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15th Aug 2017

Jim Gavin being a cheeky divil but he’d be crazy to leave out Diarmuid Connolly

They can't afford to take a risk

Conan Doherty

I left Croke Park in a taxi last week after both Tyrone and Dublin had swatted aside meek quarter-final threats.

The driver had been there too, on Hill 16, and a question he posed smacked of pure arrogance.

“So who do you think? Dublin or Kerry?”

He probably thought he was being humble enough too, going to the botheration of including Kerry in the list of potential winners.

“Jesus, I wouldn’t be so sure…”

That was the kindest way I could put it for him.

“Ah, here,” he said. “You hardly think Mayo after last week?”

Mayo had drawn with Roscommon and were still waiting to blow them away two days later and remind the country that they’re still Mayo.


– “Tyrone?” he seemed genuinely shocked.

– “Yes!”

– “Ah, no chance.”

It hadn’t even come into his thinking that the Ulster champions might have something to say about Dublin’s surge towards three-in-a-row.

Mickey Harte has done a good job, the Dub admits. He respects him, he says. But no, it’s not possible. Hardly.

Jim Gavin won’t show such disregard for his opposition – he wouldn’t do that for Westmeath never mind Tyrone – but they’re about to be hit for the first time this year and they’re going to be hit hard.

People might scoff at Tyrone’s route to the semi-final because of how they’ve waltzed past four different northern counties but the truth of the matter is that they made those games look frighteningly easy because of the level they’re now at.

They’ve scored 6-77 in four matches – some going for one of the meanest defensive set-ups in Ireland. They’re averaging more than Kerry and Mayo and they’re arguably the biggest threat to Dublin this season, bigger than what the other side of the draw might offer.

Harte has been preparing for the capital for a few years now and with how they fill their defensive positions before unleashing eight, nine and 10 men to scale the pitch and pick off beautiful scores, they could damn well do it.

They won’t be dictated to by Dublin. They’ll play their own game, they’ll set up their own shell and they’ll attack in their own waves.

At the Dublin press conference on Tuesday morning, Jim Gavin was asked about the possibility of bringing back Diarmuid Connolly who is now available again after a 12-week suspension.

“Yeah, we just have to wait and see as we get closer to the game,” the manager said.

“He is doing his own thing. He is on his own programme. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

But, honestly, it isn’t a risk that Dublin can afford to take. Not against Tyrone.

Whatever about the apparently impenetrable steel of the Red Hands and the guile and power that someone like Connolly would bring to help work around and through it, the champions shouldn’t underestimate the attacking threat of Mickey Harte’s men.

They’ve had between 10 and 12 scorers in every championship game to date but they’re sauntering up the pitch and straight for the posts with such ease that you wonder if a team has scored as easily and as freely as them in a while – barring Dublin of course.

The thing with Connolly is that whilst he’s a mouthwatering footballer and a deadly attacker who possesses not just the best passing arsenal in the game but also some of the finest shooting boots and explosive running, he’s also a dog. He’s a serious worker. He’s selfless, he’s tireless and by Jesus he is strong in the tackle.

He’s tailor-made for a Tyrone. Well, no, he’s just a necessity to play against a team like Tyrone. They don’t just need everything he brings going forward, but they need all the industry he offers in the engine room too. All the tracking back and the big slaps and the aggressive competition for kickouts.

They need Diarmuid Connolly and if they opt to go without him from the start – just because he’s missed three walkover games – they could regret it. He’ll end up coming on sooner or later anyway – Jim Gavin will want to make sure that it isn’t too late.