Connolly: 'I think we're in a good place'
By Paul Keane
With 20 minutes to go in each of their last five games, stretching back to the Dublin quarter-finals, St Vincent's have been locked in 50-50 contests and sure of nothing other than a fight to the finish.
That they're still standing and just an hour away now from AIB Leinster club championship title success, the club's fourth since 2007, speaks to the quality and experience of the Marino outfit.
Strong finales have been a feature of the 2008 and 2014 All-Ireland champions' play in recent games though even manager Tommy Conroy admitted after the provincial semi-final win in Longord that his players 'might make it a bit easier on themselves' if they wished.
Diarmuid Connolly has been on the St Vincent's journey every step of the way over the last decade and argues that progression is all that really counts, rejecting the suggestion they have another gear which they haven't yet reached.
"I don't think so," said Connolly. "I said after the last game that if we play that game on a harder pitch then we win by a little bit more. The pitch levels the playing field at this time of the year. I think we're in a good place.
"We're a very mature team at the moment. We've obviously got some good young guys coming in but most of the guys have been around for the last five or six years and have played in this competition and won Dublin championships and won big games for Vincent's and for Dublin so I think we're in a good place."
In the last decade, Vincent's have contested three Leinster finals and won the lot. Rhode have played in four and lost the lot. Connolly refused to downplay the significance of those contrasting records ahead of Sunday's trip to Portlaoise.
St Vincents manager Tommy Conroy.
"Is winning a factor? Of course, that's why we play," said Connolly. "Yeah, of course. You're drawing on your past experiences in big games and how you work to try and finish it out."
Connolly picked up an All-Star award recently on the back of his fourth All-Ireland title success with Dublin. The Dubs went through their entire Allianz league and Championship campaigns without being beaten and the play-makers admitted it's been a brilliant if draining year.
"It's not just the body, mentally you'd be tired after a year like this," said the 29-year-old. "I've been lucky enough not to get too many injuries, bumps and bruises but nothing that's kept me out for long periods. After a long season, mentally it gets tough, absolutely, but hopefully a holiday after next week will recharge the batteries."
St Vincent's beat Rhode comfortably in the Leinster final two years ago though Connolly reckons the Offaly side's appetite for a breakthrough win will be strong.
"I know they've won county titles probably more easily than we have in the last couple of years and they're obviously stalwarts of the Leinster campaign so it'll be a big challenge for us," he said.
"We got an early goal or two I think in 2014 and they struggled, they were kicking balls in and we were cutting them out. We played a sweeper system which we're not doing now. We got a bit of a lead early and it might have looked comfortable from the stand but it wasn't really. I thought it was a tough game of football."
Connoly said that getting out of the Dublin championship was a significant achievement in itself this year. "Last year we were massively disappointed but Ballyboden were a complete unknown, no-one was giving them a snowball's in the final but they beat us on merit," he said. "It was a hard thing to take. We were obviously going for three-in-a-row and a bit of history."