Back on board: ‘Door is open’ for Diarmuid Connolly return

Dublin would welcome the footballer back after his Boston sojourn, says Paul Mannion

Given all he knows about the perks and perils of walking away from the Dublin football team, Paul Mannion also knows what it might be like to have Diarmuid Connolly back on board: and it sounds like more perks than peril.

“Yeah of course, he’s a fantastic player, we all know that, and the door is certainly open for him to come back,” says Mannion. “He’s a great friend of ours, we all think hugely of him and would love to have him back. But that’s his decision, if he’d like to come back.”

That decision may be imminent. Connolly opted out of the Dublin team after a few rounds of the 2018 league and spent the summer playing his football in Boston. Now back in Ireland, Connolly is expected to play some role with his club St Vincent’s as they continue the defence of their Dublin senior title in Sunday’s quarter-final clash with Castleknock at Parnell Park (4.0). Mannion’s Kilmacud Crokes play St Sylvester’s at 2.0.

At age 31, Connolly is still some way off his sell-by date, and reports of his American summer sojourn suggested no loss of form or fitness in Boston. Dublin selector Declan Darcy has also said the door is open for Connolly, and they “back him 110 per cent”.


Mannion’s sojourn came with the chance to study in Beijing in 2015, which meant he missed that entire season with Dublin, when the team won their second All-Ireland under Jim Gavin. The following year his Kilmacud Crokes clubmate Rory O’Carroll also walked away, to work in New Zealand and, although he made a brief return home last week, it seems O’Carroll’s career with Dublin is over, even if he’s still only 28.

“He was just back for a wedding, the weekend just gone,” says Mannion. “He’s looking a bit skinnier now than he did. It was great to see him, really great to see him.”

Skinnier version

Mannion’s return – or rather reinvention – as a Dublin footballer has been quite astonishing, if only in the physical sense. He looks back at pictures of the skinnier version of himself who walked back into the Dublin dressing room at the start of 2016, and three seasons – and three All-Irelands later – wonders out loud.

“At the start of 2016, the first game was Kerry, and I looked back at photos of that and I was so thin – that was one of the low points when I came back and lads were flying fit and smashing weights in the gym, and I was like ‘Ah Jesus I may do it so’.

“I had lost a good bit of weight after being in China and then just needed to get back and put on some weight, put on some muscle. I was turning 23 that year and kind of had to give it your bit and get stronger. I don’t know in stone, but a good eight or nine kilos heavier now.”

Mannion has no regrets about his year in Beijing, even if he’s gone down a different career path, in management consultant, nothing to do with China or Beijing.

“At the time when the break came I felt it was a good time and I was looking forward to that. Maybe I would have needed a season off, or an off year eventually, but who knows? I don’t know if I would have done it if I didn’t have to. Probably when I came back and watched the lads lifting it again in 2015, a part of me was probably a little bit jealous watching on but more so from the point of view that I just couldn’t wait to get back in there and get back at it again.

I like tracking back, I like tackling. That's part of my game now

“Then 2017 was probably the best year I had and I just kind of said I didn’t want it to be a once off season. I wanted to follow it up with another good one. This still probably wasn’t my best season from a scoring perspective but I’m pleased enough.”

Tracking back

As part of his reinvention he’s also gone more defensive, his performance in the All-Ireland final win over Tyrone – despite scoring a smashing penalty – all about the tracking back.

“It wasn’t something I set out to try and do. I like tracking back, I like tackling. That’s part of my game now. But it wasn’t something I set out at the start of the year and said, ‘this is what I want to work on’.

“Now, I wouldn’t say I’m always happy with not scoring. It’s my first job in most games, to score and get on the score sheet. I’m a forward. But if you can help the team and add to the team’s performance by getting tackles and tracking back and turnovers instead, then often that’s just as important as scoring points.”

All of which, Connolly on board or not, will be required in the drive for five. Mannion suggests the players have their own “mental triggers” to defray any talk of the five-in-a-row, but admits too that hearing some of the talk about Dublin’s so-called financial advantages can be insulting.

“I laugh at it sometimes. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but if you could see within the walls of our dressing room and how we talk and what we talk about and how much work goes in from all the different people who are volunteering their time, it’s not possible that it could be put down to money.”