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Dubs' Connolly experiment has caught the attention

Hero’s return: Diarmuid Connolly
Hero’s return: Diarmuid Connolly
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Even before the final Super8s match between Tyrone and Dublin on Sunday, the story was never going to be about the game itself.

What happened in Omagh was bizarre, unprecedented even, but not worthy of the hand-wringing that has rained down since the Red Hands and Dubs played a Championship game with nothing riding on it.

However, there were plenty of things riding on it if you look in the abstract.

And the place to start here is with Diarmuid Connolly's inclusion. A buzz went around Twitter on Friday evening when somebody leaked the team sheets from the matchday programmes.

Seeing Connolly's name among the substitutes created a new dynamic, heightened even further in the hour before throw-in when the official team sheets were handed in and he was parachuted in for a starting role in his first appearance since 2017.

The Dublin fans, who had recreated Hill 16 at the Gortin Road end of the ground, were like pigs in clabber. Tyrone chose not to warm up at that end, the reason being that last year they had lost several footballs that disappeared into the crowd and never came back.

That gave the travelling fans a close-up view of the prodigal son. When his name was read out over the tannoy, they cheered him to the skies. When he took part in a shooting drill and knocked a ball to the net beyond Evan Comerford, they welcomed it with another good-humoured cheer.

Whenever he touched the ball, a hum went around the crowd. But when that happened, he found himself in splendid isolation.

Mickey Harte had essentially handed Connolly a free role, which was sensible when you think about it. If Tyrone have a plan in mind for Connolly, why show it off now?

The ever-listenable Tony McEntee said this week: "What I saw was twilight appearances of Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan, Eoghan O'Gara and quite a number of players, Rory O'Carroll and so on. I don't think we'll see any of them again.

"Diarmuid didn't offer enough. He's only been back three weeks. Personally, I think it's absolutely crazy, the entire exercise. But Jim (Gavin) knows better than me."

Time will tell.

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