Return of Diarmuid Connolly shows that it's all about the team for Dublin says former Tyrone star Conor Gormley
OWEN Mulligan stepped up and spoke up when the Tyrone players met to discuss Stevie O'Neill's proposed return to the squad in 2008.
Mulligan put his county's All-Ireland ambitions before his own by welcoming fellow forward O'Neill – a potential rival for his jersey - back into the fold as the Red Hands prepared for a Sam Maguire decider against Kerry.
More than a decade on and Dublin's five in-a-row-chasing squad have done the same thing by welcoming Diarmuid Connolly back into their dressingroom.
Conor Gormley says the All-Ireland champions' reaction to Connolly coming in from the cold is the same as Tyrone's – the Dubs want the best players on the field and personal feelings come second to what is best for the team.
“When Stevie pulled out it was a bit of a shock,” Gormley recalls.
“He had been struggling with injuries and he was finding it hard to get his place in the team but the word came back through Mickey (Harte) that he was looking to come back onto the panel.
“We had a players' meeting and a lot of the senior players stood up. ‘Mugsy' (Mulligan) was the main man for me, he said there was no issue if Stevie wanted to come back in then bring him back in.
“He could have been the one who have suffered the most but he saw the bigger picture and he deserves a lot of credit for that.
“We all saw the impact Stevie had when he came on in the All-Ireland final - he flicked the ball on for Kevin Hughes to set up the goal for Tommy McGuigan. It was a massive impact and it was great to see him come back in because we knew the calibre of player that he was and the type of person that he is.
“He fitted back in like he had never been away – the skill was there, the talent was there and, more importantly, the desire was there to help Tyrone win.”
At the highest level of inter-county football, competition for places on squads, match-day panels and starting line-ups needs to be cut-throat. Gormley says the Dublin players' attitude to Connolly's return indicates a ‘No I in team' mentality and an over-riding desire for collective, not personal, glory.
“When Stevie came back, some of our boys could have seen him as a threat to their place but they were man enough to be able to see the bigger picture,” he explained.
“It wasn't all about them, it was about Tyrone and the team doing well and it was great to see that. That was one of the things about that squad, it was all about the team, there were no real egos or individuals and that is something that I can see in this current Dublin team.
“They seem to be all well-grounded, they are all together as a team and what they have achieved is unbelievable. You can see the drive and the determination there… It is something else.
“We struggled to come back to win two in-a-row so for Dublin to do what they are doing at the minute is unbelievable.”
Tyrone host Dublin in the third and final round of Super 8 games in Omagh on August 4. Both counties are already through to the semi-finals but markers can still be put down and Gormley doesn't expect Tyrone manager Harte to tinker too much with his team.
“He might make one or two changes,” he said.
“He'll still want to go out and win the game, you're up against the All-Ireland champions and you won't want to take a hammering so he'll go out to try and win the game - his philosophy as far as I've seen it has been to go out and win every game. Our home record hasn't been great in the Championship lately so that's something they'll want to put straight.”
Gormley isn't convinced that Connolly will return to the fray in Omagh. He suspects that the St Vincent's thoroughbred could be unleashed on some beleagured defender at Croke Park during Dublin's semi-final.
“From a spectators' point of view you'd love to see him playing because he's one of the most skilful players but, from a Tyrone point of view, maybe not,” he said.
“They might hold him again – it depends on his fitness and how he has integrated back in. There's a lot of factors in it. They are out to make history, do a five in-a-row for the first time and Jim Gavin needs all the help he can get and no better man than Diarmuid Connolly to come on after 50 minutes. That would be some boost to Dublin.”
What would he do if he saw Connolly trotting out towards him after 50 minutes of Championship action?
“I think you'd have to wrap him up like a round bale, take a black card and get out of there!” Gormley answered with a laugh.
“Chasing Paul Mannion or somebody for 55 minutes and then Connolly comes on to run you ragged… It would be tough but the Tyrone boys are going well. Ronan McNamee is leading the defence well and Colm (Cavanagh) is fitting back into the sweeper role… I think those boys would relish the challenge of marking him and not letting him influence the game.”