For a player who doesn’t speak much to the media, a lot is known about the 29-year-old. It’s perfectly understandable that so many are interested in the business of the game’s most electrifying footballer. Had Dublin won last Sunday week, there wouldn’t be so much fuss about his and fellow Dublin panellist Shane Carthy’s decision to travel to Armagh to watch their St Vincent’s team-mates take on Crossmaglen in a challenge game. There mightn’t be as many legs growing on stories about his presence in St Oliver Plunkett Park either.
Had Dublin won last Sunday week, he wouldn’t have had to cancel the trip to the Balearic party island. It’s believed a couple of other Dublin footballers were set to join him, including John Small, man of the match in the drawn game, but because it was Connolly, the trip took on heightened significance. Missing St Vincent’s senior hurlers’ championship defeat to Cuala on Saturday? That may have been overlooked too.
Had Dublin won last Sunday week, a respected defender like Paddy Christie wouldn’t be making the astonishing if increasingly accurate claim that Lee Keegan has Connolly’s number. After his marathon disciplinary appeal before last year’s semi-final replay, there were mitigating circumstances behind his below-par showing against Keegan, but Connolly had no excuses in their latest duel.
Had Connolly kicked a short pass from the Hogan Stand sideline deep into additional time or allowed Ciarán Kilkenny to do likewise, Dublin would in all probability have won last Sunday week. Nine years earlier, Kerry found themselves in a similar position in a semi-final against Dublin and killed the clock with death by recycling. After one of the greatest examples of keep ball, Declan O’Sullivan sent over a point akin to Connolly’s superb score in seeing off Kerry in the semi-final.
Instead of being O’Sullivan ’07, Connolly fancied himself as Fitzgerald ’01, only Dublin, unlike Kerry in Semple Stadium, weren’t trying to level matters. Jim Gavin didn’t criticise his player in public: “I’ve seen him kick them in training, so I have no issue with that. He’s well able to kick them over the bar from that distance and angle.”
Most will take the manager at his word but, knowing his attention to detail, we have our doubts. The percentage play was not a shot at goal or even merely kicking it dead. Running down the remaining 60 seconds or so with the ball in their hands was the call. It would have given Dublin what Gavin termed an undeserved victory, but a victory nevertheless.
Did Connolly put himself before the team? The week before the final, Darragh Ó Sé in his fine Irish Times column had used Connolly — the recipient of one All-Star — as proof that the personal accolades don’t mean half as much as people make them out to be. Yet, ironically, Connolly’s behaviour in wrestling the ball from Kilkenny didn’t project leadership, as reek of the desperation Ó Sé highlighted in calling out All-Ireland final mé féiners.
“I can tell you that the stink off a guy trying to win an All-Star on All-Ireland final day fairly lingers in the air,” wrote Ó Sé. “I know people would find it hard to believe that any player could be that foolish on All-Ireland final day. Believe me — not only is it possible, it happens most years. It gets lost in the fog afterwards, because all anybody talks about is who played well and which poor unfortunate made a few mistakes that cost his team.”
Try to imagine what was going through Connolly’s head that moment he made a dart to snatch the ball off Kilkenny. He hadn’t played too poorly up to that point, but Keegan had enjoyed the better of the spoils. He may have felt what was shaping up to be a second All-Star winning season prior to the final was under threat. A victory- capping point from the sideline would have re-established his credentials, which in truth still hold strong.
It might seem an anomaly that Connolly has just one All-Star, won in 2014, but it’s not. As much as he is electrifying, he is more mercurial. In four All-Ireland finals, he has scored just two points, held scoreless in three of them. He missed out last year, because he underperformed in Dublin’s last three matches. In 2013, a solid semi-final against Kerry was sandwiched between so-so displays against Cork and Mayo, while in 2011 his levels dwindled after a commanding quarter-final performance against Tyrone.
As a four-time All-Star, it’s easy for Ó Sé to say that the pieces of bronze are not treasured. Connolly sure looked like a man intent on grabbing one in additional time nine days ago. To achieve that this Saturday, he would be better advised to try and win his duel with Keegan instead of the match.
Cut the LGFA some slack
Truth be told, Greg McGonigle’s post-match press conference on Sunday was more box office than the 60-plus minutes of football that preceded it. Cork and Dublin weren’t helped by the inclement weather, especially in the first half, but then McGonigle’s humour wasn’t helped by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) either.
To insist, as he did, that the organisation should have commissioned UK-based company HawkEye to operate for Sunday’s three national finals is easier said than done. Recalibrating the system for a size-four football as opposed to the men’s size-five would be costly and who’s to say HawkEye would have agreed to make it available for just one day in the year?
The LGFA’s argument that they shot down the idea of HawkEye, as they preferred it across the board, makes sense on a number of levels, even though it is more logical to ensure that on the sport’s biggest day every measure is taken to ensure things are prim and proper.
The LGFA have been leaders in innovation, with measures such as the clock/hooter and playing without the pick-up, which contributes to quicker play and fewer fouls. If HawkEye is not a goer, logistically, maybe video evidence could be the more cost-effective solution to ensuring scores are considered just that.
Fitzgerald has done Clare a service
Davy Fitzgerald’s five-year reign as Clare manager will be remembered most for the 2013 All-Ireland triumph, but rivalling the memory of this year’s Division 1 success will be the dignified manner in which he chose to step aside.
Weeks, maybe months of division and rancour have been avoided by the Sixmilebridge man’s willingness to accept the opinion shared by a number of prominent players that a change in direction is required. Those that say it’s all about Davy may like to consider how statesmanlike he has been in exiting stage left without the slightest hint of bitterness in his statement.
If there was one criticism of last week’s series of events it’s, that it could have happened weeks earlier, but Fitzgerald’s successor should be in place by the end of next month. Whoever he is will inherit quite a legacy in terms of what Fitzgerald helped create in the county’s Caherlohan training facility. The fundraising drives he mounted are unlikely to be rivalled.
Then, there is the obvious talent in the Clare group, though the constant reference to the three-in-a-row U21 All-Ireland titles threatens to become an albatross. Limerick’s similar feat in the early 2000s was just that and, though Clare have since shown they can transfer that to senior level, so much burden is placed on too few, such as Tony Kelly. It’s up to his team-mates now to take their fair share, as Fitzgerald looks to new challenges. Don’t rule out a date against Clare in the not too distant future.