Diarmuid Connolly's return on the horizon for victorious Dublin

Dublin 0-20 Donegal 0-15: Dublin manager Jim Gavin insists that attacker Diarmuid Connolly remains part of the All-Ireland champions’ panel and could make a return to duty in their next game.

Connolly hasn’t featured for Dublin since last September’s All-Ireland final win when he came on at half-time and had a direct role in four points, helping to edge a tight game.

The five-times All-Ireland winning forward played little football for Dublin in 2017 due to club activity early in the year and a high profile Championship suspension and has been linked with a switch to Pat Gilroy’s hurling setup.

Connolly himself played down talk of a hurling move though hasn’t featured in their three league wins so far and Tweeted that he watched their Round 1 win over Kildare from the stand.

Gavin spoke briefly about 30-year-old Connolly after Saturday’s win over Donegal.

“He’s training away with the squad and attending team meetings,” said Gavin.

Asked if the talented forward could feature against Mayo next Saturday week in Round 4, Gavin replied: “It’s a possibility.”

Connolly tipped last year’s U21 midfield star Brian Howard for a big 2018 and, in the St Vincent’s man’s absence, Howard has ironically stepped in and profited, performing well again on Saturday.

The Raheny man was among a number of fringe and rookie performers who took their opportunities with Paddy Small pointing on his debut and cameos too from Ciaran Reddin and Colm Basquel.

“I thought Colm, Brian Howard and Niall (Scully) really played for the team, winning the ball and laying it off for the man in the best position, that’s what they’re good at,” said Gavin. “It’s what we saw with their clubs last season and that’s the form they’re carrying through.

“The players who came on; Ciaran Reddin, Paddy Small, Eoghan O’Gara, Dean Rock and Cian O’Sullivan, they all played their part for the team and that’s their collective strength.”

Dublin led 0-11 to 0-5 at half-time after a one-way first-half, and by seven shortly after the resumption, but played second fiddle for the next 25 minutes as Donegal over. Patrick McBrearty was superb for the northerners who outscored Dublin by 0-10 to 0-4 in that period to leave just one in it after 65 minutes.

A late four-in-a-row of Dublin points got the job done, to seal their third consecutive win in the campaign.

“There’s no doubt we’re a little bit behind other teams,” maintained Gavin, whose players were in South Africa early last month. “But a game like that, the intensity that was there and the way Donegal really went at the game, and how we’d to dig deep mentally to get a result, that’s very positive.”

Gavin confirmed that Paul Clarke, a colleague of his in the 1995 All-Ireland winning team, has joined his coaching group.

Clarke has worked as a Dublin selector before and took charge of the Dublin teams that entered the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup in 2017 and 2018.

“He has a great perspective and his enthusiasm is infectious; he is a highly motivated coach and will bring a lot to the table,” said Gavin.

The four-times All-Ireland winning manager also addressed the situation regarding Howard’s absence from a Sigerson Cup game with DIT last week.

“I have a dressing-room of grown men and they simply make their decisions based on what is best for their professional, academic or sporting careers,” said Gavin, who slammed the GAA again for playing league games and Sigerson matches alongside each other.

“It’s simply a matter of pushing back the National Football League games and the hurling. It’s a simple solution. But I don’t think anyone is listening. It (the Sigerson Cup) is an important competition.

“It is a great social experience for players as well. It’s a mix of players from different counties who get the opportunity to be on the road with each other. They are only young once and should be given the space to enjoy it.”

Cian O’Sullivan came on for Dublin for the first time this year while Michael Murphy did likewise for Donegal.

But Murphy booted three wides and dropped a point attempt short, crucial misses in a game that hung in the balance until the finish.

It was McBrearty’s artistry that pulled Donegal back and he fired their last four points, three of which were beauties from play.

They ultimately suffered another agonising defeat, however, having previously lost to Kerry and Galway by a point and are battling relegation now. Boss Declan Bonner agreed that Donegal showed Dublin too much respect in the first-half when they fell six behind.

“I think so, especially in the first-half,” said Bonner. “Niall Scully was causing problems for us, he kicked three or four points. We had to sort that out. We got a few things sorted out and in the second-half we played on the front foot and we asked Dublin a lot of questions.

“We got some brilliant scores. But you have to convert all your chances against a quality side like that and we just didn’t in the second-half. When it was back to one point, we just couldn’t get it to to all square. Lads have learned from that but they are disappointed, bitterly disappointed that we haven’t got something on the board at this stage.”

Scorers for Dublin:

C. Basquel (1 free), N. Scully (0-4 each); B. Fenton, P. Mannion (1 free), C. Kilkenny (0-2 each); E. O’Gara, E. Lowndes, P. Andrews, B. Howard, C. Reddin, P. Small (0-1 each).

Scorers for Donegal:

P. McBrearty (0-7, 3 frees); R. McHugh, S. McBrearty, J. Brennan (0-2 each); M. McHugh, L McLoone (0-1 each).

DUBLIN:

S. Cluxton (c): E. Lowndes, P. McMahon, D. Byrne; J. Cooper, J. McCarthy, J. Small; B. Fenton, M.D. Macauley; N. Scully, C. Kilkenny, B. Howard; P. Mannion, C. Basquel, P. Andrews.

Subs:

E. O’Gara for Andrews, C. O’Sullivan for McMahon (46); D. Rock for Macauley (65); C. Reddin for Scully, P. Small for Basquel (73).

DONEGAL:

P. Boyle; T. McClenaghan, C. Ward, E.B. Gallagher; L. McLoone, E. Doherty, R. McHugh; H. McFadden (c), N. Mullins; S. McBrearty, O. MacNiallais, M. McHugh; P. McBrearty, J. Brennan, C. Thompson.

Subs:

C. McGonigle for Mullins (27); N. O’Donnell for Thompson (42); M. Murphy for MacNiallais (55); C. McGinley for McHugh (65); M. O’Reilly for S. McBrearty (69); P. Brennan for R. McHugh (72).

Ref:

J. McQuillan (Cavan).



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