Slaughtneil make preparations to put brakes on Connolly
When Slaughtneil step up their preparations this weekend for the forthcoming All Ireland club football championship semi-final against Dublin and Leinster champions St Vincent's, the name of one player in particular will be uppermost in the minds of the squad and management.
In the St Vincent's surge into the last four of the All-Ireland club title race, Diarmuid Connolly has wielded a massive influence within the side - just as he did when he pulled the attacking strings so effectively in Dublin's successful campaign to capture the Sam Maguire Cup back in September.
Connolly is without doubt one of the very top players in the country just now - a creator and finisher who complements sublime skills with a strong will to win and a feisty temperament.
His influence within the St Vincent's side is such that he virtually ran the show when the metropolitan outfit overpowered Offaly champions Rhode in the Leinster final, and on current form he poses a major threat to Slaughtneil's prospects of reaching the All-Ireland decider against Connacht champions Corofin or Munster kingpins Dr Crokes on St Patrick's Day.
Yet it is safe to say that while Connolly's superstar status within the sport is acknowledged in the Slaughtneil camp, no sleep will be lost there in terms of formulating a defensive strategy aimed at curbing his input into a game that holds huge appeal far beyond the boundaries of the competing clubs.
Slaughtneil assistant manager John Joe Kearney certainly does not seek to minimise the threat that Connolly poses, but he nonetheless lays his club's intentions firmly on the line.
"Obviously we see Diarmuid Connolly as the biggest obstacle to our hopes but St Vincent's also have players like Mossy Quinn in there who can do damage when in possession," reflects Kearney.
"We like to think, though, that we have quality defenders who will be up for the challenge of dealing with players like these. I think we have shown to date that our defensive resolve is all that it should be and the fact that we have not conceded a goal in something like eight matches speaks for itself.
"In recent games players like Karl McKaigue, Francis McEldowney and Chrissy McKaigue have been detailed to perform a man-marking role on individual opponents who we felt could have inflicted harm on us and they came out on the right side in those battles. We have every reason for thinking that whoever is asked to mark Diarmuid Connolly will perform that task to the maximum of his ability so we are not unduly worried.
"That's not to say we are naïve because we know the quality that St Vincent's have in their side. We just have belief in our own ability and we hope to perform well as a team on the day."
Skipper Francis McEldowney makes no secret of Slaughtneil's yearning to collect the biggest prize that is on offer in the club sector, particularly after the manner in which they lost to Corofin in the 2014 decider at Croke Park.
"We feel we did not do ourselves justice on that occasion," admits McEldowney.
"We are now a more experienced, wiser side. We have come through a lot of tough tests but obviously you are always going to be judged on how you play when you are pitted against the very elite teams and St Vincent's are certainly right up there among those."
Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran is hoping to be able to deal from a full hand in terms of team selection and plans to place a strong emphasis on his defensive set-up while at the same time allowing free rein to players such as Shane McGuigan, Cormac O'Doherty and Christopher Bradley who have shown themselves to be more than capable of amassing scores.