By Eanna O’Reilly
The recent retirement of Dublin football star Diarmuid Connolly has drawn tributes from across the GAA world, with one of the games most brilliant talents of the last decade recognised for his immense contribution to Dublin football. With 6 All-Ireland titles, 11 Leinster championships and 6 National league titles, Connolly left the game after a level of personal achievement which matched his natural talent. Speaking on the Backdoor GAA Podcast, Mayo legend Conor Mortimer was in no doubt that the decision was made entirely by the St. Vincent’s man himself. ‘‘Any manager worth their merit would take the best players he can get, not least the best. And Diarmuid Connolly was that for Dublin. I think if you look at everything he’s won…and just this year with the pandemic and all of the uncertainty, I can see how it might have been difficult to commit. We know he’s involved in a lot of charity work abroad; he’s developing his career at home. Some of those things might have been a factor for him, but no doubt its totally his decision. I certainly wouldn’t think it was a case of the manager letting him go’’.
Mortimer payed tribute to Connolly’s brilliant talent as a player and identified him as a once in a lifetime player in Gaelic football. ‘‘You really don’t see too many players like him. He was so talented. Brilliant off either foot, his passing, his accuracy. He had outstanding balance. He was unpredictable; you knew he was going to be good; it was just a case of how good. He had that ability to change a game. He had huge desire to win and he was physical. Very physical. He always kept himself in terrific shape as a footballer. Will he be a loss to Dublin now that he’s gone? Of course he will. I would say that over the last ten years he has been pound for pound their best player’’.
Identifying Connolly’s brilliant moments, Mortimer referred to watching him play for St. Vincent’s in Dublin on many occasions and the class he displayed in club football. ‘‘Watching him in club games, he was just different class. The things you’d see him do with Dublin that would stand out, people from Vincent’s would tell you that he does things like that in every game for them. I remember the goal he scored in the club All-Ireland against Castlebar, I was commentating on it for Midwest Radio, it was just magic. You only have to look back at last year, the turnover he won in the All-Ireland final against Kerry, the way he pinged that pass into the full forward line straight away. Against Mayo (2017 All-Ireland Final) he won that crucial free which Dean Rock kicked to win the All-Ireland. Most players just can’t do those things, they wouldn’t even try them because they know they are not at that level. Most players are nowhere near that level’’.
Reflecting on Connolly’s legacy as a player, Mortimer believes that Connolly’s portrayal by certain sections of the media may well have contributed to his image on and off the field, which would explain his surprisingly low number of All-Star awards (two). ‘‘I would say some of the stuff that came with Diarmuid, the stories that went around, whether they were true or not, would have had an impact as regards All Stars. Of course, a lot of that is just paper talk. Anyone who knows him, I’ve met him a lot of times over the years, would have to say he’s a really nice guy. As a player, he would have got more attention than most, from the opposition and defenders. We saw that with Lee Keegan with Mayo. But Diarmuid never backed down. He fought fire with fire. And he always looked like he enjoyed playing the game, whether it was with club or county. That was because he was just so talented. The players who go out and play the way Gaelic Football should be played, that’s what makes the game enjoyable. I always loved watching Diarmuid. He was enigmatic, but skill wise, he was just different class. I don’t think there’s any greater tribute you can pay to the man’’.