Diarmuid Connolly in the past, present, and future

Talk of suspensions is all the rage again after Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Waterford and Cork but Jim Gavin was in no mood to tread back over old ground when the conversation turned to Diarmuid Connolly yesterday.

The St Vincent’s forward’s 12-week ban for shoving a linesman will expire the night before Dublin’s meeting with Tyrone in the second of football’s All-Ireland semi-finals next Sunday week but Gavin was clipped when asked about the player’s likely involvement.

“Yeah, we just have to wait and see as we get closer to the game,” was all he offered.

Further queries as to the player’s physical well-being, lack of match sharpness and the like were met with an ever-decreasing number of words: all of which was very different from the Westmeath post-match press conference back in June.

The Connolly furore was dead in the water by then. Old news. People had moved on but then Gavin refused to do one-to-one interviews with broadcasters, hit out at RTÉ and Sky and claimed his player’s good name had been “attacked”.

Also among the list of complaints was his assertion that incidents similar to Connolly’s against Carlow in Portlaoise had failed to attract anything like the same levels of attention from the association’s disciplinary authorities or the media.

So, had he seen any more since then that might have warranted a beady eye?

“I’m not going to get into that today,” he said yesterday.

“My focus is purely on Tyrone and whatever happened in the past is gone for us now. The team’s focus is purely on a massive challenge against Tyrone in an All-Ireland semi-final.”

Distractions at a minimum, then.

Connolly aside, Gavin has a wealth of options for the upcoming meeting with the Ulster champions. A clean bill of health was declared yesterday but how he deploys his troops for such an intriguing match-up is another thing.

It’s six years since the counties met in the summer months.

Dublin won that All-Ireland quarter-final by seven points, but their mutual league appointments since then tell a tale of greater parity with two draws and a win apiece from their last four.

The last of those encounters is perhaps the most pertinent reminder as to what faces the Leinster champions with five unanswered points — the last of them a 74th-minute Dean Rock free — required to claim a draw on a freezing February night in Croke Park.

When Gavin looks at Tyrone he sees a side that has evolved over the years. A side with a blend of youth and experience that has amassed 6-77 in their four championship games to date while playing with just the one recognisable forward.

The instinct is, and has been for some time, to label Tyrone as a defensive operation given it is the rock on which they have built their game but their scoring figures begs the question as to whether they should just be rebranded as a counter-attacking side instead.

Mickey Harte, for one, has always scoffed at the idea that they are defensive.

“We’ve always looked at them as having a big scoring threat,” said Gavin. “Even going back to our National League game in early February this year, they looked very impressive going forward and they got a great goal in that game.

“Defence has always been their cornerstone and they have always been an exceptionally good counter-attacking team, but they have really added to it since that league game.

“If you look at their championship games it has been so, so impressive from them. In the modern game they are just a modern football team. They have been very impressive.”


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