Castleknock a totally new challenge for Diarmuid Connolly

Dublin star has never faced first-time finalists at any level in his illustrious career

Diarmuid Connolly didn't have to think very long before realising he's never played Castleknock. Even as one of Dublin's most prolific footballers – for club and county – these are a novelty beyond comparison.

While Saturday's Dublin final will see Connolly looking to win his fourth title with St Vincent's, Castleknock are contesting their first: after a near meteoric rise through the ranks of Dublin football, they're now one win away from being outright kingpins.

Founded as recently as 1998 Castleknock don't even have a clubhouse; they play at Somerton Park next door to the Castleknock Hotel and have ambitions plans for further expansion. Yet few expected them to be contesting the Dublin final in 2016.

“That’s the funny thing, that I’ve never actually even played against Castleknock,” says Connolly, St Vincent’s captain. “Not even at underage. We haven’t even played them in the league yet this year, as they only came up from intermediate last year.


“So it’s a different challenge in that sense, because most of the teams you play in the last rounds of the championship you know well from over the years. You know their players, their systems but Castleknock are a different animal that way. We can look at tapes and I was here for the Jude’s game [quarter-final] and they are well organised, well drilled, and all young lads who are used to winning.”

Club football

Indeed speaking at the same event, Castleknock co-captain Shane Boland agreed he'd never played against Connolly, although he had paid good money to see him play in Croke Park with Dublin all summer. All part of the joys of club football.

Not that Castleknock are without headline acts: Ciarán Kilkenny not surprisingly has been one of their driving forces this year, also in helping them win the 2012 Dublin junior championship, then the 2014 intermediate championship.

“He’s a super athlete,” Connolly says of Kilkenny.

“He can play anywhere really, you saw him at wing back when Macker [James McCarthy] got injured and he went in and offered an attacking option for us. He played centre forward and wing forward this year and maybe from the outside you might have thought he was slowing down the play, or going lateral, but it was part of a plan and he was a focal point of that plan . . .

“He took that role and responsibility on himself and grew into it game by game. He had 54 possessions in one game, that’s phenomenal in a GAA game in fairness to him.”

Connolly also reflected on moments of his own All-Ireland success this summer, including that controversial move at the end of the drawn final against Mayo, when Dublin, leading by one point, were awarded a sideline. Connolly opted to attempt the score, only to miss, allowing Mayo one more run of play with resulted in Cillian O’Connor’s equalising point.

Ball dead

“All I wanted to do was put the ball dead. We could set up for the kick-out, which actually didn’t happen. We were too slow for the kick-out. They ended up getting it off short and they went up and scored a point.

“Maybe I should have kept possession of the ball in hindsight. But these things happen in the game. I didn’t really think about it. . . We went on and got the job done the second day.”

Despite some concern about Dublin’s lengthy season, especially the fact their club campaign kicked off so soon after the All-Ireland replay, Connolly doesn’t talk or sound like player running on empty.

“We still had 10 days to the first round of the club championship, it’s an alright time to recover, do a bit of celebrating and get back down to business.

“And the club championship still means an awful lot to me. I was captain last year and I’m captain again this year. Obviously 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.”

Not much sympathy, in other words, for first time finalists Castleknock.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics