The Gospel according to Diarmuid Connolly is a bracing text, and one that didn't always have an evangelist. The Dublin All-Star, one of the highest profile footballers this decade, hasn't always engaged much with the media. He explains that being made captain of Dublin county champions St Vincent's is an honour that makes him happy to represent the club.
St Vincent's will contest next Sunday's AIB Leinster final against Rhode from Offaly, and are on the verge of a third provincial title in four years. Yet Connolly's views range widely, and he is inclined to express them bluntly without the circumlocution behind which players being interviewed regularly take shelter.
On this occasion his concerns are chiefly the black card and his unhappiness with it and other rule changes, which he sees as largely unnecessary in a game that he believes works fine without constant tinkering.
“I think it’s silly bringing in these rules. There is nearly one every two years, a different change or something going on. I don’t think it’s benefitting the game. It’s putting bad publicity on the game. Like, the black card has been over-publicised so much. Referees are coming under scrutiny for it. Players are coming under scrutiny for it.”
He disputes whether there was any requirement for the measure, and blames pundits for creating the environment in which the controversial provision was introduced.
"People in the media. There was no need for it, I didn't think. Just because Seán Cavanagh pulled a guy down and some clown in an RTÉ studio decides to throw the toys out of the pram really, and make it more than it was."
His timeline is undermined by the common misapprehension that the genesis of the black card was comments made by RTÉ’s
after Monaghan’s Conor McManus had been rugby tackled by Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh in the 2013 All-
quarter-final. In fact the proposal was brought to that year’s annual congress by the
Football Review Committee
and accepted in March.
That doesn’t impact on his core contention that adjudicating the black card puts pressure “on everybody, not just referees, on players”, and although he says he is not afraid of falling foul of the card he accepts that he is not in the firing line.
“You are not afraid – I’ve got one black card in my whole time playing it– but I don’t play in a position where I have to make them tackles all the time. I can pull out of a challenge in the half-forward line, but you can’t do that when someone goes around you. The letter of the law says a deliberate pull-down is a black card.
“Like, how many times do you deliberately pull someone down? You might be leaving a hand in, in the tackle. A free is the right call. A black card and you lose that player for the whole game.”
In its place Connolly would prefer a new demarcation between types of cynical play. “If they wanted it in my opinion, [to] make a rule, it would be a red card for a clear goal-scoring opportunity, a yellow card for cynical play, for me. You have your two cards, there they are.”
coincidentally was also registering his unhappiness with the black card in this year’s annual report, released on Monday. His alternative suggestion of a sin bin did not attract Connolly’s agreement either.
“Tried that already. That’s another rule that they tried and it didn’t work,”
In another part of the report Costello alleged that Connolly had been targeted by opposition players, and on one championship afternoon had been repeatedly hit before the throw-in. The player is vaguely dismissive.
“I don’t know what game he was looking at. Some lad hit me six times before the ball was thrown in? Maybe it did happen, I don’t know. Find out the game.”
On the general point of targeting he is less exercised, believing the practice of provocation to be at worst an occupational hazard and at best a tribute to the threat a player poses.
“We’ve spoken about this before. It’s part of the game. It’s a physical game. Opponents go toe to toe with each other. I wouldn’t call it targeting as such. If it’s within the rules of the game, fair enough. If it’s not, then it should be dealt with by the officials. That’s all we are asking for really, isn’t it?
“At the same time isn’t it a testament to your own skills that somebody needs to step out of line to curtail you? That’s a compliment really, and that’s the way you look at it.”
Unbeaten all year
He does agree with the county CEO on the subject of this year’s All-Stars, and the fact that Dublin, unbeaten all year in league and championship, got just six awards.
Asked for an obvious omission, he refers to team captain Stephen Cluxton.
“I thought Stephen was harshly judged on probably a poor 10 minutes in the whole year. For me he’s the best goalkeeper in Dublin, he’s changed Gaelic football, so he’s probably one that missed out.
“If you were to look at his stats compared to any other keeper, his ball retention stats are actually frightening, 90 per cent in most games, if not 100 per cent. So what more do you want from a goalkeeper but to keep possession of the ball. That’s the name of the game.”