

That came weeks later when Connolly was instrumental in Dublin’s All Ireland final win over Mayo, left on the bench for the first 35 minutes the sharpshooter was sprung at the break and went on to guide the Boys In Blue to victory.

That’s it, his last Championship appearance. Connolly didn’t ride off into the sunset the hero, he became a figure of intrigue and innuendo.

One appearance in the Allianz League led fans to wonder why a man who missed so much football the summer before was not playing?

"His status at the moment is that both Diarmuid and I agreed that what was best was that he would take a rest over these games, Gavin told reporters last April.

"He has had a long number of years playing senior inter-county football, as have a lot of this group, so that decision was made in his best interests."

Connolly went to Boston to play football for the summer but returned to action with the Marino Men. He featured in the Dublin SFC quarter-final win over Castleknock and came off the bench too in the semi-final defeat to St Judes.

Declan Darcy seemed to open the door for a return when he spoke in the immediate aftermath of the All Ireland final win over Tyrone.

The Dublin selector said: “We have the highest regard for Diarmuid and we back him 110%. He’s due back in (In Ireland) two weeks, if he’s playing to form, he’s happy, he wants to be part of the group and we feel he can fit into the group, then absolutely.

'Ruthless' Jim Gavin unlikely to recall Diarmuid Connolly

Senan Connell doesn't see a way back in blue for a man he called a genius: “We don’t know why he’s gone or why he left, so we don’t know if he’s even going to be asked back,” Connell told the Irish Examiner.

“But what we do know is that Jim is ruthless. He was looking forward and he was looking for the replacement.

“From my own personal point of view, I just can't see it.

“Just adding up bits and pieces, there's not much comes out of that camp but I find it difficult to see Diarmuid coming back into that panel now. And I haven't heard anything to the contrary.”

If that ship has sailed and Connolly has no interest in playing inter-county football in 2019, that’s ok. He owes nothing to Dublin fans. He gave everything for the cause. He enthralled Dubs and enraged culchies. Job done, Diarmo.

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