IT’S A NEW scenario facing Jim Gavin.
When the Dublin manager sits down this week to fill out his team sheet for Sunday’s Leinster semi-final against Westmeath, it will be the first time that he will not select Diarmuid Connolly for a championship outing.
Last Thursday it was confirmed that Dublin were opting to draw a line under the saga that had flared since Connolly’s altercation with linesman Ciaran Branagan in Portlaoise earlier this month.
The ban prevents Connolly from featuring for Dublin until late August and the All-Ireland champions are preparing for the different scenario of operating without their attacking talisman.
Gavin has been in charge of Dublin for 26 senior championship matches and Connolly has been a permanent fixture in the starting side during that run.
Indeed you have to go back to the 2012 Leinster final for the last time Connolly did not start in the championship arena for Dublin.
In the semi-final win over Wexford, Connolly had drilled home a first-half goal for Dublin before a red card was brandished in his direction after half-time for an off-the-ball incident involving Brian Malone.
He watched on as Dublin despatched Meath in the 2012 Leinster final but returned for the quarter-final meeting with Laois, the start of an impressive run of playing service that has stretched to 28 championship games.
Under Gavin, Dublin have flourished and Connolly has been central to their streak of success. He’s won four Leinster championship medals, been part of three All-Ireland triumphs and collected two All-Star awards in 2014 and 2016.
In the 26 championship appearances he has made under Gavin, Connolly has only been substituted eight times and his involvement also came to a premature halt in the drawn 2015 All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.
But he has been a key driver of their success and weighed in with vital scoring contributions. There have only been three occasions – Cork quarter-final in 2013, Mayo replay in 2015 and Kerry final in 2015 – when Connolly was held scoreless during that time frame.
Diarmuid Connolly championship scoring record
- 2013 – 1-9 (6 games)
- 2014 – 2-11 (5 games)
- 2015 – 4-10 (7 games)
- 2016 – 2-16 (7 games)
- 2017 – 0-1 (1 game)
Now Dublin must get set for championship life without him. They’ve coped without him in the early stages of campaigns before when All-Ireland club commitments with St Vincent’s tied up Connolly in 2014, 2015 and the spring just gone.
On each occasion he was back in the mix when Dublin entered the straight in their pursuit of league titles, the 29-year-old hitting the net in the 2014 and 2015 league final victories over Cork and Derry respectively.
This year’s league decider ended on a sour note for Connolly though. He hauled down Kerry substitute Gavin Crowley, prompting Paddy Neilan to shown him a black card.
It was in the midst of a series of disciplinary storms for Connolly, after he was somewhat unlucky to pick up a black card against Monaghan and preceding the controversy against Carlow.
The absence of Connolly may be unusual but it doesn’t mean Dublin are not well stocked with options up front.
Their starting attacking sextet against Carlow saw Connolly line up alongside Niall Scully, Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion, Dean Rock and Kevin McManamon.
Dublin sprung Bernard Brogan, Mark Schutte and Conor McHugh from the bench in that game while Paddy Andrews was an unused substitute that night at O’Moore Park.
Factor in Ciaran Kilkenny – utilised as a midfielder against Carlow – and the trio of Paul Flynn, Eoghan O’Gara and Colm Basquel – not involved that night, and it’s clear that Dublin’s arsenal is heavily loaded with weapons.
If every All-Ireland winning team requires new blood the following season to shake up their squad and prevent staleness creeping in, then Dublin are not short in that respect.
O’Callaghan and Basquel will be looking to use the All-Ireland U21 success as a springboard, Schutte will not lack motivation after switching from the hurling squad, while Brogan and McHugh are corner-forwards at different stages of their career cycles eager to make an impression.
No Connolly for Sunday then, but no shortage of options in the attack for Dublin either.
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