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'I've never played against them' - Diarmuid Connolly sums up Castleknock's progress

The 29-year-old also spoke about the influence Mickey Whelan had on his career.

GROWING UP IN Marino, Diarmuid Connolly had no idea his career path would be so fruitful.

Diarmuid Connolly Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

By the time the gifted forward broke through for club and county, both teams were in the midst of major droughts. St Vincent’s hadn’t been crowned champions of Dublin since 1984, while Dublin had gone since 1995 without a taste of Sam Maguire.

Four All-Irelands have since been annexed with Dublin, while Connolly has led St Vincent’s to three county titles, three Leinsters and two All-Irelands.

Much of that success is down to a legendary figure in Dublin GAA, Mickey Whelan. The man who identifies St Vincents’ 2008 All-Ireland win as the most enjoyable of his career had a massive influence on the nuturing of one of the finest players of the modern game.

“He’s been a massive part of my playing career,” said Connolly. “He took the 21s when the Vincent’s seniors weren’t doing that well – I think they were relegated one year and then they got back up the following year.

“But we had a very good underage team, and he managed us at Under-21s.

“And we went on to win it. I think it was 2006. The following year, he bred all those guys into the senior panel and actually we went on to win it in 2007 and ran a great campaign on to win the club All-Ireland.

“That was the turning point for that Vincent’s team.”

Since then the Vinnies have turned a corner and become the dominant force in Dublin football once again. This is their fourth successive final, although Connolly is aware of the pitfalls of being heavy favourites in a decider.

“Nobody gave Ballyboden a shout last year, they were 5/1 coming in to play us and walked away with it and went on and won the All-Ireland. That’s how strong Dublin club football is at the moment. People mightn’t realise that.

“Obviously it was massively disappointing, being huge favourites going into it. People asking, ‘Is this Vincent’s team finished?’ Clearly we’re not.”

Diarmuid Connolly Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The captaincy gives him an extra incentive to go on and lift a fourth title with his club.

“I was captain last year and I’m captain again this year. I was massively disappointed not to be able to go up and lift the cup up for the club and bring it back there.

“It’s been a big target of mine for the last 12 months to get back to where we are and hopefully walk up the steps of Parnell Park on Saturday afternoon and bring that cup back to St Vincent’s.”

“The funny thing about it is I have actually never played against Castleknock. We haven’t played them in the league yet this year, they only came up from intermediate last year.

“It’s a different challenge in that sense because most of the teams you play in the last rounds of the championship you know from over the years, you know their players, their systems but Caslteknock are a different animal that way.

“We can look at tape and I was here for the Judes game they are well organised, well drilled and they are young lads who are used to winning so it will be a different challenge.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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