The Dublin forward’s all-round display had been remarkable well before he pocketed two goals in the second half, but those scores sealed the Dublin club’s fourth All-Ireland title, their second in six years.
Plenty of the 31,472 crowd would have left after the hurling final curtain-raiser but those who remained on were treated to not only a better spectacle but what only could be described as artistry from Connolly.
St Vincents didn’t exactly help themselves playing a sweeper in the first half but they remained the more potent force and forced a hat-trick of fantastic Ciaran Naughton saves as Connolly pulled the strings.
The man of the match was the provider for Ciarán Dorney’s goal, Vincents’ second, in the 26th minute but took it upon himself to find the net in the second half after the sides went in level, 2-3 to 0-9 at the break.
They had been level on six occasions before Castlebar’s Danny Kirby reacted quickest to Neil Douglas’s shot hitting the post and put his team one ahead in the 42nd minute.
But the advantage was almost immediately lost when Connolly anticipated a ball bouncing in front of Castlebar’s goal to palm home.
He kicked the next two points before his piece de resistance to seal the victory in the 53rd minute when he recovered well from having his solo interrupted to send a left-footed shot to the net.
Another point was slotted over two minutes later and in the space of 11 electrifying minutes he had amassed 2-3, scores coming from both feet and his hands.
When Tomás Quinn had been the standout player in almost all of Vincents’ games on the way to the final, Connolly had stolen the show.
The softly-spoken Conroy paid his due credit to him but took greater pleasure in hailing a group of players who had not only confirmed their roles in the club’s storied history but helped him to forget past All-Ireland final defeats as a player.
“I don’t think these guys realise what they have achieved with the club. They’re up there now with all the greats in Vincents. We used to have this legacy of teams in the ’70s or the ’50s or whatever. That team and the previous team (2008) are living in nobody’s shadow down in Vincents.
“They have won two All-Ireland club titles, which is incredible, and the way they’ve done it has been incredible as well.
“After the replay against Ballymun, they went out four days later, played St Lomans, yer man here [Ger Brennan] gets sent off and they come out the right side of it. That’s huge. What’s asked of amateur players was incredible and the way they stood up to that was great.”
Castlebar had recovered well from Michael Concarr’s side-footed goal in the ninth minute after an angled dash as well as Richie Feeney’s fifth-minute black card to lead by two before Dorney’s strike.
Feeney gave referee Eddie Kinsella plenty of reason to send him from the pitch — he was replaced by Fergal Durcan — although he stood his ground in blocking Kevin Bonnie. In briefings before Christmas it had been explained bodychecking would be black carded if they ran into the other player’s running line.
Then again, Castlebar were fortunate Neil Lydon wasn’t automatically replaced for two further incidents while Vincents’ Eamon Fennell and Dorney were also lucky to stay on.
Mitchels’ manager Pat Holmes conceded his team had “no answer” to Connolly but credited Tom Cunniffe for snuffing out Quinn’s influence.
Kirby grabbed a second goal in the 56th minute to bring Vincents back to five but the final two scores of the game came from Shane Carthy, with his third of the day, and a Kevin Golden free at the death.
“There were stages of the game where we looked like we were going to be over-run,” admitted Holmes, “but in fairness to the lads they kept plugging away. We brought ourselves back into the game and Ciaran Naughton made a few fine saves.
“Danny Kirby got a goal but within 30 seconds the ball was in the back of the net at the other end. It hopped over Eoghan [O’Reilly] and he [Connolly] just palmed it in. It was a killer blow and I don’t think we really recovered from that.”
Few, if any, would have in the form Connolly was in. The late Heffernan would have more than approved.
Scorers for St Vincents: D Connolly 2-5; M Concarr, C Dorney 1-0 each; S Carthy 0-3; T Quinn 0-2 (1f; R Trainor, K Golden (f) 0-1 each.
Scorers for Castlebar Mitchels: D Kirby 2-0; N Lydon 0-3; P Durcan, T King (2f) 0-2 each; A Walsh, N Douglas, F Durcan, B Moran 0-1 each.
Subs for St Vincents: T Diamond for G Burke (36); C Diamond for E Fennell (inj, 43); K Golden for R Trainor (51); A Baxter for C Dorney (58);
N Mullins for S Carthy (60+1).
Subs for Castlebar Mitchels: F Durcan for R Feeney (black, 6); J Durcan for N Douglas (50); D Joyce for R O’Malley (56); S Hopkins for G McDonagh (59); K Filan for F Durcan (60+2).
ST VINCENTS: M Savage; K Bonnie, J Curley, H Gill; B Egan, G Brennan, M Concarr; D Murphy, E Fennell; G Burke, D Connolly, S Carthy; R Trainor, C Dorney, T Quinn. CASTLEBAR MITCHELS: C Naughton; T Cunniffe, A Feeney, R O’Malley; P Durcan, E O’Reilly, D Newcombe; D Kirby, A Walsh; N Douglas, G McDonagh, R Feeney; T King, B Moran, N Lydon.
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).