Diarmuid Connolly: ‘I would love to be there in Croke Park to see James walking up the steps collecting his ninth medal’

“Kerry are the favourites. No doubt. And deserve to be. They are the reigning champions,” the Vincent’s man told the Sunday World.

“But…and it’s a BIG but. If we have a fit team with all the huge names back in the squad like [Stephen] Cluxton, [Paul] Mannion, [Dean] Rock, Jack [McCaffrey] and [Eoin] Murchan.

“Then throw in James McCarthy, who is firing on all cylinders like he has been all season means the lads have a chance.

“I would love to be there in Croke Park to see James walking up the steps in the Hogan Stand collecting his ninth medal. Don’t forget it will be his first as captain. No man deserves it more. And Mick Fitzsimons and Stephen Cluxton to join him on nine medals would be so well deserved too.”

With all of the big names returning and assembling for this year’s Dublin run, would he consider a return? Or at least was he tempted? “I cannot stress this enough. No. I am so far behind the standard required to compete. I had my time. I did ok. I am out.

“I made my comeback already. My focus is hurling for Vincent’s. I will enjoy watching the boys play in Croker and I have loved watching them. I have travelled to as many games as possible too.

“But I can hold my hand up though and tell you I don’t miss it.”

How does a seven-time All-Ireland winner travel to games without being recognised? “Ha. Fans love to interact with players. And I’m lucky that I have never got any aggro. It’s always been positive.

“I do try and cover up though when I go to watch the Dubs playing. The big coat with a huge hood comes out,” he laughs. “Covid was great for one thing as it allowed me to wear a mask to every game. You can’t get away with that anymore.

“I love the passion of fans. Walking out of the stadium after games can take a long time if I get spotted alright. It’s always positive though. I assure you.

“I was walking up Grace Park Road a while ago after a game and someone spotted me and the heckling started. It was good fun.”

He continued: “When I played I was never able to go to games. I love the GAA so I try and go to as many as possible. I love soccer and golf too but GAA is definitely my first love.

“And I’m lucky that I can play both sports. At the moment it’s hurling for my club. But I had an amazing career with the Dubs playing football.

“Hurling is far harder to play. I find it easy to play after a while, but the switch was difficult. Even silly things like having a helmet on and getting used to that.

“But I can hang in the goal for Vincent’s which is completely different to the 10-12km I’d cover playing as Number 12 for Dublin.

“Not that it is easy playing senior club hurling for Vincent’s. I had a very hard battle against Na Fianna in St David’s Park there last week, which was as hard as any of my Croke Park games.”

So, does he miss anything about being part of the Dublin set up? “I miss seeing the lads a couple of times a week to be honest, but I am still mates with them. I don’t miss the Saturday mornings when James McCarthy would run over me in training. If I had a couple of pints I would be 10 percent off and that was all James needed to remind me to never drink again.”

Diarmuid Connolly is a brand ambassador for BoyleSports.

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