I can handle the heat, says marked man Diarmuid Connolly

Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly says he has learned to deal with the sort of provocation that Westmeath admitted to in the wake of last weekend’s Leinster football final.

Talented Connolly hauled James Dolan to the ground during the first-half of Dublin’s eventual 15-point win though was reacting to being initially ruffled on the head by the Westmeath defender.

A melee ensued that led to bookings for both players as well as a caution for Westmeath’s Kieran Martin.

It’s not the first time Connolly has reacted angrily to provocation and just last August, he was red carded for a similar grapple and apparent punch at Mayo’s Lee Keegan.

The sanction was subsequently quashed by the Disputes Resolution Authority and Dublin’s plea of self-defence at that hearing was backed up by comments from Keegan himself that he engaged in ‘black arts’ by provoking the St Vincent’s man.

The admission of provocation this time came from Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin who claimed after Sunday’s provincial final that Connolly “can get a bit excited at times and probably we were looking for him to do so”.

The player himself took part in a rare media engagement yesterday, the launch of the All-Ireland series of the football championship, and said he is used to being targeted at this stage.

“It’s very much out of my control what other teams are trying to do to opposition players,” said three-time All-Ireland medallist Connolly. “I just have to embrace that and try to play my own game, that’s all I can do.

“Is it hard? Not really, no. I’ve learned to deal with it a little bit. You just have to take it play by play and try to get on the ball and make things happen.

“Of course you learn. You are more experienced, this is my 10th inter-county season now so you learn and you grow as you get older, I suppose.”

Former Kerry star Darragh Ó Sé claimed in his Irish Times column last year that provoking Connolly, or “pulling his tail”, could be a way of dealing with his significant threat.

Ó Sé stated that it might be worth seeing if Connolly’s “temper is as reformed as they say. It’s nothing to be proud of but if you think a player has a weakness, you have a responsibility to find it”.

Ó Sé was taken to task later in the year by Dublin GAA secretary John Costello who stated in his annual report that Ó Sé’s remarks were “mean spirited” and “as good as placed a target on the back” of Connolly.

“I don’t really listen to the good or the bad,” said Connolly. “So whatever Darragh Ó Sé wants to talk about, that’s his own thing.”

Asked for his opinion on Costello’s report, Connolly similarly kicked to touch.

“I didn’t get that memo, no.”

Connolly has developed into one of Dublin’s most exciting and, more significantly, important players in recent years having been a little inconsistent in his early years.

“Well you have a different out look now,” the 29-year old said. “This is my 10th season, 2007 was my first season going into it. You’re kind of a little bit overawed. It’s your first time training with a Dublin team. It’s your first time running out in Croke Park in front of 80,000. It’s a completely different experience now and back then but one I’m really enjoying still.”

Connolly’s rare ability to open up opposing defences is particularly important to the All-Ireland holders who are consistently facing up to buttressed rearguards with Westmeath deploying two sweepers last Sunday.

“If you ask any footballer, they want to play man on man,” he said.

“That’s kind of traditional GAA and when you were a young lad that’s how you played it but, let’s be honest, no-one plays like that any more. It’s just something you go through, you learn. We played against Donegal in 2011 and we learned so much from that game.

“It was like a surprise for us at the time. Now everyone is doing some sort of a hybrid or some sort of a defensive structure and it just takes time to break it down. You just have to learn and grow and try to break it down as best you can.”

Connolly said he has developed an interest in MMA and referenced passages from the book of John Kavanagh, Conor McGregor’s coach.

The son of a Kilkenny father and Clare mother, Connolly also spoke of being more interested in hurling growing up and attributed some of his success as an adult player to remaining largely injury-free.

“I do a small bit of yoga and sea swimming but I’ve been blessed with no injuries and long may that continue. I use it (sea swimming) for recovery. I’m living down by the sea in Clontarf so I get down to the Sheds down on Bull Island and jump in and recover the body. I was down there yesterday afternoon.”


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