LUKE CONNOLLY’S shock omission from the starting 15 against Kerry faded into the background after Mark Keane’s sensational winning goal.
Now, the 28-years-old free-scoring Nemo Rangers marksman, who debuted in 2016, is hoping to be named in the side for Sunday’s Munster final against Tipperary at Páirc Uí Chaoimh at 1.30pm.
Yet, his appearance from the bench 10 minutes into the second-half underlined the importance of having impact substitutes.
“All you have to do is look at the fellas who didn’t make the 26, players with championship experience who would have aspirations of making the team,” Connolly said.
“Just go back to the move that got the final score. It started with Paul Kerrigan kicking it long into Michael Hurley.
“The ball comes across and I think it was Tadhg Corkery who wins a 50-50 on the ground. The ball goes to Sean Meehan who goes through before passing to Damien Gore, who gives it to me and Mark scores.
“Only Sean, of all those, actually started and that shows the importance of a strong bench. Of course, every player is going to be disappointed, when he’s told he’s not starting.
“The nature of this sport and inter-county football is that there is no place for egos and you can’t rest on your laurels.
“Don’t get me wrong, I was disappointed and I’d like to think I’m good enough to get in the team, but you tell me who to leave from the forwards we have?
“There’s fierce competition there and that’s the way Ronan likes it and it’s the best way to have it.
“Dublin say their most competitive games were their A v B in-house games and it’s a culture we’re trying to invent ourselves.”
Connolly also said he was trying for an equaliser in those dramatic closing seconds, but as the team’s nutritionist, Johnny Holland, told him afterwards ‘it was probably the most important miss I ever had’.
“I’d like to say I was aware of the clock, but I wasn’t aware as to how tight it was. Only when I looked back on in that the minute was just up as I kicked it.
“The idea was that we were trying to work a shot and when I got it in my hands I thought I was in a position to shoot.
“I hadn’t been shy in shooting after coming on and the plan was to kick it over the bar and force penalties. Fortunately, Mark was waiting inside.”
As Kerry lay crest-fallen, Connolly’s mind went back to the 2015 Munster club final when Clonmel Commercials snatched a goal in the closing act to deny Nemo in similar circumstances.
“It’s probably the worst way to lose a match and the best way to win. It was an incredible feeling given what was on the line.”
Now it’s all about Tipp, a first Munster title since 2012 and a place in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo.
And Connolly knows what’s coming down the tracks.
“We both know each other very well at this stage; whether that’s a good or bad thing I don’t know. We’re nearly playing each other twice a year because of league and championship.
“And I don’t recall any of those games being anything other than close and one-score games. Like us, Tipp will see this as a massive opportunity and for us it’s about parking everything and getting the job done.
“To be frank, it will be worth very, very little if we don’t go on and translate it into some form of silverware.
“It’s a golden opportunity and people think that because of the year we’re having, yet even in a normal season our intention and belief would have been the same.
“We’re coming as a team wanting to win. I don’t want it to be seen as a golden opportunity because of the circumstances. It’s a group of players who have improved over the past number of years and are now reaping the benefits.”
Connolly is well aware of the Bloody Sunday centenary and its strong Tipp connection.
“It sums up the year doesn’t it, a Munster final at lunchtime in November with no crowd and Tipp wearing green and white."